Establishing Turf from Seed

Mid-August through September is the best time to establish turfgrass areas from seed. Sowing grass seed in late summer has several advantages over spring seeding. Grass seed germinates quickly in the warm soils of late summer. Once the grass seed germinates, the warm days and cool nights of fall promote rapid turf growth. Also, there will be less competition from weeds as fewer weed seeds germinate in late summer and fall.

The first step in planting a new lawn is the establishment of the rough grade. Remove any construction debris or other rubble, then fill in low spots and level off high areas. The rough grade should slope away from the house foundation, driveway, and sidewalks. The rough grading should be done well in advance of seeding to allow for settling of the soil.

At least 4 to 6 inches of good soil are needed to establish a lawn. If necessary, bring in additional topsoil or organic matter. Incorporate the additions into the top 6 inches of soil.

To determine fertilizer needs, conduct a soil test. Apply the recommended type and amount of fertilizer, then incorporate the material into the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Where a soil test has not been made, apply 10 pounds of a 10-10-10 or similar analysis fertilizer per 1,000 square feet and till into the soil. The final step in soil preparation is hand raking the area.

Select the appropriate grass species for the site. In sunny areas, Kentucky bluegrass is the best adapted turfgrass. The fine textured fesuces (creeping red fescue, hard fescue, and chewings fescue) tolerate considerable shade and are the best choice for shady sites. Sow the seed with a rotary or drop-type seeder. Sow half the seed in one direction; the remaining half should be applied at a right angle to the first application. After the seed has been sown, lightly rake or drag the area. The grass seed should be worked into the top 1/4 inch of soil. Next, roll the site to insure good contact between the seed and the soil. A drill seeder can also be used to sow the grass seed.

To conserve soil moisture, mulch the area with clean, weed-free straw. One bale of straw should cover approximately 1,000 square feet. After the ground has been mulched, water the area. Keep the upper 1-inch of soil moist with frequent, light applications of water. Newly seeded areas may need to be watered once or twice a day. Most turfgrasses should germinate in 2 to 3 weeks if the seedbed is kept uniformly moist. Gradually reduce the frequency of watering, but water more deeply, when the turfgrass seedlings reach a height of 1 to 2 inches.

The new grass should be mowed when it reaches the height of 3 1/2 to 4 inches. Make sure the mower blade is sharp. Mow at a height of 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Regular mowing through the fall will help thicken the turf. A lawn seeded in late summer should be well established by November.

Additional information on establishing turfgrass from seed can be found in Pm-1578 Selecting Turfgrass Species, Pm-1577 Purchasing Seed, and Pm-1072 Establishing a Lawn from Seed.

This article originally appeared in the July 19, 2002 issue, p. 99.

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