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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

Grousing about brown grass
Find out how to turn your lawn green again

There’s nothing like heat and drought to make lawns say adios and head for that great compost in the sky. But really, what can you expect with cool season grasses like bluegrass and ryegrass, and to some extent fescues.

If you want grass to survive the summer, you need Bermudagrass or Zoysia grass. Of course these two summer toughies can’t really stand our winters. The latter will turn straw brown, but at least it comes back in the spring. Bermudagrass tends to act like bluegrass does in the summer.

Some will tell you that crabgrass and quackgrass are the perfect specimens. Crabgrass, though, turns brown with the first frost. Quackgrass also turns brown, but as a perennial you can depend on it the next year. Most will tell you these are weeds.

When you’re in the country, you don’t have to worry about your perceptions of the yard. At 55 miles per hour, the average person can’t tell the difference between crabgrass and bluegrass.

Someone will usually say “Mabel, what was that grass in Ruth and Bill’s yard?” Mabel will respond with a “Who cares? Keep your eyes on the road. You’ll kill us.” Then there will be arguments.

Green is still green. Granted when the dandelions are in bloom, you can tell, but when they’re not, the green leaves all blend in as one. Trying for a perfect yard in the rural areas is mainly for your gratification.

Suburban folks have a different take. At 30 miles per hour, patches and differences become noticeable. And those that amble up and down the sidewalks as well as call over the fence can tell.

We try to impress our neighbors, or at least have a lawn as good as or better than theirs.

Sadly there is not perfect grass for Illinois as long as we have inconsistent moisture and temperatures that fluctuate 100 degrees throughout the year. Sigh.

There are things that you can do annually to make your lot in life a little greener.

• Aerate the ground to open up holes and loosen the soil so roots do better. This can be done anytime from the first of September to the end of October. The ground needs to be moist so you can poke a plug out. The best aerator pulls a plug from the soil. Wait a day and mow the plug. Some of the plug will fill the hole; some will fall on the turf.

• Throw in some new grass seed and water. If you aerate, you have holes that will take the seed. If you don’t plug the soil, you can scatter the seed but make sure you drag a rake over the soil to ensure the seeds come in contact with the soil. This is where you can get a child to drag a rake over the ground. You could also try tying a rake to a dog or goat. Just kidding.

• Fertilize the first of this month. However, the first of the month doesn’t go much pass the 7th. If you can’t fertilize by then, wait until Thanksgiving to apply a winterizer, which is something you should do everything Thanksgiving weekend.

• As long as the ground won’t freeze for 4 to 6 weeks, you can lay sod. Of course, you can lay it on the dead grass, and just throw your money away. Like a newly seeded lawn, you need to lay the sod on soil and not old plants.

• Finally, none of these will do anything unless there’s moisture. Fortunately, though it’s tough to predict accurately, Illinois gets moisture during October. If not, get the sprinkler out and water thoroughly each week.

The alternative is to get some green latex paint and spray the lawn. It may cause stares and conversations, but if you winter down south, who cares?

More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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