For Release August 15, 2004

Time to Prepare for Lawn Seeding

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

The best time to seed tall fescue and bluegrass lawns is in early September. The warm soils of late summer allow the seedlings to get well established before the cold weather of late autumn forces the plants to go dormant. But if you want to get that lawn seeded over Labor Day weekend, you need to start preparations now!

Let's differentiate between overseeding or filling in thin areas, with a complete re-seeding of the entire lawn. Overseeding simply requires scratching some grass seed into those grassless areas or running a power seeder over those thin spots. A new lawn requires much more soil preparation. If you are trying to kill a stand of bermuda grass you need to get started immediately to insure a complete kill of the bermuda grass. This will usually require two treatments with glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) about ten days apart. Then a very low mowing and soil tillage with amendments as needed.

We better not get too far ahead of ourselves though. The critical key in getting a stand of grass is to make sure that the seed is placed just slightly below the soil surface. This can be done with raking or a power seeder. Simply broadcasting seed across the soil surface will usually result in less than 1% of the seed ever becoming established as a grass plant. There are power seeders available for rent that are very easy to use and quite effective (but a little on the heavy side). You can also broadcast the seed and then rake or harrow it in if you have a nice loose seedbed to begin with. Of course you can also hire professional firms to do this for you as well.

If you are working up a large area for re-seeding I strongly advise doing a soil test first. Bring a pint of soil collected from a dozen or so locations around the yard to the Extension Office (119 East 9th, Junction City) and we'll have it analyzed. Then we'll know if starter fertilizer is needed or more importantly if we need to add sulfur to lower the pH, or lime to raise the pH. These can then be added before the final soil tillage is made just prior to seeding. If you are simply overseeding, a soil test probably isn't necessary as you'll be fertilizing later in the fall anyway.

Seeding rates are very important. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is to plant too much grass seed. New plantings of bluegrass require 2 to 2.5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet and for improved tall fescue varieties 6 to 7 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. If you are overseeding a lawn, plan on about one half of those rates. If you are planting a small area how many seeds is that per square foot? Depending on seed size it works out to 24 to 32 seeds per square foot. Roughly one seed for every two by two inch square. So even under a worst case scenario if you have more than one seed per square inch, you are way overplanted and while it'll look good early, it'll die from disease and competition.

After planting, you'll need to keep the soil moist until the grass comes up. Then slowly reduce the watering frequency to encourage good root development. Do not mow the new grass short. Mow it at 3 to 3.5 inches just as you should established grass. But mow it regularly as the clipping action encourages additional stem development. Don't be in a hurry to fertilize it or spray for weeds. Wait until it has been mowed 2 or 3 times before using any herbicide. If the grass comes up and just sits there, it probably means you didn't soil test first and you have a critical nutrient deficiency. A good lawn is fairly easy to get established, if you follow the right steps!


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