Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
“It’s just too hot to plant grass seed!” I’ve heard this from a number of gardeners this summer, and while it has been exceptionally hot, their assumption about the heat is wrong.
From the first of August through September, conditions to plant grass couldn’t get any better — the soil is warm, nighttime temperatures are cooler and less water is needed to keep the seed moist. Traditionally, Kentucky bluegrass takes about 21 days in the spring to germinate; in August it starts growing in about seven. Whether you are planting a new lawn, fixing a damaged area, or just trying to rejuvenate an older lawn, late summer through early fall is the perfect time for success.
Why do you want to plant grass seed? Obviously, if you have a new home with no yard, planting grass seed is the least expensive way to establish a new lawn. On average, the best varieties of grass seed, fertilizer, mulch and water cost about four-to-five cents per square foot. Sod, on the other hand, costs between 25-and-30 cents per square foot delivered. That’s before installation and fertilizer, and it needs a lot more water to get established than germinating grass seed. Soil preparation for seed or sod is about the same, so, all said, cost for seed vs. sod is about one-sixth for materials. Add in the labor and that gap increases substantially because seed is so quick and easy to plant.
Planting a new lawn is not the only reason for planting grass this time of year. Have you had insects damage your lawn? How about disease damage? Would you like to have a greener lawn using half the water you are using now? Recent research and developments in grass seed varieties has produced new grasses that resist heat, insects and disease; need less water; green up earlier; stay green longer; have a soft texture and a dark green color. If you are tired of the cost and work of applying an insecticide to your lawn every year to keep the bugs from killing it, all you have to do is plant new grass. Grubs and billbugs, two of the most devastating, turf-damaging insects, won’t eat turf-type perennial rye grass. A lawn composed of turf-type rye and turf-type fescue will use up to 50 percent less water than a standard Kentucky bluegrass and will stay a beautiful green color all summer. Just switching to a new variety of grass can eliminate many problems inherent in most lawns.
It’s easy to introduce a new variety of grass into your existing lawn. There is no need to kill the old lawn, bring in truckloads of topsoil or do a lot of unnecessary work. Start with a lawn mower. Drop the blade as low as you can go and mow the lawn. (Go ahead and scalp it; it will look a little sad for a week or two, but it will grow right back.)
Next, core aerate your lawn. This will open 3/4-inch holes throughout your lawn to make perfect conditions for the new seed to germinate. Broadcast your new seed over the recently aerated lawn and rake it lightly with a leaf rake to make the seeds contact the soil and fall into the aeration holes. Be sure to fertilize with a new lawn starter and apply a generous dose of humate to encourage quicker germination, and to feed the new grass as it emerges. Then, schedule a light watering once or twice a day for the next few weeks (in addition to your regular watering routine) to keep the seed moist.
Usually within seven to 10 days you will have all new grass germinating in the holes. You may even see polka dots of dark green grass throughout your lighter green lawn. After about two to three months it will have become a major part of your existing lawn, even taking over areas where your older grass was struggling.
While it’s rarely too hot to plant new grass, it can get too cold. Take advantage of the perfect conditions of August and September for best results because you never know when that first snowfall will occur. There is a common, familiar phrase that is absolutely true: Fall is for planting. That includes bulbs, trees, shrubs, evergreens and, even more true, grass.