Lawn Establishment

Lawn Establishment

Part of Ep. 403 Lawn Care Special

Join Dr. Frank Rossi, UW-Extension turfgrass specialist, as he explains how to seed your lawn and why you should plan on doing so between August 15 and September 15.

Premiere date: Jul 31, 1996

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
August 15th to September 15th is the best time of year to seed your lawn. We're going to show you how in this segment. We're at the O.J. Noer turfgrass facility in dane county. With me, is Dr. Frank Rossi, extension turf grass specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Frank, why august-september?

Frank Rossi:
Well, Shelley, the best reason for august and september is the grasses don't have to compete with the weeds. It's a lot easier for the grasses to get water and nutrients when they don't have to compete with other plants to get them. Also, the soil's nice and warm and we should have plenty of moisture available at this time of year.

Shelley:
So, it's happy and healthy.

Frank:
Much happier.

Shelley:
Okay, it looks like you've done some things to the soil. Before we seed, what should we be doing ahead of time?

Frank:
Well, on this site, we've already removed the existing vegetation with a non-selective herbicide. And, we've come in and tilled to break up the clods. Now, we're going to go back-- we've taken a soil test to determine the nutritional value of the soil. And what we'll do is we'll apply fertilizer to make sure we've got a good nutritional balance there, so the grass has all the food it needs to get started.

Shelley:
If you've never had your soil tested they send back very explicit instructions: how much and what to put down to improve your soil. So, we've done that, and now it looks like we're raking.

Frank:
Yeah, chris is doing a rough grade there, just to get out the bigger chunks, the rocks and things like that. And, also, to get a nice, smooth surface so that we improve surface drainage and we don't have any standing water. Grass doesn't like growing in standing water.

How do we know what kind of seed to buy when we go to the garden center?

That's a good question. It's often overlooked by the homeowner simply because they don't really think about those things before they start. So, it's important to know what you're going to use the site for. Are you going to play a little league game, chip and putt or are you just going to look at it? And also, what's your site like? Is your site sunny for more than six hours a day? That's a sunny site. Less than six hours would be a shady site. Is it poorly drained or well drained-- to determine the kind of seed that you need to put down.

Shelley:
All right, we've done that and you've picked the seed. Are we going to spread it in one of these spreaders?

Frank:
Yes, this rotary spreader has about a ten or 12-foot swath. The commercial person would use this. The homeowner could use this if they have a large area.

Shelley:
For bigger spaces.

Frank:
Right, this spreads it out pretty good. For the homeowner with a small area, we recommend a drop spreader. Now, with any spreader, it's important to know how much material you're putting down. I'll give a recommendation in pounds per thousand square foot. So, you'll pick a medium setting on the gauge that comes on the drop spreader. Then, you'll set a little path. This is a 20-foot path. Our spreader is two-foot wide, so that's a 40 square foot area. Now, what you have to do is collect what comes out of there, either by taping a plastic bag on it or just running over a paved surface and then sweeping it up and collecting it. And, then, you know what you put on for 40 square feet. Calculate that up to a per 1000 square feet and you know how much material you're putting down.

Shelley:
So, we may open or close the gauge to let more or less of the seed out.

Frank:
That's correct. What henry will demonstrate, and what I'll tell you is that we'll calibrate it to put down half the recommended rate. So, if I recommended two pounds per thousand, we'd calibrate that to put down a pound per thousand.

Shelley:
Why is that?

Frank:
We'll go in two directions. We want to cover the area twice because it gets difficult for the homeowner to have to overlap on these wheels. So, henry will first go north and south and then, east and west to cover the area twice and give the recommended rating over two passes.

Shelley:
That way, you don't end up with large patches.

Frank:
You don't want any large patches. But, if you do have patches...
Shelley:
I was just going to ask you-- that's my problem. Can I do this by hand? Yes, but what I'd rather that you did instead of just throwing the seed out there and letting it blow everywhere, or just throw and let it sit on the surface. We'll take a shovel-full of soil and throw a handful of seed in. We'll mix up that soil and seed. And we'll throw it down step on it to get good soil-seed contact and you're all set.

Shelley:
So, we're done. We've seeded the lawn, right?

Frank:
Almost! It's critical to get good seed-soil contact so the seed can extract the moisture from that soil. The first thing you want to do is mix that seed off the surface into the top eighth inch. That's what chris is doing with a light leaf raking.

Shelley:
You've used the term, "turf" a couple of times. Can you define that?

Frank:
We, in our little turf world, here, we use "turf" for grasses that are used for a function. For example: lawn turf, athletic turf golf turf, sports turf. And we use that when the grass is being used for a function.

Shelley:
Well, we've raked; anything else?

Frank:
well, what henry will do here is get the roller out. Again, this is just to ensure that the seed is in good contact with the soil.

Shelley:
That looks like a huge piece of equipment! And, I think, "i don't want to rent that or bother." Is it important to use a roller?

Frank:
Shelley, in my experience in extension it's the number one reason lawns fail is because the seed is not in good contact with the soil. A little light rolling goes a long way with ensuring success.

Shelley:
So, for my successful backyard I've raked and rolled; do I mulch?
Frank:
If you have a sloped area and you're worried about the soil moving off or eroding then you want to put some mulch down. If you're not able to keep that surface moist, to insulate the soil we recommend a light layer of mulching making sure it's weed-free mulch that is not putting weeds in there.

Shelley:
So, a flat area like this wouldn't need a mulch?

Frank:
Not necessarily.

Shelley:
How much do we water?

Frank:
We want to keep that seed bed moist at all times, until it's germinated and up. So, it could mean once a day if it's a moist day. Or, on a windy day like this, you want to water a few times to keep that surface moist. Once the grass is up, or germinated then you'll keep the root zone moist to about two inches. So, the surface can dry out a little bit, because the roots are down now. So, maybe a couple times a week.

Shelley:
Will we be mowing this, this year?

Frank:
This year, we'll want to mow as soon as the seedlings get to the height we want to keep it at. Most homeowners should keep their lawn between two and a half and three inches. As soon as it reaches that height mow it with a nice, sharp blade, so that you're not tearing the seedlings out of the soil.

Shelley:
Is there anything else? Do we fertilize, yet?

Frank:
Yes, you want to follow-up with a fertilization. We put down a pound of nitrogen per thousand to start out with. In about three weeks to a month after we're established, we'll come back and use half that rate...

Shelley:
Or half a pound of nitrogen per thousand. That's three weeks after we've seeded?

Frank:
That's correct.

Shelley:
Okay, thanks.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.