Question and Answer for treating your lawn:
1) I am renting an self-propelled aerator for the first time this weekend. What should I know in advance and what do I need to do when finished as I plan on seeding the yard?
First, ensure you rent a core aerator; the kind that pulls plugs from, not spikes, your lawn. If you have a sprinkler system or invisible fence, make sure you mark them with marking flags. You know the location of every head, we know, but do yourself a favor and mark them just to be safe. Marking flags are cheap, replacing a sprinkler head is not. Talk to your neighbors as well to find out if they have sprinkler heads or an invisible fence, as they could be on your property lines. The only thing worse then hitting your own sprinkler head is to destroy your neighbors.
Clean your yard up of any leaves or debris before you get started. Just do a walk through to get any sticks, rocks, and toys out of the yard before you run the aerator. It is a good idea to water your lawn the day before you aerate, especially if it’s been dry. This allows your aerator to get better penetration, and pull the plugs easier. You can always use a shovel to test your lawn and see how dry and hard the ground is to give you an idea of how much to water. You also want to mow your lawn before you aerate, see question 2 below.
The self-propelled aerators have a speed setting that needs to be watched. It’s not a race. The slower you go the better, for if you go too fast the aerator fails to pull the plugs properly. When turning corners with the aerator remember to lift the punchers, as it can pop the chain off if they are embedded.
When you are done aerating, you spread your seed. It’s not a bad idea to rake over your lawn a little bit as well if you feel it’s needed. The most important thing to remember: the key to germination is seed-to-soil contact. If the seed is caught up in other grass it will not germinate, thus any seed that misses contact with soil is a wasted seed. You don’t have to add top soil to your lawn, as the plugs break down back into the lawn, but it helps with the aforementioned contact. If your lawn is relatively healthy you should be fine. If your lawn is in really bad shape, adding top soil or another cover helps germinate seed. I personally think a mix of mushroom mulch and top soil makes for the best cover. A slow-release starter fertilizer can help kick start your new grass as well. Make sure it’s a starter fertilizer or you will prevent the seed from germinating.
Water, water, water, I cannot stress this enough. As soon as you put your seed down, you need to water it in. It also helps breakdown the cores back into the lawn. Don’t stop there though, as you should water, at the very least, twice-a-day for the first couple of weeks. After that time, maintain regular waterings. Also try to hold off on mowing for as long as you can, and when you do mow raise the blades. You don’t want to cut off more then 1/3 of the new grass growth.
2) Do I need to cut the grass before I aerate?
Yes, cut it no more than 2 days before you aerate if seeding. You really should lower your blades to about 1 ½ inches, this will cut your grass short without scalping your lawn. The shorter the grass the better the aerator will be able to pull plugs and the better seed to soil contact there will be when you over-seed. It will also be quite awhile before you mow again, so cutting it short keeps your lawn from getting too out of control.
3) I have a whole new crop of fall weeds. What do I do?
Now is a great time to do weed and feed, which gets rid of broad-leaf weeds and gives your grass the nutrients necessary for root growth. It works on annual and perennial weeds in your lawn. It combats fall-germinating annuals, like chickweed and henbit, as well as the perennials that begin storing nutrients for winter. The weed control attacks the root system of the weed, the key to controlling them come spring. This does not mean you avoid applying a pre-emergent before spring.
If you are planning on over-seeding the yard soon, wait two weeks after the weed-and-feed treatment. Herbicides prevent the seeds from germinating.