Lawn owners, start your verticutters.
As fall approaches and the drought in the metro area closes in on 100 days, the race is on to get those burned-up yards back in shape.
And this year, more than any in recent memory, people are faced with deciding whether to start all over or go into a reseeding mode — at the same time everyone else wants to do the same thing. And rent the same equipment.
“It’s usually the first couple of weekends in September that’s an issue, and it’ll probably be even more of one this year,” said Trevor Taylor, manager of the Grass Pad at Interstate 35 and Santa Fe in Olathe. “We’re getting a lot of calls, and we’ve got a lot of dead lawns.”
Although equipment may be in short supply, grass seed should not be, experts said.
“There were pretty good stockpiles from past years when many parts of the country were not suffering drought, so there really got to be more back stock than they’d like to have,” said Dennis Patton, Johnson County Extension horticulture agent. “It’s going to clear out a lot of that stockpile.”
Lala Kumar, a horticultural specialist at the University of Missouri Extension in Jackson County, said September is the best time to seed. Bluegrass and tall fescue are the main cool-season turf grasses in the area, he said.
“If people have warm-season grass, such as zoysia, they shouldn’t do anything until next spring,” he said.
Kumar said people need to decide whether they want to overseed or replace their entire lawn.
“If more than 50 percent of the grass is dead, it is better to replace the whole thing,” he said.
Patton said there will probably be more dead lawns than dormant ones.
“This is going to be one of the most severe years for lawns,” he said. “Lawns will normally go dormant in our seasons, but they’re used to getting a little rainfall every three or four weeks. Now some have gone two months or more with nothing.”
So how do you tell whether your grass is dead or just dormant?
“One way is to get down on your hands and knees and dig around into the thatched layer of the crown of the turf, the growing point,” Patton said. “If there’s some green life in there, no matter how weak it is, the plant’s alive. If it’s all dry, brown and crispy, then it’s gone.”
Another option, Patton said, is to water the grass heavily, applying at least an inch or more of water to soak the soil. If it’s dormant, he said, it should start to show signs of life within a week.
“It should mostly come back this season,” he said. “If we get some rainfall, within two weeks you’d see a night-and-day difference. Some areas around here got a couple inches of rain last week, and their lawns are already greening back up.”
If the grass is dead, experts say, you need to mow it low, bag the clippings, water the soil well, then verticut in a couple of directions. The verticut machine slices grooves into the soil, which then provides a place for the grass seed to lodge in the ground.
For overseeding the lawn, you still need to verticut, experts say.
“If you have time, energy and money and want to get the best of both worlds, then core aerate and follow up with verticutting,” Patton said. “Then scatter the seed, bluegrass or fescue. Fertilize either before or after the seed. Then you start to water.”
Fescue germinates in a week to 10 days, he said. Bluegrass germinates in 10 days to two weeks.
The soil surface must remain moist at all times during the germination stage, Patton said.
“You’ve got to be committed to watering the soil,” he said. “You want to do very light, very frequent applications, and you may have to do it once or twice a day. If it rains, that would be perfect, as long as it’s not a gully-washer.”Coming rush
Lawn service companies are preparing for the rush.
“We’re getting bombarded with calls and emails,” said Katie Bannon, office manager at Hometown Lawn in Olathe. “Most of them are for verticuts. We’ve done a handful, and we’re scheduling people starting the first week of September.”
Those who are planning to verticut, she said, need to water ahead of time.
“They need to get the ground moist so that when we show up it’s easier on the equipment and the lawn,” she said.
Sprinkler systems also are in high demand, she said.
“We’ve been booked,” she said. “People finally realize that with no rain, they maybe should be doing something about their lawns.”
Brett Miller of Miller Lawn and Landscape in Lee’s Summit had crews verticutting and seeding on Friday before the long-awaited rain shut them down.
“The drought desperately hurt us during mowing season,” he said. “But now, I’m getting a lot of calls. I’m up probably 50 percent from last year.”
Companies that rent lawn equipment also are preparing for a surge in business.
“We are getting a lot of calls,” said Francisco Ramirez in the rental service department at Strasser Hardware. “Maybe not this weekend so much, but definitely next weekend.”
One item that is more popular this year than in the past, he said, is a de-thatcher to remove thatch from lawns.
A big challenge may be in finding lawn-care equipment.
“We’ve got this two-to-three-week window and everybody wanting it at the same time,” Patton said. “Some places take reservations and others are on a first-come, first-served basis.”
One tip, he said, is for neighbors to get together and rent the equipment for an afternoon.
“The trick to doing that is all your neighbors have to be synchronized,” he said.
Another helpful bit of advice: “Don’t make it a weekend project. If you could take time off work during the week, you won’t have to deal with the weekend rush.”