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Weekly Gardening Tips: Bullseye on my backyard

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By Bob Beyfuss

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Bob Beyfuss.

The “hit and miss” showers and thunderstorms that I have complaining about the past few weeks finally scored a direct bullseye on my property.

I recorded 4.5 inches of rain in two days. Now my rain barrels runnith over for the first time in a month or more!

It may be too late in the season to allow much new growth on drought-stunted crops, but for those of you planting a fall crop of beets, turnips or salad greens, it is a welcome respite and should carry us through the next few weeks.

If it remains cool, we may even see our lawns turn green once more. In our region, late August to mid-September in the very best time to plant grass seed. I would not consider planting a new lawn or patching an existing one during the drought, but if the weather patterns return to “normal,” right now is your best opportunity for lawn renovation.

Shorter days and cool nights allow for optimal grass root growth. I have enjoyed not mowing my lawn for the past month, as the weeds and wildflowers kept it looking more or less green. I have not even noticed the grass blades turning brown because there are so few of them in my yard!

There are essentially three types of grass seed we plant in upstate New York. Most good grass seed mixes are a blend of all three.

The grass that establishes the best overall, long-lasting turf is Kentucky bluegrass (KBG). This grass grows best in full sun on fertile, well-drained soil. It is slow to establish and may take two or three weeks before it really comes up. During that time period, it has to be kept moist, which is most easily accomplished by providing a light mulch of clean straw (not hay) on top and keeping that straw moist. The straw mulch should be applied at the rate of about one bale, per 1,000 square feet. You should be able to just barely see the soil though the mulch layer.    

For shady areas, the grass seed blend should consist of mostly fescue grasses. These grasses have thinner blades than Kentucky bluegrass and they can tolerate moderate amounts of shade, but they are not as tough to foot traffic as is KBG. They also require two to three weeks to become established after seeding.

The fastest germinating grasses are either annual or perennial ryegrass. They are often touted as “Quick Cover” grasses. Annual ryegrass will indeed germinate and may become established in a week or two, but since it is an annual grass, it will be killed when we get our first hard frost. It is fine for a quick stabilization of an area that may be subject to erosion, especially in a blend that also contains perennial ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass has a dark green color and is very attractive, but not as tough, nor is it sod forming like KBG.

For “spot seeding” small areas that are less than 100 square feet, a blend of all three grasses featuring mostly perennial ryegrass is your best bet. Often, these mixes contain their own mulch so there is no need to apply straw on top.

It pays to buy good quality seed that contains only a very small percentage of weed seed. This is stated on the grass seed label, usually as a percentage of “noxious weeds.”

The more effort you spend preparing the planting site, the better the long-term results. For a totally new lawn, the area should be tilled several times, incorporating organic matter such as a 1-inch layer of peat moss with each tillage.

The existing sod should first be removed, or treated with an herbicide to kill the existing grass and weeds. The soil should be tested for pH. If the pH is below 6.5, pelletized lime should be applied.

A complete soil test, performed by Cornell Cooperative Extension will tell you exactly how much fertilizer, if any, needs to be applied. The pH test can be accomplished in a few minutes, but sending the soil sample off to Cornell usually takes a couple of weeks’ turnaround. If any fertilizer is needed, it can be applied later on this fall. I would not wait to begin the process. If lime is needed, that should be applied right away.

I know that lawns, in general, have become a target of some critical PC views, which encourage eliminating them in lieu of supporting pollinators. But, as far as I am concerned, you have the right to grow a nice, uniform lawn if that is what you want to do. It is not my “cup of tea,a” but I know others who love their lawns!

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