Planting grass seed.
Planting grass seed is a pretty simple process, but there are a few things that you should know.
What Kind of Grass Seed Should I Buy?
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First let’s start with selecting a good grass seed for your situation and some mistakes to avoid. It’s best to buy a grass seed that is made up of a variety of different kinds of grass seeds all blended together.
Why a blend? Why not just 100% Kentucky Blue Grass?
There are several reasons for using a blend of grass seeds in your lawn. Like all living things grass seeds can be attacked by different pests or conditions and if you have only one kind of grass seed in your lawn you could lose your entire lawn to an attack from insect, disease or other pest.
For instance, perennial rye grasses can be killed by pythium blight which is a disease that is triggered by really humid conditions. This isn’t something to be overly concerned about if you have a blend of grasses in your lawn because the Kentucky blue grasses and the fescue grasses won’t be affected by the blight.
But you want perennial rye grasses in your lawn because they are quick germinating, they have a nice green color and most of the varieties used today have a fine texture, almost as fine as Kentucky blue grass.
Secondly, it takes Kentucky blue grass a long time to germinate, up to 28 days, whereas perennial rye grasses can germinate in as few as 5 or 6 days. Quick germination is important because if you planted a lawn of 100% Kentucky blue grass chances are the lawn will be full of quick germinating weeds before the Kentucky blue has a chance to even come up. So when you use a blend of grass seed, the fast germinating perennial rye grasses act as a nurse crop protecting the Kentucky blue grass seeds while they go through their long germination period.
The Price of Grass Seed Matters.
Like everything else, with grass seed you get what you pay for. My suggestion is to go to a place that sells bulk grass seed, maybe a full service garden center or farm supply store and shop price. Find a good middle of the road blend of grass seed. Don’t buy the lowest price and don’t buy the highest priced seed. If you buy really cheap grass seed it’s likely to have a lot of annual rye grass and other not so desireable grasses. You’ll end up with a lawn with a lot of thick bladed grasses that would be more suitable for a pasture.
A good blend of grass seed will have a blend of different kinds of fescues, different kinds of perennial rye grasses and some Kentucky blue grass. Don’t get too worked up over the percentages because I don’t believe that the percentage of Kentucky blue grass in a pound of grass seed is acurate or relevant because Kentucky blue grass seeds are really, really tiny and have a lot more seeds per pound than do rye grasses. I was once told that in a pound of perennial rye grass there are approxiamtely 250,000 seeds whereas a pound of Kentucky blue grass will have close to 1.5 million seeds per pound! True or not? I don’t know. If you count them let me know what you find.
But in any cases, use a blend of grass seed and opt for the middle to upper price range of seed. If you live in the south where grasses are warm season grasses the same rules apply, it’s just that the kinds of grass you have differ.
Preparing the Ground Before Planting Grass Seed.
Before you start preparing the area you want to seed, give it a quick visual evaluation. Is it weedy? Does it contain thick bladed, undesirable grasses that you don’t want in your lawn? If so, I highly recommend that you first spray the area with an non selective herbicide that will not linger in the soil. I use something that contains glyphosate. But keep in mind, non selective means that the herbicide will kill any and all vegetation that it touches so read the label and wear the proper protective clothing. Once you apply the herbicide you usually only have to wait about 72 hours then you can till under the weeds that you sprayed. They may not look dead yet, but they are.
If you prefer to not use an herbicide then just till the weedy areas. Wait about 5 days, till them again, and keep repeating this process. This constant turning then drying will kill the weed and any roots in the soil as well. I’d continue this process for at least two or three weeks.
You need to prepare the soil before you plant grass seed. If you just sprinkle the grass seed on hard packed soil as soon as it rains or you water all of the seed will wash into puddles and you’ll have a lawn full of bare spots.
To prepare the soil you should work the soil to a depth of about 2″ to 3″ then rake the soil smooth, but leaving small clumps of soil won’t hurt a thing and will actually help to hold the seed in place. By working the soil before planting you are giving the soil the ability to absorb water and not have it all run off. This allows the seed to get wet and become slightly embedded in the soil without it washing away. If you work the soil too deep it will be difficult to get it raked out and it will later settle into a very uneven surface.
