Labor Day Lawn Chores
By Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Extension, Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences
The Labor Day holiday signals the unofficial end to summer and also a great reminder that September is a key time for homeowners looking to spruce up the lawn.
It’s a busy time of year with school starting, fall sports kicking into full gear, and of course lawn chores preparing for winter. Throughout most of Michigan, the summer of 2014 will likely be remembered for cool temperatures and adequate if not excessive rainfall. Some will also remember 2014 as the summer the turf would never quit growing. Probably the biggest challenge I’ve seen with most lawns is simply a lack of fertility. With perfect growing conditions, turf has burned through fertilizer applications quicker than normal resulting in many lawns starting to lose density and becoming invaded by pests such as white clover and rust.
Fall is the ideal time to control weeds because unlike the summer when weeds are focusing on top-growth, in the fall weeds are storing energy in their root system and are more susceptible to herbicide applications. If you can tolerate looking at the weeds for a couple more weeks, wait until late September or early October before making a herbicide application. Apply herbicides on a sunny day when rain is not in the forecast for 24 hours. We want the herbicides to dry on the leaf surfaces and not be immediately washed off.
There are many different herbicides that could be used including the most common three-way broadleaf weed control mixtures. As with any pesticide application, always make sure to wear the appropriate safety attire and follow all label recommendations.
In addition to weeds invading, I’ve also been noticing plenty of rust on turf. Rust is the disease homeowners notice when their white tennis shoes and white poodles traverse through the lawn and come back with a nice shade of bronzish-orange. There are several types of rust: stem rust, crown rust, leaf rust and stripe rust. As a general rule in almost all cases, rust is considered a cosmetic turfgrass disease that, although it may discolor the turf, will not result in turfgrass death.
If you find yourself inundated with a bad case of rust, make sure to keep up on your mowing and a fertilizer application around the Labor Day weekend should help stimulate turf growth that will help diminish the impact of the rust.
A fertilizer application in early September will help the turf outcompete pests such as white clover and rust. Choose a fertilizer that has slow release nitrogen in the analysis such as sulfur coated urea, polymer coated urea, methylene urea or a natural organic source. I would generally avoid applying 100 percent fast release nitrogen fertilizers such as urea at this time of year as they can force too much top-growth that results in more mowing and reduced rooting. Fertilizing around Labor Day will result in moderate top-growth and give the turf some extra energy to develop roots and improve density.
If you’re thinking about seeding any bare areas in the lawn this fall, now is the time to get started. Reduced weed competition from summer annuals such as crabgrass, cooler temperatures and shorter day length that results in less time for soil drying all facilitate turf establishment in the fall. In many cases, home lawns don’t need complete reestablishment, but only reseeding of small areas or interseeding into a thin lawn to increase density. Please see my Michigan State University Extension article from last fall, “Tips for seeding lawns in September,” for five tips on seeding lawns.
Dr. Frank’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.