The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Time to seed lawns

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Oh to hear the lamentations of the lawn lovers, "What happened to my lawn?" If your lawn is continuing its impression of a brown Berber carpet than it is time to shed a tear, pronounce it dead, and make plans for its replacement. Good news, in central Illinois August 15 to September 15 is an ideal time to seed lawns with our cool season grasses of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescues or tall fescue. In contrast to spring seedings, fall seedings have less weed competition, good temperatures and moisture for quick growth and time to develop a good root system before summer's heat.

In my August 7th column I discussed the dreaded crabgrass takeover and the demise of our lawns due to weather. Concentrate now to thicken and improve the desirable grasses so crabgrass will have a difficult time returning.

First evaluate the lawn to determine if desirable grass remains. Overseeding (adding seed to an existing lawn) to thicken the lawn or fill in bare areas may be all that is needed.

Don't cut corners when preparing the soil before seeding. Correcting problems after the turf is established is tough.

Preparation steps for seeding or sodding:

  1. Control weeds. Eliminating weeds, especially perennial grassy weeds such as quackgrass is much easier before planting. Tilling seldom kills perennial weeds. Non-selective herbicides such as glyphosate may be used at this time. Wait to seed until weeds are dead in case reapplication is needed. There is no soil residual that will effect the seed establishment. Read and follow all label directions.
  2. Rough grade site if necessary to facilitate surface drainage.
  3. If topsoil is needed, incorporate it into the existing soil during rough grading. The final depth of topsoil should be at least two inches.
  4. Get soil tested. Soil testing provides valuable information to determine how well soils can support turf. For a small fee, commercial testing laboratories will evaluate soil pH and some nutrient levels.
  5. Amend soil as necessary according to soil test. Turfgrass does best with slightly acidic pH (6 to 7). Don't add lime unless soil test recommends. Generally 10 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer (or its equivalent) per 1,000 square feet supplies minimal fertility.
  6. Amend heavy, clay soils with generous amounts of organic matter to improve the soil's drainage, aeration and nutrient holding capacity. If possible, apply a two inch layer of compost or some other quality organic material to soil. Check out the Landscape Recycling Center 1210 East University in Urbana, IL PH: 217-344-5323 for compost.
  7. With a rototiller work amendments into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
  8. Fine grade the site. After rototilling soil particles should be marble sized or smaller. Fine grade the site until it is smooth. Eliminate depressions. Now the site is ready for seeding or sodding.

After site is prepared:

  1. Select proper seed for site. Use mixes of different grasses.
  2. Seed at appropriate rate for seed type.
  3. Provide good seed-to-soil contact by raking and light rolling.
  4. Mulch with a thin layer of clean straw. Soil should be visible beneath straw. Do not remove straw after seed germinates.
  5. Provide adequate water. Keep top ½ inch moist. Germination duration - Kentucky bluegrass 10-30 days; perennial ryegrass 3-10 days and tall fescue and fine fescue 7-14 days.
  6. Once seedlings have emerged irrigate less frequently but more thoroughly.
  7. When seedlings reach two inches tall, fertilizer may be applied at a rate of 1/2 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet (if applying 10-10-10, use 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet).
  8. Maintain mowing heights at 2-3 inches. Never remove more than one-third of the grass blades at any mowing.
  9. Limit heavy traffic during the first growing season.

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