Nothing is more dismal in early September than a piece of doormat-hued lawn. Don't despair — taking a few basic steps now can revive...

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Nothing is more dismal in early September than a piece of doormat-hued lawn.

Don’t despair — taking a few basic steps now can revive an otherwise healthy lawn for fall.

Mow: Sharpen the blades and mow often enough to keep the lawn at about 2-3 inches high. Remove only one-third of the growth with each mowing. Leave the small clippings on the lawn, where they will add nitrogen. If the lawn has become a meadow, mow in stages until it’s the proper height.

Control weeds: One advantage of having a doormat brown lawn is that it makes spotting green weeds easy.

Water thoroughly, and dig the weeds out by hand. Try to get all of the root. Weeds will return from tiny bits of root left in the ground.

You can also try spot-controlling weeds with chemicals. Spot-controlling means hitting the weed only — not the turf — with a weed killer.

Any of the various brands of weed killer containing glyphosate (Roundup may be the best-known) works well on these perennial weeds. However, these weed-killers also destroy grass, so you need to spray carefully.

Protect the grass by cutting a cardboard collar to drop over the weed. Spray when no rain is expected, so the chemical can fully penetrate the leaves. Weeds sprayed with glyphosate die gradually.

Avoid weed-and-feed products that are applied with a spreader: This old standby of fertilizer plus granular weed killer — used by nearly everyone’s grandfather — isn’t recommended by Washington State University turf specialists.

The active chemicals drop where the lawn has no weeds, spreading toxins everywhere. Chemicals in weed and feed can harm trees and shrubs, and also contribute to water pollution.

Overseed: Water after weeding, scuffle the soil and seed those empty spots with a Northwest seed mix including perennial rye and turf-type fescues. Kentucky blue grass doesn’t grow well here if used exclusively, but can be up to 8 percent of a mix. Keep newly seeded areas watered — each of those new sprouts needs moisture. If you let them dry out, you’ll have dead grass.

Fertilize: Choose a fertilizer with a moderate amount of nitrogen. Read the label. Look for “slow release” types with a nutrient ratio of 3-1-2 (three parts nitrogen, one part phosphorous and two parts potassium). You may see this as a 15-5-10 or other variations. To protect the area’s water quality, don’t overapply or spread the fertilizer when heavy rain is predicted.

Some gardeners skip fertilizing in September and instead apply a winter application between Thanksgiving and Dec. 10.

The winter application is the most important fertilizing of the year, so don’t skip it.

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Sadly, the tips here won’t improve a lawn area that suffers from too much shade, poor soil conditions or more than 50 percent weeds. For those troubled lawns, full replacement is best.

Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is