NDSU Extension - Williams County


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Tips For Establishing A Lawn

Published April 3, 2013
Tips For Establishing A Lawn


Tips For Establishing A Lawn

Spring must be coming. Anyway, the thought of green grass is on the minds of many people. When is a good time to plant grass to establish a new lawn? What should I seed and should it be fortified? These are frequent questions this time of year.  Let’s start with the first question – When is a good time to use Kentucky blue grass as the base species with maybe a sprinkling of fescue which tends to be more shade tolerant. I encourage homeowners to plants the grass just as soon as daytime temperatures consistently approach 70 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Besides being moist the soil should be close to this temperature to promote active seed germination.  Before going any further with this issue, I need to emphasize the importance of having six inches or more of good topsoil to support a lasting quality lawn. The surface of the lawn should be smooth. Use a garden rake or drag a metal door mat or plank over the surface to smooth irregularities and fill depressions in the final seedbed. The seedbed should remain granular in tilth because fine, dusty, overly compacted seed may crust when watered. Remember the finished grade should slope gently away from the home in all directions.  Firmness of the seedbed is highly important. A revered colleague defined a firm seedbed as one that barley left a footprint.  After broadcasting the seed, it is important to rake it into the ground. Good contact with moist soil is important for germination and seedling survival.  For most lawn seed mixtures, 2 to 3 pounds per 1000 square feet is adequate. Two pounds is more than adequate if the seed mix contains primarily Kentucky bluegrass and if conditions for germination are optimum. If seed mixtures contain 30 to 40 percent or more of creeping red fescue, then 3 to 4 pounds per 1000 square feet is recommended.  I believe the single most important step to successfully establishing a lawn is keeping the top inch of soil moist at all times during the first 10-12 days. I emphasize “all times” because just a few hours of the new germinated seed being exposed to dry soil will likely kill it, especially on a sunny, warm day.  If shade trees are present or are a part of the home landscape plan it is important to remember that most common varieties of Kentucky bluegrass lack shade tolerance. Creeping red fescue is more tolerant to shade and thus highly recommended as part of the seed mix.  Nitrogen is the major nutrient that is nearly always deficient in lawns, followed by phosphorus. Not all commercial fertilizers are alike in the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium so making a broad spectrum recommendation on rate of application is difficult. If a fertilizer has an analysis of 10-10-10 consider applying 5 pounds per 1000 square feet at planting time and another 5 pounds in late May-early June.  For new or established lawns, adjust the mower to approximately two inches and then mow whenever the grass has reached three inches in height. Lawns maintained at this length are much more vigorous and attractive. A sharp blade on any rotary mower is very important. A dull mower tends to chew rather than cut the grass leaving a gray-hair effect on the lawn.  A well maintained lawn is a basic element of most home landscapes. Most of us cherish that lush green turf as it provides a natural setting for the home.

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