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4 steps to seeding a new lawn or renovating an old one

John Fech A power rake
TOOL OF THE TRADE: A power rake is a great tool to loosen bare soil and level the ground in preparation for spring lawn seeding.
Farm and Garden: If you are planning a new lawn seeding, what do you need to be aware of?

Editor’s note: In Farm and Garden this month, we asked Nebraska Extension educator John Fech a question about spring seeding a lawn on the farm.

Question: “If I’m planning a spring lawn seeding, what are the main steps I need to be aware of?”

A common sight in spring is a lawn with bare spots. Sometimes it’s due to a harsh winter and other times a dry fall leading into winter. In either case, now is a great time to refurbish, renovate and rejuvenate. Like many gardening activities, this is a step-by-step process.

Here are four key steps:

1. The soil needs to be prepared. Although lawns often are thought of as a group of plants to be walked on and admired, the prep for planting is exactly the same as it is for veggie gardens — to loosen the soil so that the seed can be in contact with it. So, if you’ve ever successfully planted radishes, carrots or beans, you probably have a good sense of what needs to be done.

If it’s a new lawn area, take advantage of this rare opportunity to work the finished grade with a harrow and incorporate 1 inch of organic matter into the upper 4 to 5 inches of soil. Well-aged manure, worm castings, leaf mold and compost are good sources. If you’re dealing with bare patches, the tool that you need is a power rake, available at hardware and rental stores. In either case, loosened bare soil is the key to success.

2. If the area receives four to five hours of sun per day, choose a turf-type tall fescue. If it is full sun, Kentucky bluegrass is usually the best choice. Read the seed package for instructions on how much to use, but generally 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet for tall fescue and 2 pounds of bluegrass per 1,000 square feet are in order.

Bluegrass is slower to start in the spring, but if you follow the steps, establishment will be successful. When the soil temperature warms to the 50- to 55-degree F range, use a drop spreader to apply half of the seed in a north-south direction, and the other half in an east-west direction. This double punch approach helps to ensure good coverage of the freshly prepared soil.

3. After seeding, rake the area lightly with a leaf rake. This ensures seed-to-soil contact. Then irrigate lightly to keep the soil moist — not soggy or dry.

4. Apply starter fertilizer to encourage rooting and get the new plants off to a good start. You may wish to consider using a newer product on the market in recent years, Scotts Turf Builder Starter, which contains mesotrione. This active ingredient is much more effective and less costly than siduron — the one that had been recommended in the past.

It will suppress weeds such as crabgrass and dandelions but allow the desirable turf to grow. Again, read and follow the label directions. After seeding, the bottom-line guideline of “Keep it moist, not soggy or dry” is important to follow. If the new seed is wet and the weather turns cold, it will just sit there and pout.

If, on the other hand, it is allowed to dry out, it’s not much better than expensive bird food, and not likely to become a lawn. Overall, the process will take about three or four weeks, producing a durable and functional turf surface.

John Fech is a Nebraska community environment Extension educator and horticulturist. Learn more by contacting Fech at jfech1@unl.edu.

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