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How Can We Save Our Lawns This Fall?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Fall is usually a great time to prep your lawns for next spring. The only problem is we're weathering a historic drought.

WCCO wanted to know: How can someone save their lawn this fall? And has the drought changed those plans? Good Question.

Some people quenched their lawns thirst this year through irrigation, while others have begrudgingly accepted the tan tint taking over the yard. The latter is a choice that master gardener Rebecca Kolls feels people should embrace.

Why is the fall such a good time to prep your lawn for the spring?

"Because the lawn will take the nutrients, they will store them and next spring it really energizes them to get growing," Kolls said.

In a normal weather year, September is often when people winterize their lawns with fertilizer, grass seed, or by aerating the lawn.

How has the drought thrown a wrench into fall fertilizing?

"The lawn is stressed to the point of death in some cases. So definitely you do not want to add any additional burden or any additional stress," Kolls said.

If the grass is dead, fertilizer does nothing. If it's dormant, meaning there's a little bit of green near the root, the grass is already preparing for winter. Kolls said it's not good to encourage dormant grass to grow.

Drought Lawn Care
(credit: CBS)

"It's not going to suddenly wake it up and turn green, because we need water to do that," she said.

What about sod?

"Sod and new grass needs gobs of water. Every single day, sometimes two or three times a day," Kolls said.

Water is obviously hard to come by in a drought, unless you're irrigating. And if you're irrigating, you likely didn't need to buy sod.

"If you are not able to water, I wouldn't sod until next spring," Kolls said.

Don't lose all hope. There is a trick to try as winter nears known as "dormant seeding," where you spread grass seed on dead and dormant patches when the ground is frozen, usually in November and December. It doesn't require any watering.

"Then in the spring when that snow melts, that grass will germinate and if all goes well, it will grow into beautiful green grass and you've already done all the work for you and should get a jump start on the season," Kolls said.

Aerating lawns is another task typically done in the fall. If your lawn is dead or dormant, Kolls suggests skipping it this year. Doing so could further stress the lawn.

Rain is expected later this week, which could create a brief window to plant seed. Maggie Reiter, a turf expert with the University of Minnesota Extension, suggests seeding so long as rain stays in the forecast. Otherwise, you would be tasked with watering it in order to make sure it grows.

Like Kolls, Reither believes people should focus on lawn recovery and holding back on traditional fall practices.

If you're someone who has been regularly irrigating your lawn to the point where it hasn't burned or died, you can continue with your normal fall fertilization plan. Continued watering, however, will be necessary.

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