The best time for sowing grass seed in most states is early fall, the second choice is early spring.
Lawns – like buildings – must be constructed with a good foundation to withstand time and remain in good condition. Materials to build a good lawn include six to 12 inches of good topsoil over a well-drained (or tiled) subsoil.
Along with this must come proper slopes for good surface drainage. Next we need good seed, the right lawn fertilizer, and tools for proper seedbed preparation, seed sowing and watering.
With fall seeding grass has a better chance to become established before the heat of July and August. Fall seeding also avoids weed competition while grass is getting started.
When excavating for a new house, have the best topsoil stockpiled to one side. When lawn construction begins, establish rough grade with allowance for six to 12 inches of good topsoil.
Establish grades for good surface drainage. This means a fall of at least one foot in every 50 feet. Drain surface water away from foundations with one foot of fall in ten feet.
Around most newly built homes, soil settles five or six inches next to the foundation during the first three or four years. Avoid this by watering thoroughly as soil is placed in the backfill trench. For the width of backfill trench, mound soil four or five incises higher than adjacent soil level.
Where steep grades are necessary, use retaining walls, if possible, rather than steep terraces.
If terrace slopes are necessary, grade so as to have no more than one foot of fall in every three feet, and with top edge and bottom of slope well rounded for easy mowing.
Many areas have an acid soil that need application of agricultural lime in order to grow good grass. Lime should not be used unless a soil pH test shows it is needed.
Your county extension agent or agricultural college soil testing laboratory can make the test for you. Too much lime can be just as harmful as not enough.
Apply complete commercial lawn fertilizer before final working of the seedbed. This is your only opportunity to get fertilizer well mixed into the soil. The soil test is the best way to determine exactly what fertilizer to use.
Without a soil test, a safe fertilizer would be one such as 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 (12 per cent nitrogen-12 percent phosphate-12 percent potash). Second choice would be a 10-20-10.
Any of these may be applied at 20 to 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Use a fertilizer spreader to obtain uniform and accurate distribution. Then use a rotary tiller to thoroughly mix fertilizer with the top five or six inches of soil.
If soil is already loose and you see no need to till it to the five-or six-inch depth, then apply the complete commercial fertilizer at the rate of ten to 15 pounds per 1,000 square feet and rake it thoroughly into the top two or three inches of soil as the final grade and seedbed are being prepared.
As you rake, remember to keep good surface drainage sloping away from the house foundation. Work the seedbed to a fine texture and free of clods, stones and construction debris.
Use only the best lawn grass seed mixture. It should contain at least 75 percent permanent lawn grasses, and preferably more. Use only grasses suited to your area.
Bluegrass is still the most widely adapted permanent lawn grass in the East and Midwest. Bluegrass is not shade tolerant, however. Mixtures for shaded areas should contain 50 to 75 percent shade grasses and only 20 or 25 percent bluegrass.
Shade grasses include creeping red and chewings fescues. For open sunny lawn areas, bluegrass should make up 50 to 75 percent of the mixture.
There are numerous strains or selections of common Kentucky bluegrass. When in doubt stick to common Kentucky bluegrass.
In lawn problem areas, the tall fescues have a place. These include ‘Alta’ fescue or one of its selections called ‘Kentucky 31′ fescue.
These are permanent grasses and may be suited to areas where soil conditions are not good, where soil compaction will be severe and where the area will be heavily used as a playground – conditions under which bluegrass would not hold up well. Tall fescues also tolerate shade.
They have large grass blades like rye grass but are drought resistant and can tolerate heavy traffic. If used, tall fescue is seeded alone without other grasses, and at seven to ten pounds per 1,000 square feet.
This produces a thick stand resulting in a fairly fine textured turf. Seeds are large and must be covered at least 1/4 inch deep for good germination.
Tall fescues germinate so fast they need no nurse crop. If you want some bluegrass in this turf, sow it at the rate of one pound per 1,000 square feet, after the fescue has been planted and covered. Mow at a height of two inches.
The basic bluegrass mixture for open lawns should be seeded at two to 2 1/2 pounds per 1,000 square feet while the red fescue – bluegrass mixture for shade is seeded at three pounds per 1,000 square feet.
A regular lawn seeder will give best results in sowing grass seed uniformly. If seeding by hand or with knapsack type of broadcast seeder, divide seed into three equal parts and sow in three different directions.
After seeding, cover the seed lightly – 1/8 to 1/4 inch. You can do this by raking it in.
Then use a lawn roller to firm soil around seed for quicker and better germination. Watering will further speed up germination and will result in ,a thicker, more uniform stand of grass.
Use a fine spray from the garden host or lawn sprinkler system so as not to uncover and “splash” the tiny seeds.
Sprinkle once or twice each day to keep the seedbed moist as much as possible during the first three weeks or more.
The final – and very important – operation is mowing. Start mowing grass just as soon as any area reaches a height of 2 1/2 inches. Never let it get higher than three or 3 1/2 inches.
Have the lawn mower sharp and set to mow at a height of 1 1/2 inches. These first mowings are needed to encourage shooting or spreading of permanent grasses, and to prevent nurse grasses from smothering new seedlings.
Also, frequent mowings will prevent a large crop of long clippings from falling all at once on the new lawn, possibly to smother young seedlings of permanent grasses.
Continue mowing frequently – so grass clippings will be about one inch long. Discontinue mowing only when winter has stopped grass growth.
If some broadleafed weeds show up, don’t use 2,4-D weed killing compounds on the new stand of grass. Wait until next year. Regular mowing will take care of these few weeds.