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Establishing a Lawn

Preparing soil

A good lawn starts with a well-conditioned subsoil. Before construction of the home begins, apply a non-selective systemic herbicide to the entire area to kill any perennial weeds present. Under optimal growing conditions, three to four weeks may be required for the herbicide to completely kill the weed propagules. Then, the topsoil (the layer rich in organic matter) should be removed and stockpiled. If the home has already been built, remove all debris before stockpiling the topsoil.

Once the topsoil is removed, the area should be roughly graded. Try to allow for a 2 percent slope to favor water flow away from the house. Next, install drainage and irrigation systems if necessary. Have the subsoil tested by the WVU Soil Testing Lab using the instructions and the mailer available from your county WVU Extension Service office. Based on the results, add lime and basic fertilizers (potash and phosphorus) if needed, and cultivate these into the soil. Finally, replace the topsoil, lightly till nitrogen fertilizer into the topsoil, and complete the final grading.

Seeding

Most cool- and warm-season turfgrasses can be propagated by seed. Although such grasses can be seeded almost any time of the year, the optimal time is early- to mid-September for cool-season grasses and late spring or early summer and for warm-season grasses. Temperature and moisture conditions that favor rapid germination result in better establishment. In general, the desired range of percent live seed is 1,000 to 2,000 per square foot to provide good turf cover.

To facilitate this, 1 to 2 pounds of Kentucky bluegrass is required per 1,000 square feet, and 4 to 8 pounds of tall fescue or perennial ryegrass is needed for the same area. Thin fescues may be seeded at 3 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet. A well calibrated drop spreader may be used to seed the lawn, ideally by making two passes at right angles to each other, calibrated to apply half the seeding rate during each pass. A light, even raking or harrowing, followed by rolling, ensures proper soil-to-seed contact.

Mulching

Always keep the seedbed moist from the time of planting until the roots are established. Mulching newly seeded lawns with straw helps to retain moisture and check erosion. On the other hand, mulching may delay germination of some seeds and can make conditions favorable for fungus growth. Therefore, apply mulching material sparsely for optimal success.


Author: Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist