This article was cross-posted from McDowell County Center

Care for Cool Season Lawns

blade of grass

Care for Cool Season Lawns

years of extreme drought have taken its toll on lawns in McDowell County.  My grass looked pretty good at the beginning
of the summer but slowly faded to a light brown or tan color.  After two summers of dry weather I was sure
that my lawn had suffered a lot of damage. 
My lawn looked like it was completely dead and would need a major
replanting.  Fortunately tall fescue has
the ability to go dormant during the hot dry periods of summer and then recover
when it starts to rain.  I am amazed at
how much of my lawn has recovered after a good soaking rain in late
August.  Still there are some bare spots
and weedy areas and so my lawn needs some attention.

is the beginning of the season when we need to take steps to care for our cool
season lawn.  If you plan to start a new
lawn now is the time to do it.  Night are
cooler and we usually have adequate rainfall in the fall, so it is a
good time to plant cool season grasses like tall fescue, bluegrass and fine
fescue.  This gives the plants time to
become established and grow an adequate root system before the hot dry weather
of summer.  If you plan to plant a lawn
call the Extension Office and ask for a copy of Carolina Lawns.  This publication has detailed instructions on
how to establish a new lawn.  You can
also find “Carolina Lawns” at .

lawn care practices for cool season lawns include fertilization, aeration and
over seeding.  Cool season lawns need
approximately 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet in September and again
in November.  If your lawn does not need
much phosphorus (P) or potassium (K) you can use a slow release turf type
fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and low in P and K.  These fertilizers generally contain about 30
% N so you need to apply approximately 3 pounds of fertilizer per 1000 square
feet.  By following the label directions
you will apply the correct amount of fertilizer.  For example, many of these fertilizers come
in 15 pound bags and will cover 5000 square feet.  If a soil test shows that you need higher
rates of P or K or if your lawn is new and has not been fertilized heavily with
a complete fertilizer you can apply 10 pounds of 10-10-10 or 6 pounds of
17-17-17 per 1000 square feet to meet the nitrogen needs and to supply
additional phosphorus and potassium.

is also a practice that is best applied in the fall.  Using a core aerator or spike aerator will
break up compaction in the soil and help moisture, lime and fertilizer to
penetrate into the root zone.  Aeration
also reduces thatch, reduces water runoff and improves heat and drought
tolerance.  Aeration is best done in the
fall when cool season grasses are actively growing and the soil is moist but
not saturated.

is also a good time to over seed your lawn with some additional seed if the
stand is thin.  Cool season lawns can be
over seeded with 3 pounds of a turf type tall fescue blend or Kentucky 31
fescue.  Apply fertilizer, aerate or core
the lawn in two directions and then broadcast the seed.  Large bare areas in the lawn should be tilled
or raked, seeded and straw mulch applied.

lawn problems can be avoided by following proper lawn care practices.  The following lawn care tips will help you to
have a healthier cool season lawn:

mow too low: 
Many people want to mow a cool season lawn right down
to the ground so they don’t have to mow as often, but this is one of the worst
things you can do to your lawn.  Close
mowing stresses the plant by removing the food manufacturing leaves.  The plant then has to grow new leaves before
it can grow roots and store food. 
Research has show that there is a direct relationship between mowing
height and root growth.  Mow cool season
lawn at the 3 to 3.5 inch height and try to mow often enough so that you don’t
take off more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.

fertilize a cool season lawn with nitrogen between March 15
and September 1
stApplying nitrogen fertilizer after mid March or
applying too much nitrogen is the primary cause of a disease called brown
patch.  In general, cool season lawns
need to receive one pound of nitrogen in late February/early March, one pound
in September and one pound in November. 
Always use a slow release fertilizer for the spring application.

a soil test:
A soil test will tell
you if you need to apply lime, phosphorus, potassium or micro nutrients to your
lawn.  Lime is especially important because
it allows you to adjust your pH to the proper level.  If the pH is too low plants cannot take up
many nutrients and the soil becomes toxic to the plant roots.  If the pH is too high uptake of other
nutrients are limited, so applying too much lime can be just as bad as not
applying enough.

Other mowing tips: Make sure that your blade is sharp before you
mow.  A dull blade reduces lawn quality
by tearing the leaf blade. These ragged cuts can be an entry point for
disease.  Also, don’t mow when your lawn
is wet.  Mowing when the foliage is wet
can spread disease.  Don’t bag your or
rake your clippings unless the grass is so long that the clippings will smother
the grass.  A mulching mower is best
because it returns organic matter and nutrients to the soil.


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