Lawn renovation – cool season grasses

Lawn renovation – cool season grasses

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What is lawn renovation?

For lawns that have suffered severe damage from insects, disease, weeds or drought, or if you’re just looking for a re-do with an enhanced cultivar, a complete lawn renovation is often the best option.

In this article we will discuss renovation using the two most popular two season grasses – Kentucky Bluegrass and Tall Fescue.

Unlike overseeding, a renovation involves killing your entire stand of grass and starting with a clean slate. As with all seeding projects, success depends upon 3 factors:

1. Seed to soil contact

In order for grass to successfully establish, the seed must be in direct contact with the soil so that the roots may grow into the soil and extract nutrients. Seed that sits on top of thatch or dead grass has a poor chance of establishment.

2. Heat

Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass seed germinate best when temperatures outside hover between 78-85 degrees. Within this range, fescue germination will take place in 4-5 days. Kentucky Bluegrass may take up to 3 weeks to reach 80% germination.

3. Water

After seed has been applied and watered, it must be kept continuously moist until germination. Allowing the seed to dry can result in a complete loss. Grass seed must be watered 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time until germination takes place. The goal is to keep the seed moist, not to soak the soil. After germination, the frequency of watering should be gradually reduced and the quantity of water applied at each watering gradually increased.

When should renovation be done?

Renovation of  lawns North of the Mason-Dixon line should be done mid-August. Renovation of cool-season lawns in the transition zone should be done around Labor Day. This timing gives the new grass the time it needs to establish so it can survive the following summer.

Spring is a very bad time to renovate due to weed pressure and the limited time available to the grass to establish before the summer heat. Seeding projects in the spring generally result in a weedy mess and wasted time and money.

Planning ahead for renovation

It pays to plan ahead. If you’re applying a pre-emergent in the spring, make sure that you apply at a rate that will not extend coverage into and interfere with your seeding project. Most pre-emergent herbicides prevent ALL seed from successfully germinating.

Preparing for renovation

Having everything ready when the time comes can make the difference between success and failure. You will need:

  • The square footage of your lawn. Tools such as this can be of great help.
  • Seed. Follow the seed producer’s recommended seeded rates.
  • Glyphosate(RoundUp). Do not use “extended control” type herbicides which contain pre-emergent and will prevent the seed from germinating.
  • If you do not have an irrigation system, you will need hoses, a multi-zone controller and impact sprinklers.
  • A broadcast spreader.
  • Starter fertilizer.
  • Optional: granular fungicide.
  • Optional: Tenacity herbicide.
  • A push mower. If you have a riding mower, it may be too rough to use on the new seedlings.

Fallowing

Renovation involves killing all existing grass and weeds to create the perfect bed for a new, uniform fallowlawn that will be the envy of the neighborhood. The process of killing all existing vegetation is called fallowing. Begin 3 weeks before your target seeding date by spraying your entire lawn area with glyphosate. Water for 15-20 minutes on a daily basis for the next 7 days to sprout more weeds. Spray with glyphosate again and continue to water daily for 10 days. Spray newly germinated weeds with glyphosate once again. The process will deplete the seed bank and reduce the amount of weeds that will germinate along with your grass seed.

 Seeding

  1. Cut the (dead)lawn at your mower’s lowest setting.
  2. Remove all clipping and debris from the lawn. Use a rake to remove as much of the thatch and dead grass as possible. Remember, we need good seed to soil contact.
  3. Using the broadcast spreader, spread the seed at the recommended rate slightly overlapping each pass. Do not over-apply – grass that is planted too dense is unable to develop properly and looks like doll hair.
  4. Using the broadcast spreader, apply the starter fertilizer at the rate indicated on the bag.
  5. Consider applying a granular fungicide  like Bayer Fungus Control at seeding time. The heat and frequent water creates perfect conditions for fungus which can destroy new seedlings in a matter of days.
  6. Consider spraying Tenacity at pre-emergent rates at seeding time to further suppress weed germination.
  7. You are now ready to water. Program your controller to water each zone 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes.(No sprinkler system? A Orbit 4 zone watering system may come in handy)

Post-germination care

Watering

New lawns should be watered:

  • 15 minutes twice daily for the first 7 days after germination. Avoid watering in the evening as it greatly increases the risk of disease.
  • 20 minutes daily for the following 14 days.
  • 30 minutes every 3 days for the next 2 weeks.
  • 45 minutes every 5 days for the next 2 weeks.
  • Slowly work your way towards the deep and infrequent watering schedule.