Planting the Grass Seed.
Once you have the soil prepared you want to spread the seed evenly over the area to be seeded. A good rule of thumb for planting a blend of grass seed is 5 lbs. per one thousand square feet but I suggest you read the label on the bag or talk to your seed supplier just to make sure of what they recommend.
Just sprinkle the grass seed over the surface of the soil. If you use a rotary type of spreader you will get good even coverage. You can buy a spreader with wheels that you push, or if you are doing a relatively small area they make small hand held spreaders that you crank. Either one works just fine. Once you have all the seed applied what I do is take a push broom and drag the push broom over the surface of the area that I just seeded. What this does is lightly mixes the seed and the soil and covers some of the seed with a light layer of soil. This aids in germination and also hides the seeds from the birds. But don’t over do it. Just drag the broom backwards with a slight amount of down pressure.
Mulching Over Grass Seed.
Once you have applied the grass seed to your lawn you should apply some kind of a mulch over the seeded area. There are a number of options. Straw is the old standard and considered somewhat old fashioned, but straw has it’s advantages. When you spread straw over your seeded area the straw lays in a criss cross pattern and some of the staw is against the seed and the soil and some of the straw is slightly elevated over the seeded areas because it is criss crossed. Think about the size of a grass seed and how tiny it is. With a single strand of straw suspened over a grass seed that single strand of straw actually provides a great deal of shade over the seeded area like latice over a patio. That’s one of the advantages of straw. The disadvantage? It blows all over the place.
What about peat moss?
I don’t like using peat moss over grass seed because peat moss is either wet or dry. When it’s dry it’s hard to get wet. It actually repels water. Once it’s wet it stays wet and if you keep it wet it’s fine. But if it dries out it’s difficult to re wet it. Is peat moss terrible to use over grass seed? No, but it doesn’t provide the shade that straw does.
What about Grass Seed Starter Mulch?
You know, the green stuff in a bag that looks like hydro mulch? I actually like this stuff because most it also contains just the right amount of starter fertilizer for grass seed and it’s easy to apply by hand or with a spreader. When it gets wet it swells up and hold moisture pretty well. I’ve used it a number of times with really good results. I like it.
What about Hydro Seed?
Hyrdo seed shmyro seed! Hydro seed is okay but there is no magic in hydro seed. Hydro seed contains three things. Grass seed, whatever kind you select, hydro mulch which is okay but nothing special, and fertilizer. I’ve done a lot of hydro seeding and I can assure you, hydro seed works exactly like I describe above. When you hydro seed you fill a big tank with water, then you dump in grass seed, hydro mulch and fertilizer. Sometimes if you are seeding on a hill they dump in glue. Yes, glue. Does the glue work? I dunno. It holds for a while but when it does wash it takes large areas with it.
The big advantage to hydro seed is that the seed is thoroughly soaked before it is applied. So if you seed manually then water really well you’ve accomplished the same thing. Hydro seed can and will wash out easier than a hand seeded lawn. And with hydro seed everything is mixed together then applied as a slurry. But this means that some of the grass is in touch with the soil and some of it is stuck to the hydro mulch and is actually on top of the mulch instead of under it.
So . . . if you’ve got a lot of money and don’t want to do the work yourself let somebody hydro seed the area for you, but don’t think that only a hydro seeded lawn will grow. Grass seed is grass seed and the only difference between hydro seeding and hand seeding is the application process.
Take Care of Freshly Planted Lawn.
Freshly planted grass seed needs to be watered on a regular basis. You have to be really careful to not miss a watering because once you water the grass seed the first time germination is initiated. If you miss a watering allow the seed to dry out once it has germinated the little tiny grass plant will die and the seed will be spent. That’s why watering after you seed is so critical. Those little tiny grass plants are really, really fine, like baby hair. If you let them dry out they will die for sure.
That’s why I like seeding in the mid fall or early spring. The soil temperature and air temperatures are warm enough for good germination but the sun is not as hot as it is during the summer months. Spring and fall are the ideal time for planting grass seed. And it usually rains more in the fall and spring.
Okay, what did I miss?