I heard an ad on the radio today extolling the virtues of kids playing in the yard rather than playing on their tablets and smart phones. Who could argue that getting physical exercise outside in the fresh air isn’t a good thing- for kids and adults. Having a nice healthy lawn to play on will increase the likelihood that will happen. Whether you are establishing a new lawn or repairing an existing one, here are some guidelines that will help ensure your success.
Seed or Sod
First you will need to decide between seed and sod. The advantage of sod is obvious- instant results. You get an instant lawn when you lay sod. It looks nice immediately, eliminates the dust and mud, and the kids can be playing on it within a few days. The disadvantage of sod is the cost. Sod will typically cost 5 to 10 times more than seed.
Billbug grub damage
If seeding, your choice of seed variety is important. The old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely applies here. You will be living with this lawn for many years to come and a few extra dollars spent at planting time can save many dollars (and hours) spent on fertilizers and disease and weed control later on. I like to use Crook’s Premium Quick Lawn, a mixture that is 75% premium bluegrass and 25% endophyte enhanced perennial ryegrass.
Endophytes are fungi that live between the plant cells of certain ryegrasses. Their presence within the plant is undetectable, except under a microscope. Endophytes have a symbiotic relationship with the grass. The endophyte obtains its nutrition from the grass and the grass obtains a number of benefits from the endophyte- greater resistance to disease and insect damage, and greater resistance to drought. Studies have shown that a bluegrass lawn with a significant (10 to 40%) infusion of endophyte enhanced ryegrass is demonstrably more resistant to billbug grub damage. The other advantage to having ryegrass in your seed mix is that it germinates in 7 to 10 days vs. 15 to 30 days for bluegrass.
Preparing the Soil
If there are noxious weeds present such as quackgrass, Canada thistle, or field bindweed (morning glory) now is the time to eradicate them. They are difficult to eradicate once your lawn is established. When weeds have grown to about 6 inches in height or width spray with KillzAll according to the directions on the package. If the infestation is severe you may want to roto-til after 2 weeks, wait for re-growth and spray again.
Most soils in east Idaho will grow a good lawn if fed regularly. If your soil is especially poor, now is the time to add organic matter. Spread up to an inch of Soil Enhancer, Soil Pep, or compost over the entire area. Do not use barnyard manure that may be contaminated with noxious weeds.
Use a roto-tiller, preferably a rear tine tiller, to go over the area to be seeded, tilling 4 to 5 inches in depth. Rake out rocks and other debris, leveling as much as possible. When it is sufficiently level apply Seed & Sod Starter fertilizer following label directions. This high phosphate fertilizer encourages rapid root development and will go a long way toward helping your lawn get off to a great start. If you are laying sod this fertilizer can be applied either before laying, or immediately after.
Sowing the Seed
Lawns can be planted any time from early April through late September. Mid August through mid September is the very best time to seed a lawn. Spring is the next best time. But excellent results can be had by planting anytime all summer if careful watering practices are followed.
Seed should be applied using either a drop or broadcast spreader. If neither of these is available, seed may be hand sown using a sweeping motion to get an even distribution. This technique requires a little practice but can be satisfactory for small areas.
Bluegrass may take as long as 14 to 30 days to germinate whereas perennial rye may be up in as little as 7 to 10 days. Warm soils will speed up germination. Sow grass seed at the rate of 3 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft.
After seeding is completed, rake lightly to lightly mix in the seed. You can also apply a light mulch of peat moss, Soil Pep bark mulch, or clean straw. If clean straw is not available do not apply anything. Dirty straw containing weed seeds is more trouble than it’s worth. Soil Pep and peat moss are free of weed seeds. If you have an automatic sprinkling system that can be set to water several times each day you probably won’t need to use any surface mulch.
Watering the Lawn
Water thoroughly immediately after seeding and continue to keep moist by watering one to three times a day until the seed is germinated. In the case of sod, once a day watering is usually enough. Hot or windy days will require more frequent watering than cool cloudy days. Remember that it will take up to 30 days for all the bluegrass to germinate. Do not allow the surface to dry out during this period. Improper watering is the primary cause of failure when starting new lawns. Also, avoid watering too long in one setting, or puddling and run off may occur.
Caring for your Lawn
Once the lawn seed has germinated, decrease the frequency and increase the amount of each watering so that you are eventually providing ½” to 1″ of water every three days during hot weather. Sandy soils need more frequent watering. Clay types should be watered less often.
Apply Premium Lawn Food 30 days after most of the seed has germinated. This is a very important step to keep the lawn from “stalling”. Do not mow until the grass has reached a height of 3 inches. A mowing height of 1 ½ to 3 inches is recommended thereafter. Do not apply any weed killers until after the third mowing. Kids can play on the lawn once it has grown enough to be mowed.
Following these guidelines should result in a beautiful lawn that you will enjoy for years to come.