Gardening: Good time to plant grass, fill in dead spots

After several weeks of high heat and lack of rain, your lawn may be suffering but cooling weather and fall rains will quickly green it up.

However, any bare or dead spots larger than 4 inches in diameter should be reseeded before weeds have a chance to take over. The good news is now is the best time do the job.

When removing dead grass and weeds from the bare or damaged patches, dig rather than pull perennial weeds to get out all the roots. Re-sprouting weeds compete with grass seedlings for moisture and usually win the battle.

Using a rake or a three-pronged cultivator, loosen and smooth the soil to provide a soft bed for the seed.

After spreading the seed, gently tamp it down to make good contact with the soil. This step is often passed on, but if the seed sprouts and does not have contact with the soil it will die.

Spreading straw over the seeded area serves as a mulch to protect the soil, stabilize the seed and hold in moisture. For small areas, purchasing seed combined with mulch and a starter fertilizer in one container is the easy way to go.

Grass seed can take 21 days to germinate, however, when the soil is warm it sprouts more quickly. The secret to success for growing grass seed is keeping the soil bed moist at all times. This may mean watering the area twice a day in hot weather. A watering wand with fine spray or a watering can are good tools for spot watering. When using a watering can, start sprinkling on established grass. When the spray is even, move to the seedbed. When you begin watering with a watering can, the water pattern is often uneven and large drops of water can dislodge the seed and wash it away.

A floating row cover, often sold under the brand names of Grass Fast or Harvest Guard, makes a great protective covering that holds in moisture, allows sun and water to pass through it and protects the seed bed from birds. It can be left in place until the grass needs cutting. For small areas cut it to size and use garden staples to hold it in place. Make your own staples by cutting the shoulders off of inexpensive coat hangers.

Even if a starter fertilizer is used, new grass should be fertilized after 30 days and my product of choice is an organic slow-release fertilizer, such as Grass Magic.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.