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7 Steps to Successful Seeding

By Bobby Walls, development manager of turf products, FMC Professional Solutions

Achieving a healthy lawn starts with timing, soil prep, proper irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide application, as well as aeration and follow-up care mowing. Professional turf manager Bobby Walls outlines the steps to make the landscape contractors' next turf-seeding project a success.

Everyone has seen a yard where new sod has been laid down, and then three weeks later it is brown and on it's way to becoming completely dead. This typically occurs because whoever planted it didn't properly prep the soil.

With seed, the grass either comes in patchy or not at all; this too is usually the result of poor soil preparation, or other factors before and after the planting. Bobby Walls of FMC Professional Products outlines seven steps to successful seeding and the proper renovation techniques.

For proper growth of newly seeded turf, it takes more than just throwing down seed. A few extra steps in the beginning will save on products and labor later, and ensure healthy turf for years to come. Whether renovating turf in the spring or fall, here are seven steps to assure healthy lawns.

1. Education

Talking to your customers about the importance of turf health is always the first step. Providing proper education on establishing healthy turf seedlings ensures clients know the advantages and disadvantages of correct renovation techniques should they choose not to aerate, use herbicides during establishment, or follow correct management practices for seedling establishment. It's advisable that landscape contractors provide a “leave behind” flyer or brochure clearly explaining each step in detail.

Aerifying the soil provides positive results, including breaking up compacted soil, which enables oxygen and water to get to plant roots. It is an advisable practice for both prepping the soil for seeding, and helping established lawns remain healthy.

2. Aerification and Site Preparation

One of the best ways to prepare turf for seed is core aerification and removal of surface debris like leaves and sticks. This will ensure maximum seed-to-soil contact once the seed is dispersed. Aerifying the soil lessens compaction and enables oxygen and water to get to plant roots. The core holes also retain moisture and provide a safe place for seedlings to grow.

When aerifying, use the largest tines available, and make sure they penetrate 2-to-3 inches deep. Your goal is to achieve 20-to-40 holes per square foot, so two passes may be necessary depending on the machine. Also, ensure the tines can penetrate well by waiting for decent soil moisture from a good soaking rain or from irrigation.

3. Irrigation

Be sure to irrigate sufficiently once the seed is in the ground. Irrigate early in the morning to reduce water loss due to evaporation.

In the fall, during the first few weeks of watering, concentrate on keeping the lawn surface moist. This is best accomplished by frequent light waterings, especially on hot, sunny days. Areas of the lawn in full sun need irrigation more often than partially shaded areas. Lawn edges and curb areas are easy to miss. Also, slopes always dry out faster than level areas. In the spring, irrigate 2-to-3 times daily to ensure maximum germination. Once maximum germination is achieved, irrigation can be decreased to encourage deep-root development.

Turf areas that are in full sun need irrigation more often than partially shaded areas. Lawn edges and curb areas are easy to miss, so keep a close eye on these areas. Also, slopes always dry out faster than level areas, so program the irrigation system to compensate for this.

4. Fertilization

Prior to seeding, apply a balanced starter fertilizer. Fertilizer choice should be based on turf type nutrient requirements and results from soil tests. Applying a fertilizer at seeding will immediately provide nutrients to newly germinated turf seedlings, which will aid in much more rapid turf growth and establishment.

5. Timing

Renovate in spring or early fall, but never in summer. Spring renovations typically occur once air temperature is consistently in the 55 to 70 F range. In most areas this is March to early April.

In early fall, it is generally recommended to allow for adequate time to achieve full turf establishment by October. The first few weeks in September are ideal, especially for cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescues. Fall seeding is the best timing, as soil and air temperatures are more favorable for turf growth and establishment.

Without an herbicide, broadleaf weeds can easily overtake newly seeded turf (photo: Top). Unlike many herbicides, new ones like SquareOne(R) from FMC can be applied up to six weeks earlier than current products, so turf gets off to a healthy start (photo: bottom).

6. Herbicides

Depending on weed pressure, an herbicide application may be warranted prior to seeding, especially if crabgrass is visible. Selective herbicide options for crabgrass control include quinclorac-containing products (application timing prior to seeding varies by product) while nonselective herbicides like glyphosate would provide a clean slate to re-seed.

Another option is applying an herbicide just before or after seeding. Historically, this was not possible because many products restrict use on turf for up to six weeks after seeding, depending on turf type. However, one new herbicide, SquareOne® herbicide, has the least restrictions-and can be applied either up to one day before seeding or as soon as seven days after emergence, on most cool or warm-season grasses. Whatever you choose, be sure to delay cultural practices like scalping, core aerification and vertical mowing until three to five days after an herbicide application.

7. Mowing

The timing of mowing after renovation is dependent upon turf type and use. More aggressive, stoloniferous grasses may need mowing early to encourage new lateral growth. For bunch type grasses, mowing may need to be delayed four to six weeks after seeding. The best game plan is to customize the mow schedule according to turf type (see guides online) and local weather (which affects how fast turf grows). Just remember to never remove more than one-third of the grass blade at any one mowing in order to maintain proper height for maximum turf performance.

Practicing the seven steps outlined will greatly enhance the landscape contractors chances of producing the healthy lawn that clients look for, which in turn will mean good references, returning work and a growing business.

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May 26, 2019, 3:18 pm PDT

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