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Originally published Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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In the Garden

It's time to aerate and overseed dormant lawns

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris recommends aerating and overseeding dormant lawns, using an organic fertilizer this time of year and letting the grass grow a bit and not cutting it too short.

Special to The Seattle Times

If you didn't water your lawn and allowed it to go dormant this summer, it undoubtedly has been beat to tweetle by the record-breaking hot temperatures we experienced.

Whip it back into shape by aerating and overseeding. Rent an aerator machine and use it to punch as many holes as you can in your lawn. Don't worry: You can't overdo the aerating. The more holes, the better.

If your lawn is dry as a bone, water it a couple of days in advance. The soil should contain about the moisture of a squeezed sponge. You don't need to rake up the plugs. Overseed with a 50-50 mix by weight of fine fescue and perennial rye grass. Add more fescue if the lawn is in shade. Rake the seed into the holes. Seedlings that germinate on lawn thatch rarely survive.

Apply an organic lawn fertilizer, and keep the soil surface moist until the seedlings get tall enough to mow. Get the job done by mid-October and before you know it, your lawn will look good enough to hold a PGA tournament.

Fertilize

Whether you go to the extra effort of aerating and overseeding your lawn or not, this is a good time to apply an organic fertilizer.

If you allowed your lawn to go dormant all summer, avoid using synthetic fertilizers because these lawns could easily be harmed by an overabundance of readily available salts and minerals.

Organic fertilizer, on the other hand, becomes available only after microorganisms in the soil break it down, so it's virtually impossible for it to burn the grass plants.

By fertilizing with organic fertilizer now, you'll help the grass break out of dormancy and encourage sustained, thick growth better able to withstand a long, hopefully not too cold winter.

Begin mowing again

If you want an attractive lawn that will require less irrigation and weed control, let your grass grow a little taller. If you are like the average homeowner and cut your grass to only 1 inch tall, try cutting it higher. I recommend cutting it to 2 inches when it reaches a height of about 3 inches. Allowing the grass to grow a little taller will initiate deeper root growth. It will also help control weeds, because taller grass is more likely to shade the soil surface containing weed seeds that need to be hit by direct sunshine in order to germinate.

Avoid cutting the grass too much higher than 2 inches. If it gets too tall, it tends to mash down when it's walked on. Whether you cut to 2 inches or not, be sure to mow whenever the grass reaches a third higher than the desired cutting height.

If you cut on time, there's no reason to pick up the cuttings, but if you wait until the grass is overly tall, the cuttings could suffocate the grass, and you'll be forced to rake up the cuttings to prevent harming the grass. I find that it takes way longer to rake the grass (or empty the clipping bag attached to the mower) than to mow.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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