The best month for (real) grass

by Mark Cullen

“In September, you can lay sod upside-down and it will still grow.” My late father, great Canadian gardener that he was, used to say this quite frequently. He should have known: he laid a lot of sod in his early days in the landscaping business. Soaking wet, a roll could weigh up to 80 pounds. Not so today. We grow sod on lighter soil, generally, and growers cut them in smaller ‘jelly rolls’.

There is not one self-respecting sod grower in the country who would disagree with this statement: this is the best time of year to either lay sod or sow grass seed. The reasons for this are simple, but often overlooked.

  1. Cool evenings. Grass is a cool season ‘crop’. You may not think of it as a crop at all, but it is an important contributor to the farm gate value of Canada’s agricultural crops.
  2. Heavy morning dew. If you walk through grass in bare feet, early in the morning, this time of year, you are reminded that dew falls heavy in early fall. Maybe that is why we call it ‘fall’?
  3. Shorter days. The long days of summer are behind us and the heat that we often associate with it. Grass responds best to half days of sun and half of night time. Like hydrangea and other late -flowering plants, grass wakes up and gets frisky about now.
  4. Cooler soil. We may have some hot weather ahead of us and we may not. But soil temperatures moderate whether air temperatures are cold or hot. Gradually the soil cools, producing a root-inducing environment for this ‘cool’ crop.

    If you are a golfer you know that fall play provides some of the best playing conditions of the year. One of the reasons is that golf management professionals take the time now to strengthen and grow better turf.

    Here’s how:
    a. Sow grass seed. This is the best time of year to thicken an established, but thin lawn or to start a new lawn from scratch. Make sure that you spread a lawn soil mixture or weed-free triple mix over the area first, about 2 to 3 cm thick. Spread grass seed at the rate of about one lb. per 400 sq. feet. Either do this by hand or use a small ‘whirly gig’ hand-held spreader. Rake it smooth. Step on it to bring the seed and soil in firm contact, water it and keep the area moist until the seed has germinated. You will be amazed at how quickly it emerges from the soil and establishes a thick carpet of green.

    b. Sow seed and compost together. Premier Tech, a Canadian company, introduced a new product this year that includes quality grass seed, a charge of nitrogen, chelated iron and pelletized compost. It is the first product of its kind that can be applied through a fertilizer spreader. As the compost is watered or rained upon, it expands to provide a medium for the grass seed to germinate. Look for Golfgreen Iron Plus 4 in 1 Lawn Recovery. It will save you the effort and expense of bringing in soil to do the job.

    c. Fertilize. Don’t apply fall fertilizer just yet. I know, technically ‘fall’ is only a couple of weeks off. Your lawn needs ‘fall lawn food’ when it is preparing itself for winter, in late October or early November, not now. I apply a regular season lawn food in September, while the lawn is growing actively and can absorb the nutrients. Look for slow release nitrogen, 18-0-8, with chelated iron to do the best job this time of year.

    d. Weed. If controlling weeds in your lawn is important to you, now is a great time of year to control many of them. Dandelions are bi-annuals that seeded early this spring. Small plants established themselves in the weak areas of your lawn this summer and next year they will grow into the dandies that we know. Dig them now or use one of the new environmentally responsible broad-leafed weed killers like the Wilson WeedOut. A dead dandelion this time of year is a nuisance you don’t have to deal with next spring.

    e. Cut your lawn high. It is very important to cut your lawn at least 6 to 8 cm high, especially this time of year, when it is growing actively. Use a mulching mower, to return the nitrogen-rich goodness of grass clippings back to the root zone of grass plants.

    Play. Remember why you grew grass in the first place. It is the most sophisticated living carpet of green on the face of the earth. You can walk, run and roll on it, knowing that an average sized lawn produces enough oxygen to support a family of 4. It sequesters carbon, filters toxins out of rain water and it cools the atmosphere.

    It is September: the best month of the year for (real) grass.

    Mark Cullen is lawn & garden expert for Home Hardware, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden’ published by Dundurn Press.