Fall Lawn Care With Doug Soldat

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Lawns can be a lovely part of a yard, but they do take some work. On Garden Talk, Larry Meiller finds out what should be on our early fall to-do list, and how to decipher the label on grass seed.

Featured in this Show

  • Early Fall Is Prime Time For Lawn Care

    There’s a lot to do in the garden this time of year, and if you have a lawn, this is the perfect time to give it some attention. Doug Soldat is an Associate Professor and UW-Extension Specialist in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He says that other than weed control, which really needs to wait until a little later in the season, right now, late summer, “is a prime time for lawn care. You do everything from fertilizing, reseeding … now’s the time definitely to make some positive changes to your lawn.”

    It may be hard to know if you need to reseed or if the lawn is doing alright on its own. Soldat says that any bare area “the size of a dinner plate or bigger” should be reseeded. But you don’t want to just add seed to ground that wasn’t able to support the grass that was there before. So Soldat recommends adding some compost and enriching the soil. For best results, he says to loosen up the soil and really work those amendments in well. After the soil has been improved, add a layer of starter fertilizer. Then, he says, “put the seed down, rake it in and tamp it down with your foot. Just putting it on the surface is basically going to assure a failure. If you want to have good success, you’ve got to have that seed mixed down into that top ¼ or ½ inch of the soil.”

    It’s also a good idea to put down a light layer of mulch, but Soldat cautions that you don’t want to bury it. “I go around this time of year,” he says, “and all you can see is the straw. You want to see about fifty percent soil, fifty percent straw, and that’s when you have enough of that mulch.”

    Reseeding is best done between August 15th and September 15th, depending on the weather. Soldat says that with the cool start to August that we had, it could have been done a little early this year. But right now, at the end of August and beginning of September, is the best time to get the reseeding done. Coming up on the holiday, he says “this would be a great weekend to get some seed in the ground.”

    There are a lot of different choices for what type of grass to plant, but they aren’t all equal. Soldat says that looking at the effects of last year’s drought, Kentucky bluegrass is still one of the best options available. It tolerated the drought better than most varieties, he says. Because it spreads by creeping, it is also a good choice if you have a fair amount of space that you want to fill in.

    Soldat has some advice for reading the label on a grass seed bag. First, he says, you’re going to see marketing information. “It’s going to say ‘sunny mix,’ ‘shady mix,’ try to ignore that. Flip [the bag] over and look at the back. You’re looking for grasses with high percentages of fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. The annual ryegrass and perennial ryegrass we want to keep to a minimum.” That’s because the annual ryegrass won’t survive the winter, and the perennial ryegrass has some disease issues, Soldat explains. Unfortunately, seed mixes without any ryegrass are hard to find because they are inexpensive seeds, and often used as filler in the mixes. That allows suppliers to produce their products more cheaply. But Soldat says those rye-free mixes are out there, you just have to look for them.

    The UW Extension Learning Store has several publications about lawn care, including on organic and reduced-risk lawn care and weed control in lawns.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Doug Soldat Guest