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Fall aeration/overseed in drought?

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by hurricane, Aug 26, 2002.

  1. hurricane

    hurricane LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    Here in middle NC, we're going through a drought and in my location it's being called "exceptional", the word for one stage worse than severe. Our water usage rules have just ticked up a notch and we can only water a little on ONE day per week. This can make you nervous about even keeping those little crowns alive, not to mention everything going dormant.

    My lawn care service is ready for my to schedule my usual fall aeration and overseeding for my tall fescue lawn.

    Of course, no one can really predict the weather but what should I do? I'm thinking I should go ahead and punch the yard and have plugs pulled since, as lawnstudent says, that's a wonderful form of top-dressing, in addition to it's other benefits.

    But what about the overseeding and those inevitable spots that are really needing some seed? Should I just go ahead and schedule it and then hope for enough rain or the easing of watering restrictions. New seed takes so much water!

    I guess I'll get a price breakdown for the seeding aspect of this service - it's usually not such a big monetary component I don't think, relative to the aeration. Then perhaps it would be worth the gamble. To me the stakes are high since the fall reseeding is the only really good one. The spring ones around here just don't leave enough time for the young seedlings to mature prior to the hot summer stress.

    At the previous drought stage we had more of a hand-watering option which might have been used for all those frequent waterings that new seeds need but now even that option has gone by the wayside.

    What do you guys think? Any insights?

  2. lawnstudent

    lawnstudent LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 472

    Aeration is best performed when the grass is actively growing. I would wait until the heat subsides and the fall rains start. When your grass greens and starts growing again is when you should consider fall aeration.

    Seed needs warm temps and moisture to germinate. Once germinated, the seedling needs enough time to grow and harden before the winter frost. Here in Illinois it is recommended that you over-seed at the end of August with Kentucky Bluegrass. It take 21 days for KB to germinate. This allows the grass nearly a full Sept & Oct. growth before the frosts start in November. Delaying over-seeding past the end of August puts the lawn at risk of a winter kill. NC is a milder climate. I suspect that Sept. is OK for over-seeding in your area. When do the frosts hit in your area? Will your grass have enough time to germinate and grow 2 months before the frosts set in? That is how you tell if it is too late to over-seed.

    Should you over-seed now without reliable rain and watering restrictions? The seed will not germinate without water or your young seedlings with small immature roots will die without consistant watering. Seeding under drought conditions is a risk. Seed now and the rains return - you win. Seed now and the drought continues - you lose some money. How important is a green lawn versus your abilty to withstand losing some money on a failed over-seeding?
  3. hurricane

    hurricane LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    We've now had some days of really good rain so I'm feeling much more hopeful this week -- not the floods they got east of Raleigh but some more spaced out general rains - a true blessing when you're only allowed to water once a week.

    As usual, your experience and thoughtful comments help me take my learning another step. I had managed to get familiar with the idea that you want to be early enough with the overseed for a good early growth period but not so early that it's still hot and dry (even more of a consideration down here). One interesting thing which is a consideration for me is beating the fall leaves. I have a lot and once they fall it can be a challenge to keep them off the young grass shoots.

    I have no idea when to expect our first frosts. Perhaps some kind North Carolina soul reading this will offer insight! I'll have to try checking my tv-weather website or call the ag extension I guess or asking around. I bet it's quite a bit later.

    So up there in Illinois you must have already completed your overseeding? Or are you planning to use up the Labor Day holiday getting it done?

    I'll probably risk it and put the seed down if the expense doesn't seem like too much - I still need to talk to them. I'm pretty disappointed that it's not a more ideal fall because I have some bare spots I'd really hoped to turn around.

    Thanks again for the advice!
  4. SouthernGardening

    SouthernGardening LawnSite Member
    Messages: 22

    Hurricane, By any chance are you in the OWASA water district? If so, you're in Zone 7b. Raleigh is Zone 8a. I'm planning on aerating my clients' lawns, seeding them and praying for rain. The last 2 falls were dry, dry, dry. Time for a change and, anyway, the seed and labor are cheap compared to the machinery and labor needed for aerating.
  5. hurricane

    hurricane LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    You hit the nail on the head. OWASA it is. We had at least 2" this past weekend. I wonder how much got added to our Cane Creek reservoir? Doesn't mean it won't turn dry again but it's always encouraging to see everything soaking it up!

    Thanks for the advice, SouthernGardening, I'm leaning toward doing it (I know, better lean fast, as it's time -- Are you beginning to do your OWASA area folks now?)

  6. SouthernGardening

    SouthernGardening LawnSite Member
    Messages: 22

    Hurricane, Yep, I'm starting aeration and seeding next week.

    Forgot to pass on that our first frost is usually the week of our NC State Fair. Oct 22, give or take a few days.

    Are you familiar with the Triangle's 3 excellent public gardens? NC Botanical Garden on the 15-501 bypass in Chapel Hill has NC native plants beautifully displayed. Lots of info there and the Botanical Garden staff even ID's plants brought in Mon-Fri between noon and 1PM.:)
  7. hurricane

    hurricane LawnSite Member
    Messages: 6

    Oct22 - Gee, that gives me less than 2 months for the new shoots to grow, which was what lawnstudent was commenting about. But your method of remembering first frost is good and I will remember it.

    Yes, I love the Botanical Gardens and enjoy going there. Duke Gardens is also nice for outings and I've heard that NCState has gardens but have not been there, where are they relative to State campus?

  8. SouthernGardening

    SouthernGardening LawnSite Member
    Messages: 22


    So glad you're familiar w/ The Botanical Garden and Duke Gardens.

    The JC Raulston Arboretum is on Beryl Rd in Raleigh. Take the Wade Ave Exit off 40, exit at Blue Ridge Rd and turn Right at the traffic light. You'll have the State Fairgrounds on your right and the Vet School is to the left. At the Hillsborough Rd intersection turn Left. Go under the 440 overpass and start looking for the Waffle House on the right. Beryl Rd is to the Right, just before the Waffle House. The JCRaulston is a couple of blocks down Beryl on your left. The dedication of the new education building is Sept 21. Usually there are guided tours on Sundays at 2PM.

    Hope this helps!

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