Weather is warm now: Dethatching and Aerating

jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))March 23, 2012

So temperatures have started picking up here in the desert the past 2 weeks. We've been 70-80 high every day and 40's overnight. I haven't started watering the lawn yet, it's all brown still. I have a tall fescue lawn in my back yard, about a 1000sq ft lawn. Should I start watering regularly now? Our average last frost date is April I'm worried it may freeze again.

I started dethatching using a manual thatch rake (man is that tough work!). I mulch mow, so there was about an inch of thatch easy, and the grass was really scratchy/crispy/and it hurt to walk on barefoot. That's why I'm getting rid of the thatch. Is it okay to start watering now, or should I finish dethatching first? It's going to take a week or so to totally finish dethatching; I just do an hour or two every night.

Also, should I core aerate again when I'm done dethatching? I haven't done that for a year. I plan to overseed and fertilize once I'm all done since the grass is pretty thin after dethatching.

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Contrary to popular belief, mulch mowing isn't really a contributor to thatch. Your climate is different than most however and a desert environment/soil might not allow clippings to break down as they would in most lawns, but I really don't know. Tall fescue is a very low thatch grass too, so I am a bit worried you removed dormant grass, rather than thatch.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 8:04PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Fescue should not turn brown in the winter. That is one of the main reasons people like fescue. Hmmmmm.

I have a few questions.

The Mojave is a big place. Can you home in on your location? Otherwise I'm going to assume the Palmdale area.

What is your soil like? Is it lake bed rubble or did they bring in topsoil from somewhere? You never need to aerate rubble. There is a hard soil up there that resembles clay except it is white. I believe locals call it caliche. True caliche is an impermeable sedimentary rock. If you have the hard soil, as I remember, it can be broken up with water and a shovel. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Have you had a soil test done? If not I recommend Logan Labs because they will do all your micro nutrients for the same $20 as the macro nutrient test. The micros you should be interested in are boron, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. Get the wrong combination of those and a dusty mineral base can act like clay.

How often and how long do you normally water?

How often and how high/low do you mow?

How often do you fertilize and with what?

Too bad you did not wait until August to do this dethatching. That is a much better time of year to be planting seed. There are several tools that will do dethatching for you. All of them have vertically mounted cutters. You can adjust the depth of cut from below ground level to above.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 3:35AM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

I'm just 30 minutes north of Edwards AFB. I let our lawn go dormant this winter, I didn't water it. So that's why it's all brown. We freeze every night for several months of winter, so I figured it was normal for it to go mostly brown.

I have not done a soil test, but our soil is definitely hard as concrete. Before I planted the grass I took a pick axe to everything to break it up, and mixed it in with ~30% compost to soften it up.

I water every other day (in peak summer) for about 45 minutes per station. I know I should be watering deeply and infrequently, but you just can't do it with 110-115 deg outside. I mow at the second to highest setting on my push mower, whatever height that is. And I fertilize once in the spring and once in fall.

Hopefully I didn't damage it too much by dethatching now! I just want a nice soft lawn again, this rough/scratchy stuff is no fun! I think I'm going to overseed with KBG, I hear that's a good combo with TF, to fill in the bare spots.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 11:52PM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

So am I doing damage by continuing to dethatch right now while the grass is just starting to come out of dormancy? Should I go ahead and aerate and overseed when I'm done dethatching?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 3:38PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I'm not sure why it is people resist telling us where they live. It's like pulling teeth sometimes. You're just prolonging the agony. If you live in Inyokern, that's what we need to know. Boron? Who knows? Trust me, we won't show up on your doorstep. In fact, with that area, it would help to know whether you are in the hills or on the flats.

I would get a soil test if I lived north of Edwards. Boron is a necessary micronutrient, but you have it in abundance. Too much boron and your soil will become unproductive for most plant life. There is a reason why Boron is located where it is. And there is a reason only certain plants will grow (stunted) in the wild around there. Honestly, the best expert at growing grass in your area is the greenskeeper at Boron High School. Call him and ask what kind of grass he grows and how does he keep it green? How does he keep the high boron levels from killing it? Search Google Maps for Boron, CA and find the high school. It's not hard to find with the aerial view. It is the only green grass in the 100-mile region.

