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Now’s the Time to Improve Your Lawn

Get a soil test, and I’ll write you a free prescription for what to do next

If your lawn is just so-so and you want to make it look like a professional lawn next year, now is the time to take action.
    A soil test of the existing lawn is of utmost importance. A good lawn requires a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 with medium to optimum levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. If the appearance of your current lawn is uniform, then only one sample should be adequate. However, if the front lawn is better than the side or back lawn, submit samples for each section of different appearance.

Cut Cattails for Your Home

  Cattails are uniformly brown and straight, making them just right for picking. Cut stems three to four feet long and hang them upside-down in a shed or garage for two weeks. When the heads feel dry to the touch, dunk them in a mixture of one part Elmer’s white glue and nine parts water. A 11⁄2-inch plastic pipe about two feet long with a cap at one end makes a perfect dunking tank. Allow each cattail to remain submerged for about 10 minutes. Hang the cattail upside-down again until they feel dry to the touch.

    For each sample, make a composite of five or six core samples taken to a depth of at least six inches. Mix them together and remove a cupful for testing.
    If the soil in your lawn is so compacted that you are not able to penetrate six inches for the sample, you will need to make major soil improvements before seeding or sodding.
    Air-dry the samples overnight on a sheet of newspaper. Find instructions on submitting samples at For most lawns, the S1 test is adequate. However, if the soil is sandy, I recommend you request the S3 test.
    I will make recommendations for improving your lawn free of charge for Bay Weekly readers. Add my e-mail —  [email protected] — to your samples and the results will be forwarded to me.
    The recommendations will be based on 1,000 square feet, so before buying products you’ll need to determine the area of lawn to be treated. If lime and fertilizers are recommended, they should be applied as uniformly as possible.
    After the lime and fertilizers are applied, use a rented core aerator on the entire lawn. Rake away the removed core plugs and add them to the compost pile.
    Next, spread two to three cubic yards of compost, such as LeafGo, Orgro, Top Grow, Chesapeake Green or manure, and rake vigorously to fill the core holes. If you have bare spots, sow fresh grass seed and rake lightly into the compost. Cover the seeded area with a light coating of straw and water lightly twice daily until the seeds germinate.
    It may seem like a lot of work, but this fall and next spring you will be rewarded with a deep green lawn worthy of compliments.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.