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September Is THE Time For Lawn Care & Repair

Well, that's certainly true if you have a cool-season lawn composed of bluegrass and/or fescue, but this is NOT the time of year to do anything to a warm-season grass like Bermuda or Zoysia—right?

Let's find out.

Q. When is the best time to apply milky spore to control Japanese beetle grubs in the lawn? And how often should it be applied?

---Stephen in Ellicott City Maryland

Oh—I guess this is the time to prevent grubs in all kinds of lawns…

A. In the summer, Japanese beetles—and other members of the scarab beetle family—feed and copulate on your roses. Then the females lay their eggs in unprotected soil—or in the case of Japanese beetles, almost exclusively in turfgrass. (And they're looking for lawns that are overly wet or cut too short, so you can limit the damage by keeping the lawn cut at the correct height and strategically withholding water.)

Anyway, the eggs hatch out little grubs that turn into big grubs that eat the roots of your grass.

Now, this is the time of year when milky spore—a naturally occurring 'disease (a disease that only affects Japanese beetle grubs)—is most effective; when the soil is warm and the grubs are feeding. Any grub that ingests one of the spores now will die and become a milky spore machine, theoretically re-'infecting' the lawn for years to come. (Oh—it's called 'milky' spore because if it works, the grubs turn milky white.)

Now, most researchers feel that milky spore only affects the grubs of Japanese beetles and not their cousins, like rose chafers and Asiatics. But "BTG", the new strain of Bt, affects all grubs.

Is that the "BeetleJus" we talked about earlier this year? (LOVE that name!)

No—that's the brand name Gardens Alive gave to the type of BTG that you spray on plants under attack by adult beetles in the summer. They call the version for lawn use "Grubhalt". (These BTG products may be available at retail under other brand names—but make sure that you're not buying a toxic chemical grub-killer. Make sure the label says "Bacillus Thuringensis".)

Q. My lawn is overgrown with crab grass and dandelion. The development was stripped of its top soil and what's left is sandy. It's a mostly sunny yard. I'm swearing off weed and feed and the guys that come around and spray, but the neighbors are starting to give me 'that look'. I know it will take some time to grow a heathy lawn but I'm desperate to give it a go. Any suggestions on how to start?

---Lionel in Elk Ridge, Illinois

A. It shouldn't take all that long. Illinois is the perfect place to grow a cool-season grass, and September is the perfect time to sow the seed of cool-season grasses. First, torch the crabgrass with a flame weeder to toast as many dropped weed seeds as possible. And, despite being 'sandy', the dandelions reveal that this soil is compacted, so either till it all up and rake away as much green material as possible or have a core-aeration performed to reduce the soil compaction.

Then level it out if you tilled, have a big load of compost or aged mushroom soil delivered, spread that an inch or so thick and then level that out. Leveling is the part that people most often neglect when starting a new lawn, but its hugely important—how can you cut the future lawn at an even three inches if the soil looks like a roller coaster underneath?

Sow the fresh seed into the compost and then just go over it with a rake until most of the seed is covered. No straw or other nonsense. Then water it as gently as possible for about a half hour every morning. The new grass should be up and growing fast. Then back off the watering schedule slowly until you get to 'normal' once-a-week deep, long watering. (And only if you don't get rain!)

Q. We just moved into a new house. The backyard soil is compacted and the grass is brown and patchy. I'm planning on aerating, applying compost and corn gluten meal, and then overseeding with fescue. What sequence would you recommend?

---Lincoln in Cherry Hill, NJ

Aerate first; then compost…

Make sure you level it out…

And then sow the new seed. No corn gluten now. It inhibits all seeds from germinating, including grass seed. Use the corn gluten two weeks after your new grass is up and growing and again in the spring--to feed the new turf and take care of any crabgrass seeds you missed.

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