to frequently asked questions about lawn care
I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and wondered if this is a
good time to apply lime? (early October)
A: Fall is
generally considered the best time of year to
apply lime to a lawn.
Most of the reason has to do with the advent of freezing weather and
a freeze-thaw cycle that helps 'work' lime into the soil. Since lime
moves so slowly through the soil, it is a good idea to aerate the
lawn first, punching holes and pulling soil plugs that should be
left on the lawn surface. These holes provide great entry ways for
the lime to move down into the soil profile.
agricultural lime is the least expensive form of lime, but
pelletized lime is much easier to apply -- pellets are formed from
lime powder and can be easily applied with a cyclone spreader (see
Calcium carbonate is the most common type of lime on the market, but
you will also find dolomitic lime containing more magnesium. A soil
test will determine which one is best for you.
In the northeastern United States,
September is lawn
month, due to that month providing the best conditions for
seeding a lawn, renovating a lawn, or just doing regular maintenance
like aeration. We recommend that core aeration be done every year,
preferably in the fall, but spring is also a viable option.
After I bought my house in Pennsylvania I noticed the grass turned a
brown color from October to about April. After doing some
research I have come to the conclusion that I have Zoysia grass. I
didn't care for it in the winter so I started to dig it up and
replace it with Kentucky blue grass sod. Now the sod looks terrible.
I put down the sod two summers ago and the first year it looked
great. Last summer it dried up and doesn't look so good. I watered
it every other day. We had a dry summer last year. I wanted to
actually go back to Zoysia grass. My questions are do you know where
I can buy Zoysia sod? I want to go back to it because it didn't dry
up in the summer and required little watering. My grass is in
direct sunlight almost all day. And is it possible to paint it
during the winter months? Thanks
Watch the advertising pages of the Sunday newspaper since they will soon
carry ads for buying Zoysia "plugs" which you plant at close
intervals in your existing sod to get the Zoysia to spread out and take
over other grasses. Funny thing is that wild onions always seem to
invade Zoysia lawns in Pennsylvania.
There are colorants available for coloring a lawn green during dormant
periods, but we are not sure where to locate them or know of anyone who
provides that service. You might want to check with lawn service
companies in your area.
(Photo: Brown-colored Zoysia in Pennsylvania
during its dormant period)
going to lay sod in my back yard in the fall, and I have a
1) We have a dog. Is there any kind of sod that doesn’t patch or die
out when a dog pees on it?
2) What is the best type of sod for this area (I live in
Thanks in advance.
Bluegrass sod prefers full sun, and September is the best month for
doing this lawn work. Remember that sod needs watered regularly to
help it establish properly. Now the specific answers to your lawn
1. Dogs and lawn grass (including sod) don't mix well as you
probably already know. Frequent watering to flush out the urine
helps a little. Seems I have seen products that help reduce lawn
spotting, maybe something you add to the dog's diet?? Check with
your vet first of course.
2. Most sod around Pittsburgh is about the same (predominantly
Kentucky Bluegrass) even though there are two grades of sod. I've
heard some of the big box lumber yards get sod deliveries on and
off (..get it when it is fresh!) or you could try a local nursery or
I'm getting some dandelions and other broadleaf weeds in our new
lawn. Should I treat the entire lawn with a broadleaf weed
A: A new lawn should be
old enough to have been mowed at least 3 times before any weed
killers are applied. Since you just have a
few weeds, it would be best to "spot treat" the weeds with a
broadleaf weed killer instead of using a "blanket treatment" for the
entire lawn. If you mix your weed killer from a concentrate, and use a pump-up sprayer, be sure to clearly label
the sprayer "WEEDS ONLY" so you know not to use it for other applications,
such as spraying insects on trees and shrubs. It is best to have two
separate sprayers for these different purposes. Always read and
follow label directions on pesticides, and keep them out of the
reach of children. Never transfer a pesticide to a different container.
A child may drink it thinking it is something else.
Our lawn is looking worse for wear this spring with lots of brown
patches all over. Did the thick snow layer have an effect? What
can we do now?
This is a fairly common lawn condition this Spring since we had snow
cover for so long in many parts of the northeastern United States.
The disease that causes this brown patchiness is called snow mold,
and there are two varieties: pink and gray snow mold. In most
instances, taking a leaf rake and lightly raking your lawn to break
that surface "crust" is about all that's needed. If a few dead
patches persist you will have to do some spot-seeding. Just remember
that most crabgrass control products will interfere with grass seed
germination, so you usually have to either seed or apply crabgrass
preventer. Otherwise, you can seed in the fall.
