GROWING TOGETHER: Want some good grass? Seed in September
What type of lawn care provider are you? Do you mow only when you need to find where you left the wheelbarrow?
At the opposite end of the grassy spectrum, do you fret if your mowing pattern doesn't look precisely even, causing you to lay down with a cold compress until the stress passes? Or maybe like most of us, you just want your lawn green, dense and weed-free.
September is hands-down the best time to seed a new lawn, thicken an established lawn or repair damaged spots. September is better than spring because grass seed germinates quicker in soil that's been warmed deeply all summer. Weeds create less problems in fall as weed seed germination slows.
Moisture is usually more abundant in fall, and lower evaporation makes it easier to keep the seedbed moist. Cooler September temperatures cause less stress on newly emerging grass seedlings and grass seeded between Sept. 1-15 will become well-established before winter sets in.
Choosing grass seed
• The best grass type for the Upper Midwest is Kentucky bluegrass, with its many named cultivars.
• Most grass seed packages contain blends of grass types that might include Kentucky bluegrass cultivars, fine fescues, perennial ryegrass and annual ryegrass.
• Study the ingredient label on grass seed packages and choose blends that contain at least 30 to 40 percent or more Kentucky bluegrass cultivars.
• For shaded areas, look for grass blends that contain 15 to 30 percent fine fescue, like creeping red fescue, and shade-tolerant cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass.
• Lawns are meant to last centuries. This isn't the time to scrimp by buying cheap seed. Low-priced bargain blends contain lower-quality grass types and might contain contaminants and weedy grasses that form unsightly clumps. Higher-priced lawn seed is a long-term investment well worth an extra dollar or two.
Preparing a new lawn site
• If perennial broadleaf or grassy weeds are present, spray with glyphosate and wait seven days. As quackgrass dies, dormant buds are triggered into growth. Spray this regrowth and wait another seven days.
• When weeds are dry-brown, the lawn can be tilled lightly, or you can seed directly into stubble after mowing it closely.
• If soil is bare, till shallowly or rake. Don't till so deeply that you sink when walking.
Preparing an existing lawn
• Power-raking or raking with a strong garden rake will remove excess thatch so seed makes better soil contact.
• A light coating of fresh soil can be added to bare spots, but isn't a necessity. Seeding into stubble is fine.
How much seed to apply
• Most seed packages tell how many pounds of the seed blend to apply for 100 or 1,000 square feet. Different rates are often given for over-seeding an existing lawn versus a new lawn.
• Measure the area to be seeded, multiplying length by width to determine square feet and plan how many pounds of seed should be spread on the area.
Spreading the seed
• Sprinkle seed by hand in small areas.
• Drop spreaders work well and you'll need to investigate the setting to use, as brands differ. For best coverage, set the spreader at half the recommended rate, and go over the area twice in opposite directions.
• Grass seed needs light to germinate. When planted properly, most of the grass seed is visible on the soil surface. If desired, it can be raked in lightly.
• Water-filled weighted lawn rollers can be rented to roll the lawn after seeding, although I've had side-by-side equal results without rolling newly seeded areas.
• A thin layer of straw, grass clippings or store-bought seeding mulch helps maintain surface moisture.
• Apply only enough mulch to barely cover the soil surface.
• Water thoroughly after seeding to moisten to a depth of at least 6 inches if soil is dry.
• Sprinkle lightly daily, or as needed to maintain the soil surface dark-moist.