Mowing

Mow the grass when it first  reaches 3.5″ inches down to 2″. Make subsequent cuts to 2.5″ for the first month when the grass reaches 3.5″. Maintain the lawn at 3″ after the first month throughout fall to encourage lateral growth.

Fertilizing

New lawns should be fed with 1 pound of Nitrogen per thousand sq feet monthly through fall using a lawn fertilizer that is high in Nitrogen. Make the first post-starter fertilizer application 4 weeks after seeding.

Disease

Disease is common in newly seeded lawns due to new grass being susceptible to fungus. Keep a vigilant eye on the grass and be ready to act swiftly and apply a fungicide at the first sign of trouble – it may only take a few days to wipe out an entire renovation.

Weed control

Wait 30 days after germination to spray any weeds with herbicides. Young grass can be damaged along with the weeds if sprayed too early.

Wait 60 days to apply pre-emergents – they can interfere with root development in young grass.

Final words

Remember to use your common sense and listen to what the grass is telling you. If you see signs of drought stress, water. If you see signs of disease, act swiftly. If the grass does not look ready for cutting ,wait a little longer. The most important factor that determines the success or failure of a renovation project is YOU.

Seed counts per pound

Seed counts per pound

When mixing seed, it is important to know that different grass seeds have different sizes. A Kentucky Bluegrass seed for example is about 10 time smaller than a Tall Fescue seed. By law, all bags of seed must have a label attached detailing – among other things – the percentage of each type of seed inside the bag by weight. This means that a cool season mix with “a little KBG” (10%) and “a lot of fescue” (90%)  is actually a 50/50 mix by seed count.

If you are shopping for seed or planning to mix your own, the below table should come in handy.

Grass Type Seeds per pound
Kentucky Bluegrass 2,200,000
Tall Fescue 230,000
Annual Ryegrass 230,000
Perennial Ryegrass 230,000
Common Bermuda 1,750,000
Centipede 410,000
Zoysia 1,000,000
Orbit 4 zone watering system review

Orbit 4 zone watering system review

61uosjyvil-_sl1000_As those of us without an irrigation system know all too well, keeping seed moist during a seeding project with hoses and sprinklers can be challenging, especially if the area is large. The Orbit 4 zone watering system aims to make the process easier by automating the task of watering for up to 4 zones. Since the standard hose bib doesn’t have enough water pressure to run more than one sprinkler, the controller turns on each of the zones one at a time.  But how does it perform in the real world?

The system consists of a battery powered controller (2 x AA), a 4 port manifold and 2 valves. The system can control up to 4 valves, but only 2 are provided in the box.  Two additional valves can be purchased separately if needed. The setup process is straightforward: attach the valves to the manifold, connect the valves to the controller, insert batteries and, after a 3o second period in which the controller tests each valve, the system is ready to be programmed.

The Orbit controller supports up to 3 start times, and each start time can be configured to activate between 1 and 4 valves. The valves are activated sequentially from 1 to 4, with only one valve open at any given time. Turning the programming dial to the “How Long” section allows you to configure how long each zone will be watered – this setting applies globally to all starting times configured. Finally turning the dial to “How Often” allow you to select on what days the program will be activated – either by selecting  between 1 and 7  days of the week or by selecting the every 1 day option. Once configured, setting the dial to Auto will instruct the controller to turn on and off based on the configuration entered.

Having used the controller for two weeks to water ~6,500 square feet of lawn during fall renovation, I have found it to be a huge time saver. I have configured all 4 zones to turn on at 9:00AM, 12:00PM and 3:00PM watering each zone for 30 minutes. So far, it has worked flawlessly. The valves feel sturdy and open/close with a loud thump, with no leaking. At the same time, this system has a few annoyances which unnecessarily cripple what could be a fantastic product.

The Pros

  • Sturdy construction.
  • Works flawlessly.
  • Good battery life  – no sign of batteries needing to be changed after 2 weeks of continuous use.
  • Huge time saver for keeping areas moist during seeding.
  • Manual cycles can be initiated with the push of a button.
  • Clear on-screen indication of how long until the next starting time and how much longer left of the current watering cycle.