I have much ugly tall fescue, is there a way to remove/eliminate it?
method I would use would be to spray the Fescue with Round-Up® in
the spring after the Fescue is actively growing. Read the Label. Of
course the active ingredient glyphosate is not a
selective herbicide, so it will kill all the other grasses and
vegetation that are contacted by the spray.
is scattered throughout the lawn, you may have to do a total
renovation to get rid of all the Tall Fescue, and then reseed. If
the thatch layer has built-up over 1/2-inch, you should probably
spray the lawn with Round-Up, wait one week, then strip the lawn off
with a sod cutter to get rid of that thatch layer and get down to
bare soil. It would be a good idea to do a soil test in advance of a
lawn renovation so you can balance your soil nutrients at the same
do mushrooms reappear on my lawn in the same place?
Chances are good that a tree was growing in that spot on your lawn
at one time. Even when trees are removed with their stumps
"ground-out" some of the stump and roots will remain. It's from this
old decaying wood that mushrooms will grow. There aren't any
chemical controls for this sort of problem. You can remove the
mushrooms if they are an annoyance, but never eat wild mushrooms
without first consulting an expert.
Q: Is it
too late this fall to apply potassium, and should I wait until
spring? I live in Massachusetts west of
Boston. I got some soil
tests for my lawn that indicate everything (calcium, magnesium, and
phosphorus) is above optimum except Potassium which is below the
optimum range. It recommended applying 7 lbs. of 0-0-60 per 1,000
sq ft in addition to maintenance fertilizer. Also I read on your
site about applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for winterization. I
didn’t see nitrogen in the soil report. Should I apply 10-0-10
fertilizer instead of 0-0-60?
potassium has a high "burn" potential, it is best to apply it late
in the season when top growth has ceased but grass roots are still
growing, and ideally, water it in or have rainfall shortly
afterwards. You should still be OK applying it now, but don't wait
much longer. (Question sent during the first half of November)
recommendation of 7 lbs of 0-0-60 would give you 4.2 lbs of actual
potassium, which is quite a bit.... did they recommend putting it
all on in one shot? I would be more inclined to split that sort of
heavy application into halves, applying half this fall and the
second half next fall. It is tricky to apply that high an
of fertilizer at the right rate since you are applying such a small
amount (weight wise) and have to put it on lightly and evenly. I'd
skip the nitrogen for now.
Note: Most fall 'winterizer' fertilizers are higher in potassium
than usual to promote winter hardiness and disease resistance in
what application would one use a 12-0-12 fertilizer? I work in
a Garden Center and we just received a shipment of fertilizer with
that analysis. We have never sold this before and want to be able to
answer questions about it. Thanks, Rebecca
A: That does seem like an unusual analysis when you first
look at it, even though we have already seen fertilizers like
38-0-0 (all nitrogen) and 0-20-20 (phosphorus and potassium
only). Your new fertilizer was probably blended for some of
those counties and states where a phosphorus ban is in place,
since phosphorus is the "zero" in the middle of your analysis.
Therefore, it would be similar to a 10-10-10 fertilizer with the
phosphorus left out.
algae problems in lakes and other bodies of water. It's been
said that one pound of phosphorus can grow 600 pounds of algae.
When algae dies, bacteria consume oxygen in the water. Less
oxygen is then available to aquatic life. Here are some links
with further information about phosphorus bans in
Washington State. Along the same lines of "phosphorus-free"
fertilizer would be the "phosphate-free" laundry detergents that
have been on the market for years.
tests provide results for phosphorus levels. If a soil test
indicates that phosphorus is already in the optimum range, this
12-0-12 fertilizer would be fine. In the past, you might have
recommended 10-10-10 for a similar application. Due to the
slightly higher (12-percent vs 10-percent) analysis, application
rates would have to be lowered slightly to get the same results.
What steps can I take toward having a better lawn this year?
A: As soon as snow
disappears and your lawn becomes soft enough to get soil samples,
gather samples from the main part of your lawn. Most land grant
universities (i.e. Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State) have
agricultural extension services that sell
soil test kits for a
nominal fee of $10 or so. Instructions are included with the kits
for pulling samples. Air dry wet soil prior to mailing it to the
lab. Once results come back, follow instructions for balancing your
pH and major soil nutrient levels. Creating this basic balance will
make all your other fertilizer applications much more efficient.
