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lawnRISMEDIA, September 22, 2009—(MCT)—If you want your lawn to make your neighbors green with envy, roll up your sleeves and get to work now. “Timing is everything,” says Mike Goatley, turf guru at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

“Fall is the optimal time to aggressively fertilize cool-season turf grasses—bluegrasses, fescues and ryegrasses.” 

The next few weeks are also the best timeframe for sowing new grass seed because autumn weather is still warm enough to promote germination. Then, cooler temperatures and plentiful rains enable roots to store food and grow deep before summer heat arrives again. For warm-season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede, fall is still the most important time to prep your yard for its winter nap. 

Here’s a quick rundown of what to do. 

Prep your place. There is great value and peace of mind in having a yard professionally graded to get the best gradual slope for good drainage away from your home’s foundation. A poorly graded yard contributes to moisture under your home; a roly-poly yard also pockets water and trips you as you walk or play in the grass. Bulk topsoil is needed to do major work while bagged topsoil is suitable for filling in minor problem areas. 

Before seeding, soil benefits from a top-layer application of rich, aged compost. Spread about one half to one inch of organic matter you get in bulk from mulch suppliers, garden centers or composting facilities. 

Once compost is down, use a core aerator to remove plugs of soil so your yard breathes better; frequent foot traffic and even heavy rains compact soil, making it difficult for oxygen and moisture to penetrate. Aeration also increases the activity of microorganisms that decompose thatch and improves rooting overall. 

Seed or sod the site. Regular fall seeding keeps an existing lawn healthy and vigorous. Sow fescue at a rate of four to six pounds per 1,000 square feet and use a research university-evaluated and recommended seed. Many garden centers also offer their own seed blends, which are usually created from university recommendations. 

If you choose to tear up an old lawn or face bare soil at a new house, sod is a quick way to get instant yard. Fall is an ideal time for laying sod, including warm-season Bermuda. Prepping soil for sod is the same as getting it ready for seed. Sod is easy for a do-it-yourself to put down, but install it within 24 hours because it is perishable. Newly installed sod needs to be thoroughly soaked daily for several weeks, or until you can tug at sections and feel that roots are penetrating existing soil. 

Fine tune fertilizer. Too much of a good thing is often bad and lawn fertilizer is no exception. On grass, excessive nitrogen pushes top growth while reducing root growth, so you have a rich green veneer with a poor underground support system. 

Instead of dumping bags of fertilizer—and money—on your yard, know what the soil needs through a test you conduct with a kit from your extension office. Soil testing should be done every three or four years; in addition to giving you clues to major and minor nutrient needs, it includes valuable information about soil acidity, which can be corrected with lime applications best done over winter. 

August-November is the prime time for fertilizing a cool-season lawn. Make three applications, allowing 30 days between each; wait two weeks after fertilizing before you over seed an existing lawn. 

(c) 2009, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.