Seeding Your Lawn
Lawn grasses are established in our area by seeding or sodding. Sodding is expensive but offers an instant carpet of grass that can be used within weeks, can be installed in difficult places such as areas that are steep or heavily trafficked, and can be laid almost any time during the growing season. Seed is the most economical and common way to start a lawn. Over-seeding provides a quick, easy way to thicken and rejuvenate grassy areas.
When should I seed grass? In nature, grass seed ripens and falls to the ground in late summer and germinates as the nights get cooler and the soil is still warm. In our area, the best time for seeding grass is between August 20 and September 20. The second best opportunity for successful establishment of grass seed is late April through May. Grass can be seeded during the summer, but it requires more careful watering.
What kind of grass seed should I use? Choosing the right variety of grass for your lawn is very important. The first factor to consider is how much sun the area receives. Creeping red fescue is the most tolerant of shade. It’s a good idea to use a grass seed mixture that blends the attributes of several varieties of grass. Occasionally turf grasses are subject to diseases that target a specific variety of grass and growing a mixed lawn may help limit the damage.
How should I prepare the soil? Keep in mind that you will be expecting the grass to grow in that soil for years, so now is your chance to make it the best lawn possible. How much work the soil will require depends on its current condition. If you have a good, rich soil with lots of organic matter, simply loosen the top two or three inches, even out the grade and rake to smooth the surface and remove clods. Very loose soil might need to be rolled to make it firmer. If your soil is heavy sand or clay, you may need to add top soil, compost, peat moss or manure, spreading a layer several inches thick on top of the existing soil. Till the soil amendments into the top six inches of existing soil. To seed over an existing stand of grass, you need to loosen the surface of the soil as much as you can without damaging the existing grass. This can be done with a steeltine rake or a dethatching attachment to your mower. You may get a stand of grass if you simply spread the seed over bare ground, but it will have to struggle to get an adequate root system and will be thinner and less resistant to disease and winter damage.
Should I fertilize the soil? Your new grass will be stronger and greener if you spread a Starter Fertilizer just before or after seeding. Organic products make a good starter fertilizer too.
How much seed do I need? How much seed you will need depends of what variety of grass you are using and if it is a new seeding or over seeding. Bluegrass can have up to 10 times as many seeds per pound as other grasses. The following chart shows how many square feet you can cover with a pound of seed:
New Lawn / Over-seeding
Bluegrass 500-600 sq. ft. / 1000-1200 sq. ft.
Other Grass 300-350 sq. ft. / 600-700 sq. ft.
What is the best way to spread the seed? For small areas, spread the seed by hand. For larger areas, use either a hand held seeder or a fertilizer spreader. Keep in mind it is much easier to go back over an area if you spread it too thin than it is to take it back. After you broadcast the seed, it needs to be raked lightly into the surface. In order to germinate, grass seed needs light and contact with the soil, so be careful not to get it too deep. Power (or slit) seeders are available at some places that rent equipment. Germination will be better if you roll the seed after you rake lightly.
Should I spread a mulch over the seeded area? Existing grass will act as a mulch or nursecrop for over-seeded areas. On newly seeded areas, spreading mulch will make your job much easier. Straw is the least expensive way to cover a large area. An average bale of straw will mulch approximately 1000 square feet. The disadvantage of straw is that it’s slow to break down and often has a lot of weed seeds. Peat moss is available baled and can be spread lightly over an area to be seeded to help retain moisture. Burlap will help hold a steep grade, but is difficult to remove without damaging the grass. A new product that is helpful in smaller areas is called germinating cloths, which is extremely lightweight fabric that floats on top of the emerging grass and lets the rain and 50% of the light pass through. It can be easily removed after the grass has been in a few weeks and can be reused.
How do I care for the newly seeded area? Right after seeding, soak the ground thoroughly. The top inch of soil needs to stay consistently damp. This might require you sprinkling the soil lightly several times a day to keep it moist, especially if it’s warm or windy. Continue to water regularly until the grass is several inches tall, then begin to water less often but more deeply. How long does it take the seed to germinate? You may see a soft green flush within a few days of seeding, but the majority of the grass will germinate in a week to 10 days. What about the packages that come with seed and mulch? For small areas, these products are great. They are mixtures of mulch, grass seed and starter fertilizer. It is still important to rough up the surface, then spread the mixture and keep it moist.
Here at McShane’s Nursery and Landscape Supply we have great starter soils for you in both the landscape and nursery departments. Ask a professional staff member at McShane’s for help on how much you may need and which will be the best for your landscape. In addition, please ask them for any help you may need with your lawn. They are always happy to help!