Web Exclusive - November 2012
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Work Your Turf

Aeration, Overseeding Can Help Turfgrass After Drought

By Deborah L. Vence

Lawns and turf in the United States certainly have taken a beating in this year's drought. And, turf experts say that the short-term impact already is apparent.

"Record high temperatures and record low moisture during the summer months have taken their toll on turfgrasses. Many lawns and other turf areas are under extreme stress and are struggling to survive, and unfortunately, some have already succumbed to the effects of prolonged heat and drought," said Mike Simmon, marketing assistant, The Grasshopper Company, based in Moundridge, Kan.

"As a result, landscape contractors and grounds managers are facing the challenge of not only keeping struggling vegetation alive, but also rejuvenating and repairing landscapes before winter," he said.

However, lawns that get some extra care during the fall months will have an advantage over lawns that don't get the necessary attention.

Because turfgrasses are 75 percent water, when the plant loses more water through the leaves than it absorbs through the roots, drought stress sets in. Eventually, the grass stops growing and enters a dormant state. Though the plant might not be dead, taking appropriate action in the fall can help turf recover during the winter and come back rejuvenated in the spring, as stated in a recent press release from The Grasshopper Company.

In turn, the company recommends a list of steps to care for drought-stricken turf areas:

Mow higher: Though fall rains can spur vigorous blade growth, resisting the urge to mow can be beneficial. Drought stress is not eliminated after one or two waterings or rain showers. So, it's important to give turf some additional time to encourage root growth and depth before mowing. The Grasshopper Company recommends applying the "1/3 Rule"—remove the top third of the blade height—when mowing to avoid additional stress.

Remove thatch layer: Thatch buildup can prevent water and nutrients from absorbing into the soil where the plant roots need it most. The company suggests using a thatch remover, such as the Tine-Rake Dethatcher, for Grasshopper mowers, to lift the thatch from the turf. Collect the thatch and then use it as compost.

Aerate, Aerate, Aerate: Aeration is key to any healthy lawn, according to Jason Potthoff of JP Lawn Care in Winamac, Ind. He recommends aerating twice a year, in the fall and spring, and especially after a drought. "Aerating relieves soil compaction, encourages root growth, improves water absorption and prepares the soil for overseeding and fertilizing," he says. Potthoff uses the AERA-vator implement for his Grasshopper mower, which makes aerating and conditioning the soil quick, thorough and easy, as opposed to walk-behind or coring aerators.

Overseed and/or Fertilize: The Grasshopper Company also recommends overseeding to fill in thin or bare areas, and apply a starter fertilizer with higher levels of phosphorus to establish the new root system. If the lawn does not require overseeding, simply apply a fertilizer with higher levels of nitrogen, which will encourage growth and recovery. Grasshopper offers a drift-control Shielded Sprayer for on-target chemical application and less labor than backpack sprayers or walk-behind granular spreaders.

"The most important step for turf areas is aeration. Aerating helps relieve compaction in the root zone, which gives the plant better access to oxygen, water and nutrients," Simmon said. "Simply giving the plant more room to grow in the root zone—where plant growth is more critical—will not only help the turf bounce back for the spring, but also promote long-term health and the turf's ability to withstand hot and dry conditions in the future."

For more information about turf rejuvenation, go to grasshoppermower.com.