A common misconception is that you seed your lawn in the spring after the ground thaws. When in actuality, the best time to seed is in the early fall (August 15th to September 15th). The weather is warm enough to encourage good seed germination, yet it is cool enough for grass to grow at its best. The grass doesn’t have to face the hot summer sun or the weed competition that is prominent during the early summer months. It is also the best time to get a beautiful grass crop with the least amount of effort. The grass will germinate and grow in the fall, lay dormant during the winter, and develop a healthy, vigorous root system in the spring. The grass is then prepared to compete with next season’s weeds, crabgrass, and hot summer sun.
- Garden Rake, GARDEN WEASEL, or small 3-tonged rake for loosening soil
- Leaf Rake, GARDEN WEASEL, or the ball of your shoe for covering seed with soil
- Roller (can be rented) or the ball of your shoe to establish soil contact
- Water (battery controlled valve, 4 times per day)
Grass comes in all different shapes and sizes. It comes in light, medium, and dark greens and with high and low resistance to diseases and shade. Grass seed is definitely one of those things where “you get what you pay for” so don’t necessarily go with the cheapest bag at the store. Seeding is too much work to justify saving a few dollars on poor seed.
In most cases we recommend a perennial rye/ bluegrass mixture. The perennial rye germinates in 7 to 10 days, should look great in 30 days, but doesn’t add new plants. The bluegrass germinates in 20 to 30 days, and will slowly fill in over the next few years as plants send out runners which produce new plants. We discourage the use of bluegrass until mid-August. It is too slow growing to survive the hot summer sun. Fine fescue is an excellent shade grass, but it tends to go dormant with hot weather or draught so try to keep the percentage of fine fescue low in the sunnier areas of the lawn.
A few years ago we started seeding with a new grass variety, Dwarf Tall Fescue. It has a wider blade then the bluegrass and perennial rye, but it has a very deep root system which allows it to stay green with a lower abundance of water. Its deep root system also helps survival from grub damage more so than other species. For heavy shade areas consider planting Pachysandra (a common ground cover plant) or other shade perennials. If planting grass, consider eliminating low and downward pointing branches in trees and overseeding in spring and late summer.
- Scotts Pure Premium
- the regular and classic varieties have too much weed seed and the quality is not as good
- Lofts Tri-Plex General
- Lofts Dense Shade
- Lesco Seed Blends
- Agway Tri-Rye, Shady Green, Sunny Green
- Green Thumb
A word of caution:
Annual rye grass is, in fact, annual and isn’t a good choice. Also many seed boxes tend to make extravagant claims about how large an area will cover, so be wary of those. We recommend 8-10 pounds of perennial rye per 1,000 square feet and 4-6 pounds for bluegrass per 1,000 sq. feet. Avoid seed mix especially for sandy soil or “your local area.” Usually this is a marketing gimmick and is often a poorer quality seed. Also avoid contractor’s blends and landscaping blends as these are usually much lower quality seeds.
Soil is best loosened to a depth of one inch and the better you do this, the greater chance the seed has of germinating. Here at Green Thumb Lawn Care we use a garden rake, power rake, or a garden weasel. It may be a good idea to mix peat moss into the soil to provide organic matter (sandy soils) or to relieve compaction (compacted soils).
To help achieve more uniform coverage of grass, divide the area to be seeded into smaller equal areas. Divide the seed into the same number of equal parts according to the area being covered.
The seed can be sown by spreader or by hand. If you are spreading seed by hand try to throw the seed away from you so it spreads out and falls uniformly. Try to avoid putting too much or too little seed in one area. Overcrowding can occur and grass plants will compete with one another and not be as healthy. Too few grass plants allow the sun to overheat the soil which causes another set of issues altogether.
While it would be impossible to perfectly distribute seed, a good rule of thumb to follow is about 15 seeds per square inch of Perennial Rye and 20 to 30 seeds per square inch of Bluegrass. Once your eyes see the approximate number of seeds per area you’ll be able to judge the proper seed density. If you are seeding an area with two different seed mixes, sow the smaller seed first, then the larger seed. This order will allow you to judge seed densities for both seed sizes.
If you are seeding bare spots be sure to cover a larger area with the seed. This will allow the grass color change to be gradual. If you just seed the spots, the results will resemble a patchwork quilt as the shift from one green to another is quite distinct.
Covering the Seed with Soil
Ideally, you want about a 16th of an inch to an 8th of an inch of soil covering the seed. There are three methods that we recommend to achieve this.
For larger areas we recommend the back raking method. Take a leaf rake, invert it, and vibrate it left to right along the seeded area. This will cover the seed with some of the loosened soil with minimal disruption.
If you are using a Garden Weasel, invert the weasel, run it back and forth over the seeded area so about 90 percent of the seeds disappear into the soil. This is an especially useful tool for seeding patchy grass areas.
For smaller areas step and twist with the ball of your shoe. This will achieve both the covering of the seed and good seed-soil contact.
Seed to Soil Contact
Seed-soil contact along with moisture is what actually starts the germination process. If you use the step and twist method of covering the seed, you have achieved this. If you used a Garden Weasel or the back raking method, you may want to borrow or rent a roller (larger areas) or step and twist with the ball of your shoe on the seed to ensure contact.
Starter fertilizer is a very high phosphorus fertilizer. The middle number, 24, in an 18-24-12 fertilizer refers to the percentage of phosphorus (see also 5-10-5 or 19-19-19). For small areas, use Miracle Grow or similar plant fertilizer. Do not use regular fertilizer and use only the recommended amounts. For large areas call Green Thumb Lawn Care at (518) 355-7787 as you do not want to over fertilize your lawn or damage the local water supply. We will test your soil and apply the correct amount of fertilizer for successful growth.
Mulch is a layer of material, organic or non-organic, applied to the surface of soil to help retain moisture. Green Thumb Lawn Care recommends using a thin layer of peat moss. It retains moisture very well and unlike straw does not have to be removed later. For small areas, cheese cloth also works well. We tend to discourage the use of straw and especially hay because they have a lot of weed/grass seeds which are almost impossible to get rid of later and usually has to be removed after the grass is up (we do use straw on steep hills to keep seed in place).
Watering is often the hardest part. Water slowly and do not allow the water to form puddles. Misting frequently is best. We strongly recommend putting a battery operated value on your water faucet. You should also buy a unit that will allow you to program it to water at least four times per day. The goal is to keep moisture in the top ½ inch of soil. This may take watering up to three times per day. Watch out for breezy conditions with dry air which pulls the moisture out of the ground. If the seed dries out after it has started to germinate, the seed dies.