It’s time to start repairs on lawns damaged by last summer’s drought

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the University of Missouri Extension Service says if you want to have a lush green lawn this summer, now is the time to begin repairing the damage done by last extreme heat and low rainfall.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the University of Missouri Extension Service says if you want to have a lush green lawn this summer, now is the time to begin repairing the damage done by last extreme heat and low rainfall.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the University of Missouri Extension Service says if you want to have a lush green lawn this summer, now is the time to begin repairing the damage done by last extreme heat and low rainfall.

In fact, both agencies say homeowners should already be preparing the soil and spreading grass seed on those bare patches.

According to the Extension Service homeowners should, “Seed as early as possible. In Missouri, wet spring conditions (of April and May) may prevent using power equipment, especially on construction sites.” So those who plan to spread new grass seed should do so in February or March while the ground is still relatively dry. The experts say that despite the cold temperatures sometimes experienced during those months will not damage the seed and it will simply lay dormant until April’s warmer temperatures force it to germinate.

Furthermore, both agencies also say if you want to get rid of those weeds that seemed to be the only that grew during the height of the drought it is also time to start that process.

In a recent press release the MDC’s Tim Smith said, “A number of Missourians have contacted me this past fall and winter regarding the weedy plants that are taking over their lawns and some killing the grass. And unless you religiously watered your lawn last year through the long summer drought, it is likely that you, too, have many clumps of weeds where you once had grass. Those weeds are called winter annuals because their seeds germinate in the fall and the young plants stay green throughout the winter, then resume growth, flower and produce seeds in the early spring.”

However, Smith said, despite what homeowners believe it isn’t the weeds that killed the grass, but rather it’s that the weeds took advantage of the damage that was done to the grass roots when the drought conditions weakened them to the point where they were unable to choke out new weed growth.”

Before reseeding your lawn however, the Extension Service recommends that you take the following measures to prepare the soil correctly to give the seed a fighting chance of maturing and producing a healthy lawn.

According to the University Extension Service, “One of the most important steps in (lawn) renovation is placing the seed in contact with the soil. This sounds simple, but most lawns have thatch – an intermingled layer of both dead and living plants – covering the soil surface. This brown decomposing layer may be up to one to one-and-a-half inches thick. Lawns with more than one-half inches of thatch should be dethatched before grass seed is applied.

Seed placed on the thatch may germinate, but it will produce a poor stand of grass. To ensure good seed to soil contact, use power equipment to prepare the surface for seeding. Power rakes, verticutters, slit seeders and core aerators are effective machines for properly preparing the surface for seeding.”

“Two to four passes over the lawn with a dethatcher may be necessary depending on the hardness of the ground. Once the dethatching has been accomplished the loosed thatch should be raked up and removed.”

If the ground is especially hard it may also be necessary to use an aerating machine to loosen the topsoil to insure the grass seed has plenty of room to sink deep roots. According to the Extension Service, most local rental and/or home improvement stores have the necessary dethatching and aerating equipment either for purchase or rental.

Once the ground is prepared, spread the area with the correct fertilizer for the type of grass seed you are using – your local home improvement store should be able to help you with the selection of fertilizer. When the fertilizer is down, begin sowing the grass seed. Use of a seed spreader to insure even coverage of the seed. Then simply leave it alone and allow nature to take its course.

If the weather is extremely dry, you may want to water occasionally until germination takes place. However, if there is a normal amount of rain or snowfall, the seed will simply lay dormant and emerge on its own when the grounds warms in April.

When the new grass appears frequent watering will be necessary until the lawn is well established and possibly throughout the hottest weeks of summer.

Furthermore, both the MDC and the Extension Service say homeowners should wait until the newly seeded grass emerges in April before applying a herbicide to rid the lawn of those pesky weeds. If herbicides are spread too early their effectiveness will wither away long before summer arrives and the weeds will simply return with that season’s hot temperatures.

Should weeds begin to appear before the grass is well established it may be necessary to consult with your local University of Missouri Extension Service or other lawn care expert about the best time for reapplying a broadleaf herbicide to the emerging grass.

Ed Brown with the University of Missouri’s Extension Service has an office in Tuscumbia, but serves both the Miller and Camden County residents. Brown can be reached at 573-369-2394. Residents of Morgan County can contact the Extension Service Office at 100 E. Newton Street, fourth floor, in Versailles by calling 573-378-5358.

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