GIMME SHELTER- Lawn rescue: Gardner, hold that fertilizer!

Scott Bagley, Southern States

Q: What can I do to rescue my lawn in these drought conditions?

A: You mean before last weekend's deluge? About the only thing that will help your lawn these days is watering, but that's taboo right now with the drought. The worst thing you can do is panic and start fertilizing or treating your soil. Your grass is simply under too much stress. Typically, people tend to over-fertilize and under-lime in situations like this. That old adage "once is good, twice is better" simply doesn't work with fertilizer. The best thing you can do now is water, pray for rain, don't cut the grass too short to keep it from burning up, and wait for cooler weather before starting treating your soil and re-seeding.

Since the quality of your soil, more than the amount of fertilizer you put down, determines how healthy your grass remains in a drought situation, it's a good idea to get a soil sample tested. You can take a soil sample to a local home and garden store, and they can tailor a nutrient program to your particular soil needs. There's a lot of clay in our soil, which is very acidic. Trying to grow grass in clay soil is like trying to grow grass on rock. Remember, they make bricks out of clay! That's why it's important to add organic matter and the right nutrients to the soil. 

One idea is to simply put a layer of compost and nutrients on your lawn and till it in. A less intrusive idea is to core aerate your lawn and rake compost and nutrients into the holes. The holes will close in a few days, so it's important to do this right away.

As for seeding, it's senseless to put it down until your soil is good. However, once you've properly treated your soil, the best time to seed is in September or early October. Because of our generally mild winters, grass doesn't go dormant like it does up north. If you seed now, the new grass will have time to firmly root itself by the time spring comes around, which will give your lawn the best chance of thriving in the spring and early summer, and surviving in the dog days of August.

Scott Bagley