For a healthy lawn, no need to wait for spring! Here are some tips and tricks to try this September.
As the frenzy of summer starts to wind down, planning for the colder months starts to take the forefront in the minds of many. Besides routine fall preparations for homes and garden beds, September is an awesome time to care for your lawn.
What’s so special about September? It’s that magical time of year where the days are warm, the nights are cool, and there’s usually frequent rain. Fertilizing, putting down seed, and improving soil conditions in September will save you time and money in the spring. Let’s take a look at all the opportunities September brings.
We’ve included some pictures of a lawn that was struggling by the end of last year’s summer due to a myriad of issues. Through proper soil amendment, fertilization, and grass seed application, this yard was transformed beautifully in just a month’s time. Let’s walk through the steps to take when giving your lawn an overhaul this September.
Understanding the makeup of your soil is a good place to start when trying to improve your lawn. When you take a walk around your lawn, what do you notice about the dirt? Is it light or dark? Sandy, or claylike and dense? Are there pebbles and rocks? Your lawn won’t get very far with poor soil, no matter how well you fertilize it or how great your seeds are.
The most important factor when growing a beautiful lawn is the soil quality, which can't be determined purely at a glance. You need to determine the acidity, or pH, of your soil as well as any nutrients you may lack. UMass Agricultural Labs provides mail-in comprehensive soil testing for a complete profile of your lawn's composition. A combination of the proper nutrients and pH will help your lawn reach its full potential.
A soil test of areas you’d like to improve is the best way to figure out what your lawn needs. The Essex County Co-Op will test your soil’s pH for free, once a year. Just bring in a sandwich baggie’s worth of soil, and not only will we test your sample on the spot, we’ll give you personalized recommendations for your lawn based on the results. Try to get a sample about 3 inches below the surface and do not touch the soil with your hands. This could affect the alkalinity of your sample.
Grass grows best in neutral or slightly acidic soil, so paying attention to the pH level of your lawn is a good idea for encouraging optimum growth. A good way to balance out an acidic lawn is to apply garden lime. Besides balancing pH levels, lime is a good source of magnesium and calcium, nutrients which plants crave.
If you have the opposite problem where your soil is too alkaline, an application of sulfur or aluminum sulfate can be spread on your lawn and into the soil. Garden Gypsum also reduces pH levels and has the added benefit of reducing compaction, allowing the rain to reach the roots of your grass.
Another way to improve soil structure and pH levels is to grind up fallen leaves with your lawn mower and mulch them into the soil of your lawn. These leaf fragments will break down over the winter and add nutrients to your soil. Be careful not to leave mounds of leaves on your lawn as this will smother otherwise healthy grass and even cause mold to develop.
Leaves are usually a little acidic, and will add some needed carbon to the mix. Be aware, however: different species of trees have different levels of acidity in their leaves! Make sure you’re familiar with the kinds of trees in your yard if you plan on utilizing their leaves as fertilizer. Oak leaves are very acidic, as well as evergreens. Maple not so much.
A little frost won’t hurt your lawn, which is why September and early October is a great time to grow grasses of all kinds. Garden vegetables may not be frost-hardy, but new grass will grow comfortably until the ground is frozen over. Not to mention, crabgrass suffers and dies under cool nights, so by the second week of September you can expect less undesirable plants vying for space in your lawn.
Consider spreading spent garden soil from pots and containers over bare patches of your lawn and even where crabgrass is now dying. Add fresh compost in the fall and in the spring to make sure you have a nutritious medium for grass seeds to take root in. Planting a perennial grass mix in September will provide a good solid base for fall beauty and next spring.
As you can see in this second picture, healthy soil has been applied over the top of the suffering lawn areas. We really can’t overstate the importance of lawn fertilizers, either: Greenview Fertilizer is an excellent choice for fall applications as well as Scott’s Turf Builder.
Now, to spread fresh grass seed over the new soil. When choosing grass mix, consider how much sun your lawn gets and which areas get full sun, partial sun, or are almost always shady. Many people do not have uniform light exposure on their lawns and may have areas with wildly different needs. Keep this in mind before you invest in grass seed that may not be appropriate for all areas of your lawn.
Our Essex No. 2 Grass Mix is a sun and shade mix designed to be hardy in various light levels. It’s optimal if the sun’s path across your property casts long shadows at certain times of day. If your lawn is mostly shaded, our Essex Shade Mix is specifically balanced for that. Remember that grass seed is best applied in direct contact with the top of the soil. Don’t bury it, and don’t scatter it on top of thatch if you’re reseeding an area.
The best way to know the needs of your lawn is to take observations throughout the year. Even keeping a log or taking pictures helps conceptualize the changes taking place. Each season affects your lawn in different ways and change can often be very rapid. If you notice grubs one summer for example, it's a good thing to keep in mind after getting rid of them that there are opportunities in the fall to apply products like Dylox Grub Killer Plus to prevent grubs from developing next year . Same with weeds. Crabgrass usually sprouts up in the beginning of April, so if you’ve already taken steps to prevent that in the fall, you can ensure less competition for your grass next spring.
In our final picture here, which was taken at the beginning of last October, one month has passed during which the soil was improved, fresh seed mix was applied, and a light smattering of fallen leaves has appeared, signalling the beginning of autumn. Remember, these leaves are great to be mulched into the lawn with a mower to continue their journey, benefiting your soil through this year and the next.
Lawn care can be so rewarding if you plan correctly, as minor changes and improvements to your soil and proper fertilization can give you beautiful results in a short period of time. And we really aren’t kidding about September being the optimum time for grass; with proper amendments, one can go from a rather bare lawn at the end of August to lush and healthy green by the end of September. Come to the Co-op for our recommendations that will best suit your unique needs.
Now is the best time to get a handle on what your yard needs for a fantastic grassy lawn. Let’s plan out your strategy for September and set your lawn on the right track.