Consider lawn needs in fall

  • Published: Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022

COLUMBIA, Mo. – For home lawns, Missouri weather is like Goldilocks’ porridge. For some types of grass it’s too hot and for others it’s too cold. In Missouri, the hard part is finding a grass for which the weather is “just right.”

There is no one-size-fits-all grass for Missouri lawns, say University of Missouri Extension horticulturists Robert Balek and Justin Keay. Missouri’s weather extremes are too hot for cool-season grasses and too cold for warm-season grasses.

Most lawn experts consider Missouri a transition state where cool-season grasses perform better in the northern part of the state and warm-season grasses perform better in the southern part of the state, with neither able to grow optimally in Missouri’s weather extremes.

The key to a quality lawn is to select species and varieties that grow well in your region, Balek and Keay say.

Some homeowners are starting to consider is buffalo grass, a native warm-season grass. It requires little water. Like other warm-season grasses, it goes dormant and brown in winter. By contrast, cool-season grasses go dormant in summer. However, buffalo grass does not produce dense stands like tall fescue. In general, buffalo grass lawns require homeowners to pay more attention to weed control, especially during the first and second years of establishment.

Turf-type tall fescue is a favorite for nonirrigated lawns in Missouri. Its deep root system works well in a variety of soil types, and it tolerates a wide range of soil pH. It also tolerates heat and drought better than other cool-season grasses. Many turf seed mixes contain both Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type tall fescue. Kentucky bluegrass spreads via rhizomes and can help fill in damaged areas of the lawn. Fescue doesn’t have rhizomes and won’t spread, so bare spots need to be overseeded in all-fescue lawns.

After selecting the type of grass, measure your lawn, subtracting non-green areas such as the shed and patio. Calculate total square feet and buy the appropriate amount of seed and fertilizer, says Balek.

Consider whether to do a complete renovation or overseed areas with poor growth such as compacted footpaths. Seeding is the most economical choice. Plugs and sod are options for those who want quick results at a higher cost. Follow seeding guidelines. Too much seed can result in an overly dense stand with spindly grass that is more susceptible to disease.

Fall is the best time to do soil tests, which can help homeowners avoid wasting money on excess fertilizer. “Without a soil test, we’re just guessing,” Keay says. “Know before you throw.” Excess fertilizer can run off into water systems, so soil testing also helps to protect the environment.

Keay recommends calibrating spreaders so the right amounts of seed and fertilizer come out. Fill spreaders in the driveway to avoid spills that could burn lawns. Sweep up any spillages. If you aren’t going to calibrate your spreader, it is best to make multiple passes at a low discharge setting to avoid uneven application or overapplication, he says.

September is the best time to seed and overseed cool-season grasses, says Keay. Allow enough time for seeds to germinate and grow three or more mature leaves—usually four to six weeks before the first killing frost.

Spreading a straw mulch layer when establishing or renovating a lawn is important to keep seed in place during heavy rains and to minimize losses to birds. Water newly planted lawns. If using sod, water once or twice daily at first. Monitor the soil to make sure it remains moist but not oversaturated, Keay says. Water less frequently after seeds sprout.

Seed warm-season grasses in late spring after soil temperatures reach 75-80 F.

Fall is also a good time to aerate compacted areas where grass does not grow well. Use a potato fork to manually open soils or rent a machine. If aerating in the fall, spread cool-season grass seed the same day for best establishment.

As grasses slow their growth, reduce mowing and avoid weekly schedules. “Let the grass tell you when to mow,” Keay says. Remove only one-third of the grass height at a time. He recommends against bagging clippings, which can add organic matter to soils.

MU Extension has numerous publications to help with lawn care. Search for “lawn care” at extension.missouri.edu.

Writer: Linda Geist

Media Contact

Robert Balek
417/358-2158

Justin Keay
573/324-5464

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