By JEFF BURBRINK
Extension Educator, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
GOSHEN — If you were to pick one time of the year to improve your bluegrass lawn, most people would guess April or May. In truth, the best time to give your lawn a little extra TLC is the fall.
Start by fertilizing with a good quality lawn fertilizer in September. For established lawns, apply fertilizers that contain 25 to 50 percent slow release nitrogen. On the fertilizer bag, you will see the nitrogen fertilizer labeled water soluble or water insoluble. The water insoluble nitrogen is slow release. If the bag contains 30 percent nitrogen, and 10 percent is water insoluble, you have found a good fertilizer.
Apply one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn. If you have a 40 pound bag of a 30-0-5 lawn fertilizer, the bag contains 12 pounds of nitrogen (30 percent of 40 pounds). The bag will treat 12,000 square feet. The instructions on nearly all commercial lawn fertilizers are set up at the one pound rate. If your lawn is a half-acre in size, (about 21,000 square feet), you will need to buy two bags of this product.
A second dose of fall fertilizer, sometimes called a winterizer, can be applied in early November. Again, this can be applied at the one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square foot rate. You can save some money fertilizing in the fall by finding a cheaper product with less slow release (water insoluble) nitrogen.
Do not forget to mow properly. That may seem like a basic concept, but most people mow too low. Set your mower to mow at three to three and a half inches. The thicker grass will be healthier and crowd out many of the weeds. Generally in the fall, you can get by with one mowing a week, but in periods of time when the grass is growing quickly you might have to cut two times a week.
Water is important for lawns, too. In our area, rainfall usually is adequate in September and October to grow turfgrass. However, supplemental water may be needed if you shoot for something better than an average lawn. Automatic sprinklers are wonderful, but do not set them up to water every day. Instead, water deep and infrequently.
Generally, it is best to apply one to one and a half inches of water in a single dose, and then wait until the turf needs watering again. In the heat of summer, that means you might be watering every three days, but in September, you might be able to water every five to seven days, depending on temperature and rainfall.
A lot of people ask, “How long will it take me to apply and inch of water?” My answer is: that depends on how your irrigation system is set up. The best way is to measure the output of your system. I use straight sided coffee mugs. The output can vary by both the distance from the nozzle and by how your zones are set up.
By watering, fertilizing and mowing properly, you’ll find you cut down on weed control products. Still, fall is the best time for control of dandelions and other broadleaved weeds in turf. In October, use a lawn weed control product that contains a three way mix of 2,4-D, mecoprop (MCPP), and dicamba. This is much more effective that spraying dandelions in the spring when they are blooming.
Hard to control weeds such as wild violets and creeping Charlie may require an herbicide containing triclopyr or fluroxypyr. If those do not work, consider hiring a professional to control these difficult weeds, or learn to coexist with them.