The Old Sod

9 September 2009

In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950


Virginia sits in the transitional zone for turf grasses, where the weather is alternately hostile and beneficial to warm and cool season grasses. In the northern piedmont, the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) recommends cool season grasses. Check your sites unique conditions slope, prevailing winds, sun exposure, and drainage to determine which is best.

Selecting Turfgrass Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and perennial ryegrass, all cool season, fare better in Virginias piedmont than warm season, like zoysia or Bermuda. However, zoysia is a dependable choice for partial shade, but after the first hard frost, zoysia will brown and, too, zoysia is planted in early spring.

Use a mix of cool season grasses for the genetic diversity needed to resist disease and pests. Fine fescues tolerate shade; so adjust the ratio to suit your lawns sun exposure. For species and varietal purity, free of prohibited noxious weed-seeds, buy only certified seed.

Establishing Lawns Eliminate weeds within two weeks with a properly applied herbicide, though an 8-inch layer of arborist wood chips left for a year, before tilling will have the same effect with improved soil health.

Along with the information from your most recent VCE soil test, prepare the earth by tilling to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, applying all recommended nutrients, preferably organic matter, at the rates indicated.

Provide the same soil prep and grass species, whether youre using seed, sod, plugs, sprigs, pre-seeded mats or a combination of all. Youll find that seeding rates are measured at pounds per 1000 square feet: 2 to 3 for Kentucky blue, 4 to 6 for tall fescue and 3 to 5 for fine fescue and perennial rye grass.

Rake the seedbed until smooth and firm. Sow half the seed in one direction and the remaining at right angles to the first. Lightly scrape soil over the seed, then tamp firmly. Cover gently with weed-free straw, or biodegradable grass seed-mats that remain as sprouts emerge.

Ensure germination with frequent early morning, overhead watering for 30 days; work with autumn rains to control costs.

If the final mowing height for the variety sown is 3 inches, then the first mow should be at 4 inches or one-third more than the recommended mowing height.

Maintaining Lawns Manage your lawn with a mulching mower, returning nutrients to the earth. Disease, weeds and insect pests will be minimized. Remove no more than one-third of the turfs height at each mowing. Maintain sharp mower blades to avoid jagged wounds. Irrigate in the early morning to a depth of 6 to 8 inches when rain is insufficient or allow the grass to go dormant. If you plan to over-seed, you must aerate first; otherwise the seed will lie atop the turf and be eaten or carried away by wind and rain. Dethatch when more than a half-inch of thatch piles up.

Editors note: Autumn lawn care for cool season grasses, outlined here, works for both the conventional and organic gardener. For precise natural organic lawn care, check the web sites at Ohio State University and the University of Rhode Island

Tip of the Week

Australian scientists at the U. of Queensland have developed a new fragrance, Serena Scent, that they say contains three of the five chemicals with stress-relieving properties, that are released when grasses and green leaves are cut. Would that be why those who mow consider this chore no chore at all?

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