As we head into fall, many areas in the Northeast and Midwest are experiencing some of the hottest and driest conditions in years. These drought conditions compel us to rethink our lawn maintenance schedule. Typically, re-seeding would begin this month. However, even irrigation systems are not able compensate for the extreme lack of moisture. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to wait until soil moisture levels and rainfall are sufficient to support lawn seed germination.
During this uncharacteristically arid period, weed problems have exploded while grasses are under stress. At present, it is also too dry for weeds to be treated effectively. Again, the best thing to do is be patient and target specific areas for future attention.
In the meantime, keep traffic to a minimum, especially during the hottest part of the day. Irrigate to keep plants from drying out completely. Mow the lawn only as needed and when you do, it is important to mow properly. Keep the cutting height high to encourage deeper, more extensive root systems. Taller grass also shades the soil, keeping it cooler and moister. Mow only during the morning or evening hours, and be sure the mower blades are sharp. Dull blades tear the edges of grass blades, which make them more susceptible to dryness and disease.
It has been so dry that even trees, with much deeper root systems than grass, have been wilting. The good news is that cool season grasses naturally go dormant during heat and drought stress. Only time will tell how your lawn will fare. If it does need some restoration, a little core aeration with overseeding or slice seeding can go a long way.
Whether you decide to aerate and overseed, slice seed, or both, it is critical to keep soil moist until the new seeds germinate. Avoid foot and pet traffic and mow very carefully so as not to disturb new grass plants. After seed germination, water less frequently but more deeply to encourage deeper root growth.
Overseeding, or introducing new seed varieties to an existing lawn, is one of the most effective ways to enhance the quality of your lawn. Aging grass does not produce new stems or tillers as rapidly as young grass. In addition, lawn installed years ago can’t compare with the benefits of today’s improved grass seed which adapts better to changing landscape conditions. New seed varieties help protect a lawn from drought, disease, pests, and excessive traffic plus they are more shade tolerant. Some even require less fertilizer, pest control and water.