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    Turf Renovation Part 1: Where to Start

    Over 68% of the country is still experiencing some semblance of precipitation shortage ranging from (D0) abnormally dry to (D4) exceptional drought. That may not be the case for everyone–maybe a chinch bug or white grub invasion caused turf loss. Perhaps it was new construction or there just wasn’t a satisfactory lawn in place. Regardless, now is the perfect time to begin planning for the solution with a turf renovation.

    For areas with cool season turf, late summer to early fall is the optimum time for repairs or full renovation. The reasoning includes the return of seasonal rainfall and cooler temperatures, which tend to be far more conducive to turf reestablishment. Lawns are starting to revert from survival mode to root development or, as it is sometimes called, the second growing season.

    As days pass by in late summer to early fall, the threat of drought and severe weather tends to dwindle, providing excellent conditions for new seedling survival. When we're a couple of weeks ahead of that, it is time to get the plan down on paper and begin implementing the preparation work.

    Here are key steps to take into consideration prior to re-grassing.

    1. Determine what the space is to be used for–In this case, you would look at the sun, or lack thereof, and amount of traffic. For instance, turf type tall fescue is very wear tolerant but also survives better than most in light to moderate shade. Take this time to trim trees and shrubs to allow for more sunlight penetration and air flow.

    2. Assess the amount of area to be renovated (partial or full reno), and also assess thatch content–Is this a non-selective and re-seed or just patch management? Excess thatch should be addressed by de-thatching, aeration, or power raking.

    3. Address irrigation and drainage needs–Low areas and places with poor drainage should be handled at this point. A critical aspect of turf health is water management. This includes irrigation as well as excess moisture. Waterlogged soils tend to be lacking in oxygen leading to root loss, which makes them a happy place for pathogens. Chronically saturated turf will be far more susceptible to disease. Again, water being a key factor, now is the time to conduct irrigation repairs and upgrades or even opt for a quality irrigation system.

    4. Investigate seed species and improved cultivars, and assure availability–There is a world of information to be uncovered by visiting NTEP.org, and you could spend hours researching turfgrass species and varieties. One cautionary statement is that some of these cultivars may not be found in your area. It is important to look for those that perform better, but make sure to curb your enthusiasm due to availability.

    5. Identify weed species and percentage of cover–Prior to renovation, take the opportunity to destroy problematic weeds. Don’t leave anything behind, because non-selective herbicide spots in a new lawn will leave you with regrets. Be sure to read herbicide labels prior to use with respect to seeding following the application.

    6. Determine if you will need seed or sod–This tends to be an availability question. Is sod prevalent in your area? Do they have some of the species and varieties that you are looking for? While the satisfaction of an instant lawn may be appealing, sod can take two to three years to decide if it wants to be there and can be a struggle throughout that period. There will be more options in terms of seed, but of course there is some labor and a waiting period to consider.

    7. Settle on a seeding strategy–Seed to soil contact is absolutely critical for good establishment. In this phase, it is good to develop a strategy for physical seed incorporation. There are options including the mechanical means of aeration, slit seeding, or other equipment that creates a furrow or subsurface place for seed to be sowed. In other cases, light topdressing with soil or combinations of soil with compost can make for a fantastic seed bed, particularly where there is little thatch. However, what is not generally recommended is rototilling. Major soil disruption or cultivation can cause weed seeds that have long been dormant in the soil to come to the surface and germinate.

    8. Decide whether to use a cover–This aspect uses things like slopes and wind as factors in the decision-making process. Steep slopes are prone to wash out and wind-swept areas to seed loss in the breeze. These areas are good for straw mats, while others are fine with loose straw. Remember it will introduce weeds. Other options include peat moss, which is expensive and labor intensive, and Seed Aide CoverGrow. This product will swell to cover the newly seeded area and help manage moisture.

    9. Starter fertilizer and co-product decisions–Lastly, adding a starter fertilizer into the plan is highly recommended. Starters have a high middle number like the oft used 18-24-12. That middle number is phosphorus, which improves seed germination and helps develop dense healthy root systems. There are other products that will help speed up establishment and are key building blocks in developing a strong lawn. Those products include EMPRO Kelp Complex, EMPRO Granular Soil Enhancer and Hydretain.

    Begin the journey with a soil test to determine if there are any deficient nutrients or a pH that should be adjusted. Also, performing an irrigation audit will help with coverage issues along with figuring out run times. If there is no system, hoses and sprinklers will get the job done. There are also some selective herbicides that can be used at or shortly after seeding to prevent unwanted weeds from germinating. If you do select sod, irrigation is just as important for establishment and reduction of shrinkage. Dry sod will shrink, allowing weeds a clear path in the seams.

    Contact the Ewing Technical Services Team with questions about turf renovation. Learn more about executing and finalizing a turf renovation with these articles:

    TAGS: Turf Renovation, turf solutions, Fall Turf Renovation, Maintaining Turf, Turf Management, turf tips