Sowing Grass Seed
The first consideration when starting a new lawn, or just beefing up an old lawn, is to choose the right type of grass for the situation. In most cases this will be a turf type tall Fescue (like Falcon or Crossfire) for our area here in Kentucky (transition zone between true Northern grasses and true Southern grasses).
Turf type Fescues make the best choice for high to medium maintenance turf, such as home lawns. These grasses take our mid-summer heat and occasional drought conditions better than other alternatives, and offer disease and insect resistance as well. They are the best choice for full sun, or light shade, and will tolerate up to medium shade conditions reasonably well. The bottom line is a greener, denser, and more durable turf that is easier to maintain.
New Lawns and Renovating Old Lawns
1. Plan ahead: While cool-season grasses will germinate any time the soil temperature stays above 55°, the best time to sow grass in our area is September. October is the second best month. For spring, March is the best time.
Fall sown grass has three seasons of potential growth before the hot weather of summer arrives. This gives ample time for a mature root system to develop.2. Size of area: You will need to have at least a rough idea of the size of the area you will be seeding. Seed is sold by the pound, and the rate is based on so many pounds per thousand square feet. If nothing else, step off the area in question.
3. Renovating an older lawn: If there are many weeds, it may be best to kill the entire lawn beforehand. This will ensure that all hard to control weeds that have crept in over time are gone. Use a "total kill" herbicide, such as Round-up® or Finale®, in late July or August. Wait at least two weeks to make sure all weeds have died, and re-apply as needed until all vegetation is a toasty shade of brown. Any herbicides should be applied according to the label directions. This will inevitably require a brief waiting period before the actual seeding can be done. (Insecticides are not as harmful, and generally can be applied at any time.)
This is also a good time to fill any holes, and level those uneven areas.
4. Prepare the seed bed: This will mean loosening the soil surface with a rake or similar tool. For larger areas, it is strongly recommended to use a "power seeder" (available at most rental houses), which does the soil preparation and seed dissemination in one, neat operation. (This is similar to the type of equipment used by golf courses and sod farms.) It is not necessary to use a tiller, or to strip away existing grass.
5. Sow: After preparing the soil, sow seed evenly at the recommended rate, preferably with a spreader, and then lightly rake the seed into the loosened soil. This will insure good soil-to-seed contact. The recommended rate is 6-10 pounds per thousand square feet for tall Fescues, and 2-4 pounds per thousand square feet for ryes, bluegrass and creeping red Fescue.
Again, power seeders do all the work in one, easy step. They sow the seed through any existing lawn (whether alive or dead), at the desired rate, and place the seed into the soil surface. You do not have to remove dead grass in this case. In fact, having dead grass is good in that it acts like straw to help prevent evaporation and holds the seed in place.
6. Mulching: Covering your seed with a mulch such as straw is optional. Straw (and similar products) can help during unusually warm weather, or cool weather, on steep slopes, or when regular watering is difficult. Straw essentially helps protect and insulate the new seed, and conserves moisture by preventing evaporation. If you seed at the proper time of year, do proper soil preparation, and can water as needed, then straw is not essential.
Straw, and similar mulching materials, will eventually rot all by themselves, so there is no need to remove them.
7. Fertilization: Applying a "starter" fertilizer can be helpful, especially in poorer soils. This can be done either just before, or just after seeding. Do NOT use fertilizers that contain weed killers!
8. Watering: Now water, water, water. The new seed must stay damp until the seed sprouts and begins to grow. Once sprouted, you can start backing off on the watering.
How much water is enough? This depends on the amount of rain, temperature, wind conditions, etc. During very hot weather, at least once a day may be required! You should be prepared for this if hot weather is a possibility.
You do not need to water deeply since the seed is at the soil surface. In fact, over-watering can be bad too. You want the surface to be damp, but not muddy (at least not muddy for prolonged periods of time or else the seed rots).
9. Germination: How fast the new seed will germinate will depend on various factors such as seed type and soil temperature. The warmer the soil, the faster the seed will germinate. This is particularly noticeable with tall Fescues that germinate much faster in warm soil (such as in early Fall). Be prepared for a week or so wait in warm weather, to maybe three weeks in cooler weather.
Tall Fescue also germinates poorly if sufficient moisture is not continuously available. So keep that seed consistently damp! Improper watering is the number one reason for poor stands of new grass.
10. Final Steps: Continue watering new grass as long as the weather is warm, and the grass continues to grow though you should decrease the frequency, and increase the duration to encourage deeper rooting. Fertilize your new lawn with a regular lawn fertilizer (no weed killers yet), once the grass has reached 1-2 inches tall. Lawn fertilizers have a high first number (e.g. 27-3-3). Fall happens to also be the best time of year to fertilize cool-season grasses like Fescues. New grass needs a little extra boost. Do a follow up fertilization 4-6 weeks after the initial fertilization if seeding in the Fall.
Fallen leaves should be removed at least once a week during Fall so as not to smother the young grass plants.
You should mow the new grass whenever it is ready -- that is when it gets to 4-5 inches tall. In fact, regular mowing will help the new grass to thicken, and will not hurt it.
After 2-3 mowings, you can start to use herbicides to remove weeds, if needed.
Now you can pour favorite libation, pat self on back, and smile.
Overseeding/Filling in Bare Spots
"Overseeding" is sowing seed into an existing lawn, without taking the extra step of killing it first. This is done to beef up an existing, but maybe tired, lawn.
Follow the steps as above. The seed rate is roughly half of what you would use for a new lawn (3-5 pounds for Tall Fescue and 1-2 pounds for Creeping Red, Ryes, and Bluegrass). This could conceivably vary somewhat one way or the other depending on the quality of the lawn.
There is nothing wrong with using Fescue to overseed a lawn that is primarily Bluegrass.
Types of Grasses
© Copyright 2003 Hal Burgiss < hal at foobox.net >