The Cons

  • Only comes with 2 valves. Additional valves have to be purchased
  • Only 3 configurable starting times. This can be made to work, especially since a manual cycle can be started anytime with the push of a button , but having up to 7 starting times would have been more suitable for the light frequent watering needed during seeding.
  • The electronic controller features a bracket in the back which allows it to mount onto one of the valves. The bracket is too loose and the controller just falls off, making this mounting system somewhat useless.
  • The clock consistently falls behind by about 2 minutes each day. Not a huge deal, unless you need to synchronize starting time with another device like say a pump.

Overall, the Orbit 4-zone watering system has proved to be a huge time and labor saver and has helped me achieve more even germination with far less effort than in previous years. It is a must-have for anyone considering a renovation project without an irrigation system.

Overseeding fescue lawns

Overseeding fescue lawns

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Tall fescue is one of the most popular turf grasses in the transition zone due to its ability to form a great looking lawn, while exhibiting better heat and drought resistance than other cool season grasses. However, unlike other grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, tall fescue does not spread on its own. Overseeding is a great way to make up for summer losses and increase lawn density in fescue lawns. It is also a great way to introduce new cultivars into your existing genetic base, which can help with disease resistance.

If your existing lawn has 50% or less coverage, you may want to consider a complete renovation instead.

What is overseeding?

Overseeding is the process of spreading seed “on top” of your existing lawn to increase density. As with all seeding projects, success depends upon 3 factors:

1. Seed to soil contact

In order for grass to successfully establish, the seed must be in direct contact with the soil so that the roots may grow into the soil and extract nutrients. Seed that sits on top of thatch or dead grass has a poor chance of establishment.

2. Heat

Fescue seed germinate best when temperatures outside hover between 78-85 degrees. Within this range, fescue germination will take place in 4-5 days. At temperatures in the low 70s/high 60s, fescue germination may take up to 2 weeks.

3. Water

After seed has been applied and watered, it must be kept continuously moist until germination. Allowing the seed to dry can result in a complete loss. Fescue seed must be watered 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time for the first 7 days. The goal is to keep the seed moist, not to soak the soil. After the first week, the frequency of watering should be gradually reduced and the quantity of water applied at each watering gradually increased.

When should lawns be overseeded?

Fescue lawns North of the Mason-Dixon line should be overseeded mid-August. Fescue lawns in the transition zone should be overseeded around Labor Day. This timing gives the new grass the time it needs to establish so it can survive the following summer.

Spring is a very bad time to overseed lawns due to weed pressure and the limited time available to the grass to establish before the summer heat. Seeding projects in the spring generally result in a weedy mess and wasted time and money.

Preparing for overseeding

Having everything ready when the time comes can make the difference between success and failure. You will need:

  • The square footage of your lawn. Tools such as this can be of great help.
  • Seed. Fescue should be overseeded with 4-5 lbs of seed per thousand square feet as determined above.
  • If you do not have an irrigation system, you will need hoses, a multi-zone controller and impact sprinklers.
  • A broadcast spreader.
  • Starter fertilizer
  • A push mower. If you have a riding mower, it may be too rough to use on the new seedlings.

Overseeding the lawn

  1. scalped

    In order to give the new seed the best chance to establish, the existing grass must be cut as low as possible. At the same time, since we don’t want to kill the existing grass, this process must take place gradually. Beginning two weeks before your target seeding date, start mowing your grass every 3-4 days lowering your cutting height each time. The final cut should take place on the day of seeding at your mower’s lowest cut setting.

  2. Remove all clipping from the lawn. Use a rake to remove as much of the thatch and dead grass as possible. Remember, we need good seed to soil contact.
  3. seedUsing the broadcast spreader, spread the seed at a rate of 4-5 lbs per thousand square feet slightly overlapping each pass. Do not over-apply – grass that is planted too dense is unable to develop properly and looks like doll hair.
  4. Using the broadcast spreader, apply the starter fertilizer at the rate indicated on the bag.
  5. You are now ready to water. Program your controller to water each zone 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes.(No sprinkler system? A Orbit 4 zone watering system may come in handy)

Fescue germination should take place in 4-5 days and the seed should be kept moist throughout the process. Mow the grass 14 days after seeding date and maintain the lawn at 3.5″ throughout fall to encourage lateral growth.

With a refreshed, thick lawn, the  grass will always be greener on your side.