Last updated 2/23/98
Establishing Turfgrass Areas
Zac Reicher and Clark Throssell
Establishment of turfgrass areas is most commonly accomplished with seed, although sod can be used. Sod offers the advantage of an "instant lawn" whereas seed takes much longer to produce a green turf. Establishment with seed is much less expensive and is surprisingly less complicated than with sod. But in no way is establishing a lawn with seed an easy task that should be taken lightly. Following proper establishment procedures can produce a healthy turf that onecan be proud of for many years to come.
Time of Seeding
The best time to seed a lawn is in the late summer to early fall. Adequate soil moisture, warm soil, and limited weed pressure allow for excellent seedling growth. Between August 15 and September 15 is optimum seeding time in the northern half of Indiana, from September 1 to September 30 is optimum in the southern half of Indiana. It is critical to seed as early as possible within these windows. Even when seeding within these windows, waiting one week later to seed may mean the stand will take two to four additional weeks to mature. Establishment in the spring is possible but not as effective as fall seeding; refer to AY-20, Seeding a Turf Area in the Spring.
Preparing the Seedbed
A soil test should be taken from the site. The test will determine fertilizer recommendations for the area. Correct any deficiencies in nutrients or pH by following the recommendations on the soil test report. Use a rototiller or other cultivation equipment to work the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches, incorporating the fertilizer or other soil amendments. Do not till wet soil because clodding will result; in addition, overtilling will destroy soil structure and is not desirable. The soil should be allowed to settle after tilling. Heavy rains and/or irrigation will hasten settling. Allowing time for the soil to settle now will prevent undulations and difficult mowing in the future. Just prior to seeding, rake the area to the finish grade.
After the area is at finish grade, apply a "starter fertilizer" to enhance seed germination and development. Starter fertilizer is high in phosphorus which is listed as the second number in the analysis on the fertilizer bag. For instance, a 16-22-8 fertilizer contains 22% P2O5. Apply the fertilizer according to the label at 1.5 lb. P2O5 /1000 ft2. Refer to Table 1 for the proper amount of starter fertilizer to apply.
|Table 1: Amount of starter fertilizer to apply to deliver 1.5 lbs P2O5 /1000 ft2.|
|% P2O5||lbs fertilizer|
|in fertilizer||/1000 ft2|
Seed should be applied using a drop spreader because rotary spreaders do not disperse the seed uniformly. However, there are no spreader calibration guides for turfgrass seed. The easiest way to apply seed uniformly is to set the spreader adjustment very low, sow one half of the seed in one direction, and then sow the other half at right angles to the first direction of seeding. It might take three or more passes over your lawn in a single direction, but it is well worth the time to get a uniform seeding. Seeding rate recommendations are presented in Table 2.
After the starter fertilizer and seed have been applied, the area should receive a light raking followed by a light rolling to insure good seed-soil contact. A roller designed to be filled with water, but left empty, is perfect for this job. It is critical to maximize the seed-soil contact for quick germination and establishment.
|Table 2: Recommended seeding rates for lawns in Indiana.|
|Seed Mix||lbs./1000 ft2||lbs./acre|
|100% Kentucky bluegrass||1.5-2.0||65-87|
|80-90% Kentucky bluegrass + 10-20% perennial rye||3.0-4.0||130-175|
|50-70% Kentucky bluegrass + 30-50% fine fescue||4.0-5.0||175-220|
|100% tall fescue||6.0-8.0||261-348|
Mulching the area will prevent erosion and conserve water. Therefore, mulching is most important when it is impossible to adequately irrigate newly seeded areas. One bale of clean (weed-free) straw per thousand square feet will give a light covering that will not have to be removed after germination. Most homeowners will apply too much mulch which will shade seedlings and have to be raked off later. Apply the mulch very lightly so you can still see approximately 50% of the soil through the mulch layer.
Seedlings are very susceptible to desiccation, and the seedbed should not be allowed to dry. A newly seeded lawn will need to be irrigated two to four times daily depending on the weather. Enough water should be applied to moisten the top one to two inches of the soil profile, but avoid over-watering and saturating the area. Once the seedlings are two inches high, gradually reduce the frequency of irrigation and water more deeply. After the turf has been mowed two or three times, deep and infrequent irrigation is most effective. Refer to AY-7, Irrigation Practices for Homelawns, for more information.
Mowing a new lawn will encourage the turf to fill in quickly. Mowing should begin when the first few seedlings are tall enough to mow. You may only mow 10% of the plants in the first mowing, 20-30% of the plants in the second mowing, and so on. Most wait too long to mow a newly seeded lawn, so mow early and often. Initially mow Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye, and fine fescue at 1.5 inches and tall fescue at 2.0 inches. After the first three to four mowings, you can adjust your mower to the permanent mowing height which is 2.5 -3.5 inches for Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye, and fine fescue and 3.0 - 4.0 inches for tall fescue. As always, never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one mowing.
New seedlings have poorly developed root systems and thus they cannot effectively absorb nutrients from the soil. Therefore, it is important to fertilize frequently after seeding to encourage establishment. Apply 0.75 to 1.0 lb N/1000 ft2 four to six weeks after germination and again eight to ten weeks after germination. Assuming seeding in mid-August, these applications would be mid- to late September and again mid- to late October. For more information on fertilizing lawns, refer to AY-22, Fertilizing Established Lawns.
There is little weed pressure in the fall so weed control may not be needed. Broadleaf weeds may become a problem in the fall, but these can be easily controlled with a broadleaf herbicide application in October or November, after the third or fourth mowing. Annual grasses such as crabgrass can be easily controlled with preemergence herbicides applied in the spring. In seedings made very late in fall where the lawn is not fully established by winter, avoid applying a preemergence herbicide in early spring because it may damage late-developing seedlings. In this case, consider using a postemergence crabgrass herbicide later in summer to control crabgrass. Always apply according to label instructions, and refer to AY-10, Control of Crabgrass in Homelawns and AY-9, Control of Broadleaf Weeds in Homelawns, for more information.
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