Fescue still will not turn brown with your freezing weather. Annual weeds like crabgrass will die off completely in the winter. Grasses like bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, bermuda grass, and St Augustine will turn brown in the winter. Fescue only will go dormant under survival conditions.

At this point I would stop dethatching, send in a soil sample to be tested (Logan Labs), and forget about seeding until you see the results of the soil test.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 10:03PM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

I live in California City. Luckily our soil does alright, especially now that I added all the compost. Plants/trees/flowers do just fine.

I'm confused then, I seeded with the big box store grass seed. The bag said it was tall fescue mix. My lawn is definitely brown or dormant. It's at least 50% brown/dormant. It hasn't grown all winter and I haven't watered it at all. Same with all my neighbors, nice and brown. Did my grass die then? I just started watering yesterday...

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 12:34AM
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Yes water the lawn but I don't think you will have to do that much of it due to all the rain we have been getting. Thatching and Aerating are excellent ideas. Also just water the areas that you have thatched for now. Don't make a mess where you are thatching now and your shoes won't be muddy. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Texas Gardening Forum

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 10:01AM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

Well I got it all thatched, several dumpsters full, and have been watering for a couple of weeks. It's slowly starting to grow new green, but there still seems to be ~30% dormant/dead brown grass. And it still is a little rough to walk on, not nice and soft like you see everywhere else.

I need to aerate still (if I have time this spring). What can I do in the meantime to make this grass soft?? Seems so simple, but it's always crispy grass that you can't walk on barefoot.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 3:08PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

How high are you mowing? Fescue should be mowed at the mower's highest setting.

Can you post a picture? You might have other grass in there besides fescue.

How old was that lawn before you dethatched it? Fescue is not known for getting thatchy.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 11:23PM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

For my first mow this year I did it at the 2nd to lowest setting to try and get rid of all the dead brown grass. After that I mow at the highest setting all year long. It has now started greening up, but there's still probably 30% of the lawn that is brown and crispy. I just fertilized for the first time since fall 2011. It's a 1000 sq ft lawn, and I used almost 3 pounds of 35-?-? (I'll check the bag when I get home). I think that's the correct application right, 1 lb of N per 1000 ft each time you fertilize correct? Maybe I need to fertilize more than twice a year? I fertilize once in spring and once in fall. The lawn is only 3 years old now.

I will get some pictures and post them ASAP.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:34PM
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I could be wrong here but I do not think Fescue goes dormant in the Mohave Desert during winter, it does not get cold enough. It may stop growing, but not brown.

I live up in Prescott AZ at altitude and it gets cold here on winter nights, and all the Fescue lawns here were green all winter. They did not grow a lot, but were green. Only the Bermuda lawns go dormant here.

But what do I know, I am a warm weather grass guy. I just maintain a golf course now and the only thing we use Fescue and Rye for is over seeding the course in Fall so it stays green in the winter here.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:15PM
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jordanz(8A (Mojave Desert))

Well that's wierd, not sure what happened then, cause it's almost all coming back to green now. We are in the low 20's for probably 2-3 months over winter. I didn't really water it for a few months from Nov-February...maybe that's why it went brown?

I measured how much water I'm putting down from my sprinklers. In 45 minutes on each station, I get about 1/2" of water (and I used to water that much 4 times per week). Also, after watering, it was really soggy, standing water on top of the grass. It took almost an hour for all the water to absorb. So it looks like I'm watering way too much...would that turn it brown? Does it sound like I'm watering too much?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 2:50PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Yes that was too much, but more importantly, that was too frequently. In the heat of summer you might be able to get away with watering every 5 days. I would shoot for every 7 days. Now it should be more like every 2 weeks. That's once every 2 weeks. Water a full inch and see how long the grass goes before looking wilted.

Water should not stand on top like that. That's called flood irrigation. Apparently your lawn is surrounded by concrete so the water can stand. That used to be very common in Phoenix and may still be (I used to go through there twice a year but not anymore). You should be able to cure that with baby shampoo. Spray at rate of 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet with a hose end sprayer. Then irrigate like normal (1/2 inch for now). In 2 weeks irrigate again but no soap. Then in 2 more weeks, repeat the shampoo and irrigate. That should be all you need to get the water to soak in better.

I have a feeling a couple pictures would have answered a lot of questions.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 8:36PM
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