Dear Miss Floribunda,
I read with interest your advice to plant trees and shrubs in the fall. What about lawn repair? I have a lot of bare spots, some of which I covered with wood chips left over after I had a tree taken down. I don’t like all the insects crawling around the mulch and I think the bare spots have actually spread from under it. What do you suggest?
Losing Lawn on Lawrence Street
Dear Losing Lawn,
Yes, this is the best time of year for seeding your lawn, and for the same reasons given for planting trees and shrubs now. In addition, competing weeds will be dying. However, you will have a little research to do before taking on the task. For example, it’s important to know what kind of grass you already have so as to get seed or plugs of grass that will pretty much match it.
You also need to get your soil tested. One possible reason for the bare patches is that your soil is too acidic and needs some lime. Bad drainage is another possible cause, and you may need to work in more composted organic matter.
That wood chip mulch you put down, while organic, is at this point drawing out nitrogen as bacteria and the insects you describe break it down into the soil. Most gardeners agree that wood chips should be placed only on pathways where you don’t want anything at all to grow.
I always like to interview a hands-on expert with visible gardening results that inspire confidence, and had only to look a few doors down the street to find one. I asked my neighbor Lon Greensward what he does to keep his front yard looking so velvety and viridescent. He told me he feeds the grass three times a year, with specialized fertilizers appropriate to the season. In the fall he aerates the soil with a kind of roller with prongs that lifts little plugs of soil out of the ground. (You could also use a spike rather than a plug aerator.) Lon believes this task is especially important because “the ground has to breathe.” He adds lime and seed as needed.
Another important fall chore he advocates is to rake up leaves every week rather than waiting till they finish tumbling down at the end of autumn. Even a small quantity of leaves can keep oxygen and water from the soil.
The University of Maryland has a very good site that has a special section on lawn care. It even includes a video that shows you just what equipment you need and how to use it. If you wish to hire someone to do the work for you, you might consult with the local experts there to find a reputable company.
To discuss this and other gardening concerns with the members of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society, and to participate in the autumn plant exchange, please come to our next meeting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 20. It will take place at the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder, 3909 Longfellow Street.