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Seeding A Lawn


Seeding is the least expensive planting option. Seeding requires less work than sodding, but it does need longer-term care to help it become established.

The best time to seed fescue grass is in early to mid-fall. This will allow your new turf to establish roots before the dormant winter period begins. Grass plants started in the fall will have a strong start in the spring and a root system sturdy enough to survive the following summer's hot, dry weather. You may also seed with fescue in early spring (Feb-Mar).

The best time to seed warm season grasses such as centipede and Bermuda are from spring to mid-summer. The temperature of the upper soil should be between 68 to 95 degrees F.


Preparing The Seed Bed

Planting a new lawn from scratch can be a big job - especially if it's a big lawn. if your lawn is to be over 5,000 square feet you may want to tackle planting it in sections, which is easier on the back and the budget. Start with the the most visible lawn areas; then make plans to tackle other areas the following year. This keeps the job manageable and makes the critical step of watering more feasible for homeowners who do not have in-ground sprinkler systems. You will need to take the following steps no matter which grass-planting method you choose.

Remove Old Turf and Weeds if Necessary
Many choose to use an herbicide to kill unwanted grass and weeds to the roots. Select an herbicide that degrades quickly (that does not last long in the environment), such as glysophate (Roundup). Mix according to the manufacturer's directions, and completely cover all grass plants and weeds with the solution. Work on a windless day when the temperature is above 60 degrees F, and take care not to overspray on garden plants. Glysophate is a potent, nonselective herbicide that will kill or severely injure all foliage it touches. Wear clothing that covers your skin completely, as well as eye protection, when applying this or any other herbicide. Afterwards, take a shower and wash clothing separately.

You may find that it takes several applications of glyphosate to get the job done - particularly if you are trying to eleminate common bermuda. If the turf has not completely died after 3 weeks, reapply the herbicide and wait 7 days after the last application before tilling the dead turf into your soil. Take care to follow the manufacturer's safety precautions.

Mechanical (manual or power) removal of undesirable turf is the fastest way to get the job done without needing to worry about kids or pets contacting herbicides or tracking them into your house. For small lawns, a grape (grubbing) hoe is a terrific tool for removing turf. Anyone with a strong back and a helper to cart away the old turf pieces can remove up to 300 square feet in an hour. For large lawns, consider renting a sod cutter. It slices under the grass, enabling you to pull up strips of old turf. Make the job easier by cutting sod while the lawn is moist. Follow up with tilling to alleviate compaction and to prepare the soil for the amendments you'll mix in later. Another method of turf removal, turning existing turf into the soil with a tiller or cultivator, is not recommended. Only the most heavy-duty tillers are suited for "busting sod." And raking out the pieces of turf after they've been turned under is frustratingly difficult.

Fix Grade Problems
Before adding amendments to the soil, fix any existing grade problems. Although grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment, minor problems can be fixed by the ambitious do-it-yourselfer. Small versions of earth-moving equipment are often available for rent.

The first rule of grading is that the ground should slope away from your house in all directions so that it drops at least 2 or 3 inches for every ten feet. Sometimes this is not possible to achieve, so just make sure that the grade slopes away from your house. The finished grade should also end up matching the level of existing fixtures, such as permanent walks and patios, as well as areas of lawn that are not being replanted. This takes some figuring. If you will be replanting with seed and adding one inch of amendments, grade so that the level is one inch lower than fixtures. If you will be replanting with sod and adding an inch of amendments, the grade should be about two inches lower than your fixtures. Your goal is to have the finished grade - after the sod has been planted and amendments added - even with the level of your fixtures.

When grading first focus on any problem aeas; low and high spots. Make adjustments by scraping away high areas and filling in low areas. Keep a pile of good topsoil around to spread over any areas where sub-soil has been exposed. Spread two inches of the reserved topsoil over the subsoil, and till it into the first two inches of subsoil. This will help prevent drainage problems between the two layers of soil. Lastly, spread the rest of your topsoil, which should make up at least another 4 inches. If you need to add topsoil, buy a screened topsoil that's free of debris, such as roots or stones. A landscaping rake is the best tool for working topsoil to the proper grade if you're doing it yourself.