Step 2 - Start the mowing season with a sharp lawnmower
Step 3 - Mow your lawn at the proper height, which is
probably higher than you are currently mowing it. Mow often enough
that you aren't removing more than 1/3 of the height. Mulch your
clippings if possible.
Step 4 - Water more effectively. Thorough watering promotes
Step 5 - Don't over-fertilize, or fertilize grass that is
dormant in summer.
Step 6 - Read the label on every product you use, follow
are sections of my lawn only green in the summer? We bought a
house that has a different type of grass in the lawn, and that part
of the lawn stays brown from Halloween until well after Easter.
The straw brown color of dormant Zoysia grass is captured in this
early spring photo. Most Zoysia lawns in the northeastern United
States stay brown for 6 months or more -- from just after the first
hard frost in the Fall until late Spring. Chances are the previous
homeowner planted some Zoysia "plugs." You've probably seen the ads
for them in the Sunday newspaper every Spring, touting the benefits
of a weed-free lawn that needs very little mowing.
In defense of Zoysia, let me say that some people really do love the
low-maintenance aspects of the grass in their northeastern US lawns.
However, most people object to its invasive nature, and especially
the prolonged period of straw brown color every winter.
Eliminating your Zoysia lawn will
require a good 1-2 punch: Spray the grass with glyphosate
(Round-Up®) when the grass is green and actively growing (read and
follow label instructions). Wait 7 days and remove the grass and
roots with a sod-cutter. (Most rental companies have sod-cutters
available, but due to their heavy weight, you may need to have it
delivered) Removing the old sod won't be an easy job since the roots
of Zoysia grass are nearly as tough as fishing line.
Reseed as you
would with any new lawn.
Can I mow my
lawn following core aeration?
Provided you don't lower your cutting height, there shouldn't be any
problem mowing your lawn with a rotary mower. The blade should cut
just above the soil cores without contacting them. Soil cores
usually 'disappear' in about 3 weeks.
Some people ask about removing the cores. While that is necessary on
a golf green (for smooth putting), soil cores should be left on a
home lawn since the soil plugs help breakdown
mulching leaves into a lawn)
Is it too late to plant
grass seed? (October 25th in Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Yes, it is 2 weeks too late
to plant grass seed in Pennsylvania. The best seeding window for
your area is August 20th thru October 10th. Seed planted later than
that may not germinate properly, and if it does start to grow it may
not get established enough to handle the soil's heaving action with
winter's freeze-thaw cycles.
opportunity to seed will be Spring, if you can seed without
applying pre-emergent for crabgrass control or any other weed
killers, since these products will be detrimental to your seeding
Fall is the best time to plant grass seed in your area.
What does "winterizer"
lawn fertilization programs include a final application of "winterizer."
These fertilizers contain a higher amount of potassium than most
lawn fertilizer. An example of that ratio is: 10-10-20.
Higher potassium levels will improve winter hardiness in lawn grass.
Potassium has a high salt index creating a 'burn' potential in some
instances, so read and follow label instructions. If you are also
applying lime in the Fall, it is best to separate your winterizer
and lime applications
by at least 2 weeks.
should my lawn be heading into winter?
A: Let's begin this answer by
saying it is never good to 'scalp' or remove more than 1/3 of the
height of your lawn in one cutting. However, it is a good idea to
reduce the height of your lawn gradually as winter approaches.
The ultimate goal is to have your grass short enough that is doesn't
lay-over in winter and become more prone to snow mold disease.
Lowering your mowing height one setting, when slower growth permits
it, will usually do the trick. It is best to lower the mowing height
a couple cuts before the end of the mowing season.
necessary prior to core aeration?
A: The heavy weight of most
core aeration machines makes the grass height unimportant since the
hollow tines will push through just about any length of grass. Most
mowing heights aren't set low enough for the blade to contact the
soil cores, so that isn't usually an issue either. However, it is
important that lawn soil isn't too dry since hard, dry ground will
affect the depth of tine penetration. It's also undesirable to
aerate soggy ground.
Since soil cores should be left on the lawn surface, the only reason
to mow in advance of aeration would be to give yourself another week
before having to mow again, since rainfall can create a muddy
condition where cores might want to stick to your lawnmower's
Aeration cores usually take about
3 to 4 weeks to break down
When is the best
time to kill dandelions?
A: Fall is the best time to kill dandelions and other
broadleaved weeds. Since weeds are actively storing reserves for
winter they are more susceptible to weed killers that translocate to
the roots. Remember that weeds should be actively growing (not
experiencing drought) for best results.
Dandelions are most noticeable in spring
with their telltale yellow flowers