As I write today’s post, I can look out my dining room window into my back yard and flower beds. My yard is far from perfect, but it is my haven, my safe retreat from the stresses of life. It hasn’t always been like that, however. I remember the days when it was nothing by red clay growing a patch of healthy weeds, and I had no idea where to start. Maybe you have been like me with the need to learn how to establish a lawn. Today, I would like to review the steps that are required to establish a new lawn. It can be a frustrating and overwhelming task, but some information and understanding of the process will help you make the right decisions and soon, you’ll have your very own lush haven of rest!
Selecting the Grass
Choose the grass that is going to perform the best for your environment. Outsidepride has an excellent resource on each of the grass seed pages. Insert the state where you live, and a listing of grasses that are appropriate for your area will come up. Seed is an investment and not only the seed but your time and effort in preparation. To ensure that you’ll have the turf you want, do some research first to determine what types of grasses do well in your area.
Once you know the type of grass you want, measuring the area, length x width to get the square footage of the area to be planted. Once your square footage is determined, you can calculate the amount of seed that will be needed. Outsidepride also has a seed calculator on each of the grass seed pages that is fast and accurate.
When starting a turf from seed, the best time to plant is when the temperatures are favorable for rapid seed germination and grass growth. Optimal air temperature ranges from 60 – 85F, and there must be 6 – 8 weeks of good growing weather to get the best establishment of the turf. In many parts of the United States, early fall plantings seem to do the best. The soil temperature is warm, sunlight is plentiful, and temperatures are beginning to cool so the soil stays moist a little longer. Spring is another ideal time for planting in many areas. The times to avoid are summer when it is difficult to keep new plantings wet enough to ensure uniform germination and late fall when unseasonably cold weather could hit early causing a slow in germination. Thin stands of grass often are a result of late fall plantings, and the weeds find their way in by late winter.
Rototilling and Grading
Rototilling serves to loosen the soil to a depth of 6 – 8 inches, and it breaks up the soil into smaller pieces so that it can be graded. Till the soil when it is relatively dry, go over the area 1 – 2 times and avoid pulverizing it into a powder. This is the ideal time to amend the soil by adding some thoroughly composted organic matter into the soil and working it in as well as adding lime (if the pH is low). After applying either the compost or lime, till the area again to get a good mix.
Grading is the combination of raking and rolling using large grading rakes and water-filled rollers which can both be rented. Using the rake, start with a quick grading to fill in the low spots and knock off the high spots. Then start rolling by going in a back and forth pattern in one direction. Watch areas around sidewalks and driveways. Usually, it’s a good idea to grade these flush with the concrete because the soil will settle slightly when irrigated. The goal is to grade the site smooth with uniform compaction so that no further settling occurs during establishment.
The basic goal is to spread the seed over the area so that the grass will germinate uniformly. The best tool for the job is a drop spreader. It’s difficult to know the exact calibration to set the spreader on. Many people simply recommend dividing the seed into two equal quantities. Set the spreader on a low setting and spread the 1st half of the seed going north to south, overlapping the wheel marks so that no area gets skipped. With the 2nd half of the seed spread it going east to west. It’s a good idea to make an extra pass or two where the lawn meets the sidewalks.
Apply fertilizer just before or after seeding. Initial emergence is not greatly affected by fertilizer but growth after emergence is stimulated by fertilizer and the establishment of the turf is sped up. Apply a complete fertilizer (N-P-K) when you plant and again about 4 – 6 weeks after planting to further accelerate the establishment of the turf. Apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
Mulching is used to help keep moisture near the seed during germination. It is particularly helpful on areas that are exposed to wind or are prone to drying out quickly. The key to mulching is to apply it lightly, only about 1/8 to 1/4 inch is needed. If too much mulch is applied, the seed may not be able to emerge through the layer. The type of mulch is not as important as how fine it is. It’s easier to apply fine mulches thinly. Mulch rollers are available to rent. They spread sawdust, fine fir bark mulch or peat moss very easily. Studies have shown that seed that is applied to a well-prepared seedbed and lightly raked in to ensure good contact with the soil often does just as well as seed covered with mulch. Again, the raking of the seed into the soil needs to be lightly, 1/8 to 1/4 inch only. Mulching is another cost factor and labor step. The critical aspect is irrigation, and if keeping the seed moist is going to be challenging, applying mulch is much like some added insurance that the seed will not dry out.
The objective when irrigating the newly seeded lawn is to keep the seed wet. The seed then imbibes water and the germination process begins. The best way to irrigate is several times throughout the day for as long as it takes the surface of the soil to glisten. If puddles form and stay for more than a few minutes, you are watering too much. Normally, you cannot depend on rain, so be prepared to babysit. Once shoots are visible, you can begin to gradually cut the irrigations down. Finally after several weeks, you can be watering the recommended amount, 1 inch per week, with 2 applications.
The lawn is up, and now it’s time for its first trim. Don’t take more than 1/3 of the blade at a time. To avoid creating ruts in the ground, stop irrigating a day or two before mowing so that the soil surface can be firmed up. Also, a sharp blade is important with tender grass that can easily be pulled out by a dull blade. Start a new lawn with a sharp blade!
It’s almost a guarantee that with rototilling your soil, watering and fertilizing, you will have weeds come up along with your new grass. Our soil has a seed bank of all sorts of weeds and rototilling brings them up to the surface for germination. After you have mowed 3 or 4 times, it’s fine to apply a selective herbicide that targets the broadleaf weeds. If herbicides are not your preference, the weeds usually pull very easily and you can get a handle on them before they go to seed.
New lawns are hungry, so do not be surprised if the new turf does not hold its color. Be prepared to apply fertilizer every 4 – 6 weeks during that first growing season. A complete, liquid fertilizer is a great way to go that first year in particular.
Creating that wonderful private haven of rest in your backyard is not too difficult when you’ve got the basic know-how!
Question for the week: Have you planted a lawn from seed? Were you happy with the results?
By Kimberly Bell