The maximum slope in a lawn should be 12 inches for every 4 feet. If the drop is greater than 12 inches, you should plan to build a low retaining wall or cover the slope with a hardy ground cover or ornamental grass.

Amend the Soil
Don't put away or return the tiller yet. Now is your chance to add amendments such as fertilizer, organic matter, and lime or sulfur. The opportunity probably won't come again, so don't skimp. The right way to proceed is to add recommended amendments according to the results of your soil test. To have your soil tested, send your samples to the local Cooperative Extension Service. The typical recommendations for every 1,000 square feet of new lawn include about two pounds of actual (elemental) phosphorus and potassium; 50 to 100 pounds of lime (in areas with acidic soil - excluding Centipede and St, Augustine), and 3 - 6 cubic yards of organic matter (such as Claycutter or Mushroom Compost) per 1,000 square feet. Recommendations will vary depending on your soil's nutrient, organic matter, and pH levels and on your soil type. We usually use a good starter fertilizer for bermuda, zoysiagrass, and fescue, and 5-10-15 for Centipede or St. Augustine. Milorganite fertilizer is an excellent natural alternative. To be sure, consult with your Cooperative Extension Service.

Ensure even application of amendments by dividing the recommended amounts in half and applying half while walking in one direction and the other half while walking in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. Once you have applied the amendments, till them into the top 6 inches of soil.

If an overabundance of weeds was one of your reasons for redoing this section of lawn, allow the many weed seeds in the turned soil to sprout. If you rake through or till under the weed seedlings, you can eliminate most annual weeds.

Rake Smooth and Firm
Rake the area to be replanted until it's smooth. Remove any stones larger than a 1/2 inch in size and vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling.

Whether you're planting seed or sod, it's helpful to roll the prepared soil to provide a firmer base on which to work and to foster adequate soil structure. For example, seed planted in soil that is too loose generally ends up being planted too deeply. The tiny plants may die before they reach the surface. Fill a lawn roller about 1/3 full of water for this job, and roll the soil until your footprints are no deeper than 1/2 inch.

Planting The Seed

Apply a starter fertilizer to the prepared surface, but do not till it in. Then spread the best seed you can afford at the rate recommended by the seed packager, usually given in pounds per 1,000 square feet. Refer to the seed rate chart below.

Seeds per 1,000 sq ft
Bermuda (Turf-Type)
2 pounds per 1,000 sq ft
*1 to 2 pounds per 4,000 sq ft
Fescue (Turf-Type)
6-8 pounds per 1,000 sq ft

* When planting a Centipede lawn from scratch it will be necessary to blend the Centipede seed with Bermuda or fescue seed. We recommend blending 1 pound of Centipede seed with 4 pounds of Bermuda and broadcasting with a hand-held spreader that has micro setting for spreading small seed. Centipede lawns from scratch may take two growing seasons to fully establish themselves enough to cover the lawn area. Goood thing is: Centipede chokes out every other kind of grass, including Bermuda, as well as most weeds.

When spreading grass seed make two passes, first in one direction and then in a perpendicular (opposite) direction, to ensure even coverage. If you don't want to purchase a hand-held spreader (cost about $10-15) for spreading smaller grass seeds such as Bermuda and Centipede, and would rather use your walk-behind or larger rotary spreader, bulk up seed with dry sand or vermiculite.

Follow up with a light raking to work the seed into the top 1/8 inch of soil; a light rolling with an empty roller will ensure good seed contact with the soil.

Finally, cover the seeded area with a light coat of wheatstraw or hay to help retain needed moisture and reduce erosion. A thicker coat of straw may be necessary on steeper slopes.

Seeding sloped areas is difficult because the seed tends to run to low points when it rains. One solution is to contract with a landscaper who has hydroseeding equipment. Hydroseeding involves spraying a suspension of fertilizer, mulch, and water onto the prepared surface. Make sure that the contractor uses the specific type of seed that you want planted. Apply frequent light waterings to hydroseeded surfaces to keep them from drying out.


Maintaining a Bermuda or Zoysia Lawn
Sodding a Lawn
Lawn Restoration
Choosing the Right Grass

Gardening 'How To'

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