September is the ideal time to work on your lawn. Daytime temperatures are usually fairly warm. Nighttime temperatures are cool. And most years there is enough rain to cut down on the need for watering — although you probably will have to water some.

This is true whether you are going to plant or lay a new lawn, renovate an existing lawn or even do something as simple as fertilizing.

Lawns in Maine often go just about dormant in July and early August. Grass is a cool-weather crop, and it does not grow well in hot weather. For that reason, all planting and renovating should be done when it is cooler — late August and September or in May.

The Maine Yardscaping Partnership, in its bulletin “Is Your Lawn Truly Green,” recommends fertilizing your lawn only in the fall, if you fertilize at all. The pamphlet says most established lawns — more than 10 years old — don’t have to be fertilized at all. But most people want to give their lawn a boost, and now is the time to do it.

If you are starting a new lawn, soil preparation is the most important step. You should get a soil test to determine if the lawn is the proper pH — 6.0 to 6.2 — and has enough nutrients and organic matter. You should spread any needed amendments evenly and till them in to a depth of 6 inches, according to the University of Maine Extension bulletin “Establishing a Home Lawn in Maine.”

After that comes time for decision-making.

Do you want to use sod or plant the lawn from seed? Sod is more expensive, but you get a good-looking lawn more quickly and have less chance of getting weeds in the lawn. Seeding costs less but is more likely to come with problems.

If you use sod, you have less of a choice of what kind of grass you grow. Almost all sod is all Kentucky bluegrass or a mix of Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues. With seed, you can pick your mix.

A blend of Kentucky bluegrass is the most popular grass for lawns, and is perfect if you have good, well-drained soil and full sun. It is best for a lawn with heavy traffic and stands up well to cold weather, but it does go brown in the middle of the summer.

Fine fescues stand up better to shade, heat and drought and poor soil, but they do not handle traffic as well. They also are tougher to mow, but do well for low-maintenance lawns. Tall fescues also are used in low-maintenance lawns, but they are slow to develop in Maine and can be killed in cold winters.

Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly and stands up to foot traffic, but will often be killed during especially cold winters.

Many lawn seeds are a mix of all three types of grasses. The Kentucky bluegrass will grow in areas for which it is best, and the fescues and ryegrass will do better in the other areas of the lawn.

With seed, you should use a broadcast spreader, going over the lawn in both directions, the extension advises, to make sure you get an even seeding.

And you have to water daily until the grass sprouts. And while ryegrass will sprout in as little as five days, bluegrass can take three to four weeks to germinate. Once the grass does germinate, you no longer have to water daily but should still water frequently, and more heavily when you do water.

If you want to fix bare spots on your lawn, you should first figure out what killed the grass. If it is grubs, insects, weeds, heavy traffic or compaction, you have to fix the problem first. Pull out all the weeds and damaged grass, and then seed or sod that area as if it is a new lawn.

If the grass is just thin, you can overseed the lawn. The Yardscaping website recommends loosening the soil with a rake first, and then using perennial ryegrass at a rate of about seven seeds per square inch, topped with a nitrogen-only fertilizer at one-third of the recommended fertilizing rate.

If you do this at the first sign of thinning, you won’t have to do the complete reseeding that the extension recommends.

THERE IS A REASON trained horticulturists should make gardening diagnostics rather than garden writers. Regular column readers may recall when I thought we had gladiolus rust and was sending a sample in to the UMaine Pest Management Office. We had a telephone call with the results.  

We did not have gladiolus rust on our glads, which were turning a rusty color on the leaves and leaving our blossoms wizened. Gladiolus rust would leave pustules on our plants, and we did not have those. We did have a nasty case of thrips.

Thrips are very small, thin, lacy-winged insects that attack a wide variety of plants. Both as adults and nymphs, they feed by scraping the plant to suck up plant sap.

Old House Gardens (a company selling heirloom glad corms) says you can attack thrips with ladybugs or sticky traps, but usually you have to resort to chemicals.

Spraying in the garden requires Sevin, which is carbaryl, or acephate, which is in some Ortho products, and systemics. We don’t use those except in disastrous cases, so we need alternatives — which means letting the problem go until we store the bulbs.

If you store the bulbs at 34 to 40 degrees for four months, it will kill the thrips, according to the Old House Gardens website. We don’t have the refrigerator space for that, and our root cellar will not be that cool for that long, so that won’t work.

You can store them with napthalene flakes for the winter, but I hate the smell of that. It is basically mothballs.

So what we will do is soak the bulbs in a Lysol solution — four teaspoons per gallon — for six hours, and then dry them out before storing them. That will kill the thrips. I will have to stay alert early next season — spraying with Lysol in the garden if we see any problem. And my thanks to the professionals at UMaine for their help with my misdiagnosis.  

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]