NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — About 42 years ago, Paul Weiss spent days on his knees installing a lawn he hoped would last forever — several hundred Zoysia plugs he ordered for about $17 from a magazine ad.
Within no time, those Zoysia plugs spread to create a lush 30-by-60-foor front lawn where his 15 grandkids and 19 great-grandkids love to play today.
Even neighborhood critters like squirrels fancy the Zoysia grass around his rancher in southeastern Virginia.
“It’s funny to see the squirrels crawl through it,” said Paul’s wife, Sarah.
“The grass is so thick that all you can see is their little heads peeking out.”
Over the decades, Paul, 80, has done little except mow to maintain the Zoysia. He seldom fertilizes it, and still the grass bounces back with great vigor each growing season. When he does fertilize, about every three years, he uses a 5-10-5 formula.
“It looks really nice and seldom has any weeds in it, maybe a few dandelions that I quickly eliminate,” he said.
Whether you grow a warm- or cool-season fescue lawn is a matter of preference plus climate conditions for where you live.
Warm-season grasses that include Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine and Centipede green up in summer and turn brown in late fall, winter and early spring, whereas fescue does just the opposite.
Warm-season grasses are generally best for southern climates but also adapt very nicely to what’s called the “transition zone” — locales situated between northern and southern climates, which includes Kansas to the Carolinas and Virginia.
Zoysia is considered the most ornamental of warm-season grasses, according to Mike Westphal, garden supply buyer at McDonald Garden Center — www.mcdonaldgardencenter.com — in Hampton, Va.
“It does take some time to get established,” he said.
“From seed or plug you are typically looking at a two-year period before complete coverage is achieved and is always tricky to keep the grass growing while also controlling weeds. You must have some patience with this grass, but if done properly it will reward you for many years to come.”
Whether your lawn is a cool- or warm-season type, fall is the perfect time to give it a little TLC, and here are some generalized tips to help you; consult your favorite garden center or local extension office for information specific to your growing conditions:
FESCUE FALL CARE
Sow fescue seed in early to late fall.
Fertilize during September, October and November — think SON. Avoid fertilizing cool-season lawns in the spring because it promotes excessive lawn growth that stresses during summer’s heat.
Core-aerate to relieve compaction and open up the soil to air, water and organic material.
Dethatch the lawn if thatch (dead stems, decaying matter) exceeds ½ inch. While disruptive to the lawn, its benefits outweigh the disadvantages and fall is the best time for the lawn to recover.
Mow at the proper height — 3 inches is ideal for fescue; using a mulching mower to recycle nutrients and moisture back into the soil.
WARM-SEASON FALL LAWN CARE
Warm-season grasses are generally not fertilized in fall because they are getting ready for winter dormancy. However, a light fertilization can keep the plant alive longer but not to the point of subjecting it to winter kill.
Over seed Bermuda, if desired, with rye for a green winter look but know weed control products can adversely impact new seedlings, so read labels carefully.
Do not core aerate or dethatch warm-season lawns at this time of year.
TEST YOUR SOIL
Before you apply nutrients you lawn may not need, do a soil test to determine what nutrients are abundant and which ones are lacking. Soil-testing kits are available through garden centers and extension offices nationwide.
ONLINE TURF TIPS
Year-round lawn care tips from The Lawn Institute at www.TheLawnInstitute.org.
Organic and alternative lawn tips from SafeLawns at www.SafeLawns.org.