The establishment of a new lawn requires careful planning and hard work. However, it is time well spent. The effort devoted to site preparation and turf establishment will be reflected in the quality of the turf for many years.
When to Seed a Lawn
The best time to establish a lawn from seed is from mid-August to mid-September. Late summer planting has several advantages over spring seeding. The cool-season grasses will germinate quickly in the warm soil of late summer. The warm fall days and cool nights promote rapid turf growth. Also, few weed species germinate in fall so there is little weed competition.
Preparing the Site
The first step in planting a new lawn is the establishment of the rough grade. Remove construction debris, then fill in low spots and level off high areas. The ground should slope away from the foundation of the house, driveway, and sidewalks. The rough grading should be done well in advance of seeding to allow settling to occur.
At least 4 to 6 inches of good soil are needed to establish a lawn. If necessary, bring in additional topsoil or organic matter. Be sure the topsoil or organic matter is weed-free. Incorporate the additions into the top 6 inches of soil.
To determine soil fertility, conduct a soil test. Apply the recommended fertilizer, then incorporate it into the soil. 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 it into the soil. The final step in soil preparation is hand raking the area. This is also the last opportunity to establish the final grade. Immediately prior to seeding, apply a starter fertilizer. A starter fertilizer is high in phosphorus.
Selecting the Appropriate Species of Turfgrass
An important key to the successful establishment of a new lawn is the selection of the best-suited turfgrass species for the site. Kentucky bluegrass is the best-adapted turfgrass for sunny areas that receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. Choose a seed mix that contains at least 2 or 3 bluegrass varieties. The fine-leaf fescues perform best in shady locations. (The fine-leaf fescues include creeping red fescue, hard fescue, chewings fescue, and sheep fescue.) Perennial ryegrass is often used in seed mixes because of its ability to germinate and establish quickly.
For sunny locations, select a seed mix containing 80 to 90 percent Kentucky bluegrass and 10 to 20 percent perennial ryegrass.
In lawns that contain sun and shade, select a mixture containing 50 to 60 percent Kentucky bluegrass, 30 to 40 percent fine-leaf fescue, and 10 percent perennial ryegrass.
Heavily shaded areas that receive less than 2 hours of direct sun should be seeded with 100 percent fine-leaf fescue.
Buy a high quhigh-quality mix. Avoid grass seed mixtures containing a high percentage of annual ryegrass, weed seed, or inert material. The higher quality seed will be more expensive, but there will be fewer problems.
To achieve uniform seed distribution, apply the seed with a drop-type seeder. Sow half the seed in one direction. Apply the remaining half at right angles to the first application. After sowing the seed, lightly rake or drag the area. The seed should be covered to a depth of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. While not necessary, you can roll the area lightly to ensure good contact between the seed and soil.
Mulching and Watering
To promote seed germination, mulch the area with clean, weed-free straw. Mulching materials help to conserve soil moisture. They also prevent soil erosion and crusting of the soil surface. Do not apply too much mulch, it may smother the emerging seedlings. Approximately 50 percent of the soil should be visible through the straw. One bale per 1,000 square feet of area should be adequate. Erosion control mats or blankets (available at garden centers and home improvement stores) are excellent options when sowing seed on steep slopes and other erosion-prone areas.
After the ground has been mulched, water the area. Moisten the upper 1 inch of soil. After the initial watering, irrigate the area frequently and lightly. The objective is to keep the seedbed (upper inch of soil) continuously moist. Do not allow the seedbed to dry out during the germination period. It may be necessary to water 3 or 4 times daily on windy, sunny days. When the grass seedlings are 2 inches tall, start watering less frequently but deeper.
When to Start Mowing
The new grass should be mowed when it is 3 inches tall. Make sure the mower blade is sharp. Mow at a height of 2 to 2.5 inches. Regular mowing through the remainder of the fall will help to thicken the turf.
Updated from an article that originally appeared in the August 10, 2011 issue of Horticulture and Home Pest News.