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Planting grass

Americans love their lawns. Even the smallest patch of lush, green grass is a welcome part of the home landscape, and millions of dollars are spent every year in an effort to keep lawns weed and pest free. It’s safe to say that most homeowners value their lawns as play areas for kids and pets, or the perfect foil for the flowers, shrubs, and trees planted for beauty and enjoyment.

Although the dog days of summer are still with us, the nights are noticeably cooler. So, if you’re considering renovating your lawn, or just improving areas of sparse or damaged grass, now is the time to do it. Grass seed will germinate and grow quickly during the months of September and October, and the usually reliable autumn rains will relieve some of the necessary watering to get new grass established.

Bluegrass is the most well-known of the types of turf grasses, but the goal of 100 percent bluegrass lawn is a mistake. Bluegrass seed is expensive, needs full sun, regular fertilizing, and excellent drainage to prosper, and it is the first to go dormant during dry spells. A much better choice when buying grass seed is to look for a blend of bluegrass, fescue, and “turf-type” (fine-bladed) rye. The fescue will grow better in poorly drained and/or shady areas, and the fine-bladed rye will hold up well in areas of heavy foot traffic. So, a blend is best suited for the average lawn.  Also, most grass seed blends have a small amount of annual rye, a thick-bladed grass that is actually helpful as it germinates very quickly to help stabilize the soil as the other grass seed sprouts. Annual rye naturally dies out within a year of sprouting, after fulfilling its role. Be advised to avoid purchasing cheap blends of grass seed, usually labeled “Contractor’s Mix”, as these contain some very undesirable perennial grasses, such as orchard grass, that will create spreading patches of tough, dark green, coarse-bladed grass in the new lawn.

Established lawns that have lots of small bare spots can be “over-seeded” or “slit-seeded” this time of the year. Over-seeding can be as simple as spreading grass seed over the entire lawn, after cutting the grass rather shorter than usual to allow for the seed to reach the soil. A better method is to take care of two problems at once by “coring” the lawn to aerate the existing grass and then spreading grass seed. Much of the seed will settle into the small core holes and germinate from there. Coring machines can be rented as a DIY weekend project or lawn companies will perform this service.

Slit-seeding is sometimes preferable and is another easy DIY project. The rentable machine, which is about the size of a large push mower, has adjustable settings for slicing depth and a trough for loading and spreading the grass seed. It’s recommended to set the application rate at half-rate and then first slice the entire lawn in one direction and then again perpendicular to the first. Watering well after either coring/seeding or slit-seeding will help settle the grass seed and hasten germination.

Although it’s usually a spring application, it’s important to remember to NOT apply a pre-emergent herbicide to a newly seeded or over-seeded lawn as the herbicide will prevent grass seed from sprouting. Most fall lawn fertilizers contain a herbicide to kill broadleaf weeds, which won’t affect the seed, but the fertilizer might well be too strong for young grass. It is important to fertilize the new grass after it sprouts (or when seeding), but two half-strength applications a few weeks apart will help both the established and new grass. If you want to do a fall herbicide treatment for broadleaf weeds, be sure to read the directions on the bag for newly seeded or over-seeded lawns.

 

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