Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Turf Times -- How To Grow Grass From Seed

Fall is the best time for planting grass seed.  Increased precipitation and cooler temperatures intensify the odds of success. 

Lawn quality's measured by mileage in my neck of the woods.  A "sixty mile an hour" lawn is less superior than a "ten mile per hour" meadow.  The lower the speed of the passing car, the higher the measure of excellence. Golf cart pace yields the gold standard.  If Bill's rapid speed of ingress up the drive and into the garage were our measure, a few cans of green spray paint would produce enough blurred color to make the yard presentable.  We settled for about a "thirty mile" standard.

Having married a Brit who'd never owned a lawn mower, we'd much to learn about establishing a lasting lawn.  Sod installation produced a lush carpet of thick green cuticles.  So did the second round. Yet, within the year, the crisp edges had receded and seams had melted to a mucky brown mess.  Better we had papered the lawn with dollar bills.

Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to a lush lawn.  In the end, the best results are produced with native seeds grown in local soil, not imported from a sod farm.

These basic steps are simple:

1.  Buy the best seed for your lawn based on region and sun exposure.  It needn't be expensive or treated, just what grows best in your region. Check with the local county extension office for advice.  Most have very helpful volunteers trying to earn their master gardener status, eager to help.  Always buy a mix with some annual or rye grass.  This upstart seed sprouts early and often and disappears after one year.  In the meantime the perennial grass is taking hold and spreading about.  Sun mixtures will melt away in the shade and shady blends will burn up in the sun, so pay attention to labels.

2.  Prepare the area.     Assuming there's no grass in the proposed plot, clear it of weeds and uninvited growth. Pull together a metal pitchfork and a heavy rake.  The fork is to loosen the soil and reduce compaction.  "Pop the soil" throughout the area.  It allows water to flow to the roots, and tender grass roots to spread more easily.  Remove rocks and clumps of clay. 

3.  Add nutrients.  Cover the tilled  area with a thin layer of organic compost. 

4.  Grade the area.  Once the area is fully tilled and composted, use a heavy rake to grade the area, leaving the top soft and fluffy.  Observe where water flows from downspouts and due to the natural curve of the plot.  Grade the areas of flow higher as there will be run off. 

5.  Spread the seed.  A hand held spreader works best.  It's easier to avoid wheel and boot tracks in the nicely graded yard, and a better method for directing seed. It doesn't have to be too thinck for the first application.  Better to wait three of four days and spin out a second batch of seed.  The new sprouts will already show where more is needed.

Watch out for overspray.  Grass seed in the flower beds is tough to remove and a real problem.  Grass seed always thrives best where it is not supposed to be, including the rose garden. 

6.  Touch up with a very light raking.  This embeds some of the seed.  There will be unavoidable casualties due to rain, birds and random paw prints. 

7.  Water lightly.  Be careful not to create rivets of water. Follow up on alternate days if it doesn't rain.

8. Cover up.  If the seeded area is on a hillside or in the direct path of rain or downspout runoff, cover lightly with some hay, wetting it lightly.

9.  Wait.   After all that work, sit back for two weeks before running the mower over at a high setting. 

10.  Touch up.  Expect some areas of failure.  Follow the same steps to touch them up.

11.  Overseed.  Two months later, lightly overseed the area to encourage lushness. Use the hand spreader on a low setting. 

A fine lawn is a frame for a lovely home.  It's a source of pride and pleasure to the homeowner. 

Head out on that new turf and enjoy!
More Articles of Interest:

Hosta La Vista

Winter Weeds and Good Deeds

How to Grow Flowers from Seeds -- Four O'Clocks and other Heirloom Plants