Weeding & Feeding 101: Know Before You Seed When it comes to lawn care, you’d be surprised how much science is involved. You’re shooting in the dark from the start. You don’t even know what It might seem like an easy task, but learning how to plant grass seed correctly is essential for growing a thick, healthy lawn.
Weeding & Feeding 101: Know Before You Seed
When it comes to lawn care, you’d be surprised how much science is involved.
You’re shooting in the dark from the start. You don’t even know what “kind” of grass you have, never mind determining the right herbicide and fertilizer to care for it.
But it seems like a Catch 22. You use chemicals to kill invading plants and hope it doesn’t destroy your grass— then, you lay down compost to nourish your turf and hope it doesn’t breed pesky weeds.
You just want a green lawn, but all the fancy instructions, complex chemical labels and scary industry terms are intimidating.
Don’t worry. We’re here to help. Let’s take it back to the basics—
Understanding the Role of Herbicides on Weeds
Herbicides are pesticides used to eliminate unwanted plants, like weeds, from your yard. Because they are controlled substances designed for killing plant life, they’re not something we recommend choosing without proper understanding of their effects.
Pre-emergent vs Post-emergent Herbicides
The key to preventing unwanted weed growth is to “nip in the bud.” Just as you remove buds from a plant to prevent it from flowering or fruiting, you have to off the weeds before they start growing.
This is what we call a pre-emergent herbicide, as it kills weeds when they begin sprouting from seeds. It will not control existing weeds; that’s what a post-emergent herbicide is for.
Selective vs Non-selective Herbicides
A selective herbicide is exactly as it sounds. Once laid down, it’ll target or “select” specific plants, such as broadleaf weeds or dandelions, but leave your grass unaffected.
Non-selective herbicides kill all plants. They don’t discriminate against weeds— they wipe out everything in their path. This is not the kind of stuff you want to lay on your turf; it’s best for areas like sidewalks where you want a clean-slate from any plant growth.
Contact vs Systemic Herbicides
These two terms relate to the way the plant absorbs chemicals. Contact herbicides will only destroy what they touch. When spraying contact herbicides on existing weeds, the plant will shrivel up and die, but the roots will remain.
Systemic herbicides actually absorb into the plant itself and shoot through the root system itself; so once hit, the entire structure crumbles.
Always Read the Herbicide Label & Do Your Research
Traditional weed prevention products like Weed & Feed boast the fact that they both kill weeds and fertilize your lawn with nutrients. But they’re designed to be cheap and quick solutions, often hiding the affect the concoctions have on your soil’s phosphorus and other mineral levels.
Other products like Turf Builder resemble herbicides, but are actually fertilizers that don’t target weeds. Although Turf Builder specifically offers variations of their product that do offer weed control, ensure you’re doing your homework before you pick up any ole’ jug at your garden shop.
Just like you read the label on food products before buying them for your children, you too should be mindful of the chemicals you use outside of your home. Here at Swazy & Alexander, we have BeeSafe product options to protect your family and the environment without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Before Using Herbicides, Check Your Soil & Grass Type
Be sure to check your grass and soil to see which kind of nutrients it requires for rich growth. No two lawns are the same, and your property has its own unique needs.
Not sure how to test your soil? Our expert technicians can check your PH balance and offer recommendations for neutralizing for a healthy turf. Be sure to test your soil prior to exploring fertilization options, too!
Understanding the Role of Fertilizers on Your Turf
After treating your turf with herbicides, you’ll want to ensure you’re keeping it lush and vibrant with proper fertilization practices during the fall. When it comes to feeding your lawn, ensure you’re selecting the best type of application for your property’s needs.
Liquid solutions are often water-soluble, synthetic chemicals or powders. They help to provide an even application and release nutrients quickly to plants.
Spayable fertilizers can be applied to your treetops and directly onto high foliage and give the mixer more control, but it’s best to leave the blending to the experts since it is easy to burn foliage.
These dry blends are created by combining various nutrients and traditionally disperse more slowly, allowing for less applications.
Granular fertilizers are more effective to use before your plants begin to grow in the spring and can also be specially crafted by fertilization professionals for your lawn’s unique needs.
This is your all natural stuff— no chemicals or hidden additives.
Sometimes viewed as the more expensive choice, organic fertilizers often overlooked, but can often be the most nutrient-rich and environmentally safe application option and have become much more cost effective recently. Organic fertilizers will build the microbes in your soil, which is a key element to effective fertilizer uptake.
When Purchasing Fertilizer, Stick to the Big 3 Minerals
Although many fertilizers are packed with a long laundry list of ingredients, keep your eyes peeled for these three: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. They help your grass stay green, strengthen its roots and build stronger plant cells.
These three powerhouse minerals also help your lawn maintain moisture, fight disease and survive stressors like heat and impact. Some additional nutrients found in common fertilizers are helpful, but oftentimes the other stuff is just “filler.”
Coveting a Brag-Worthy Lawn?
Weeding and feeding your turf certainly brings life to and brightens up your property, however, there are many other ways to make your house the nicest on the block.
We have some tips just for you! Check out our Ultimate Guide to Curb Appeal for six ways to instantly increase your home value.
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How to plant grass seed: A simple guide to success
Lawns are everywhere. Some are highly tended; others, not so much. My own lawn is a mixed planting of three types of turf grass (Kentucky blue, fescue, and perennial rye grass), clover, violets, ground ivy, and various other “weeds”, which is exactly how I like it (and so do the resident honey bees and bumble bees!). Regardless of how perfectionistic you are about your lawn, at one point or another, you’ll find yourself needing to plant grass seed. Whether it’s to fill in a bare spot left behind by Fido or a wayward snowplow, or to install a brand-new lawn after a construction project, learning how to plant grass seed is a necessity for most homeowners. This article offers a simple guide to success, no matter the reason for your reseeding efforts.
There are many different types of lawn grasses. Be sure to choose varieties that are suited to your climate.
Start with the best type of grass for your climate
As a professional horticulturist and a former landscaper, I’ve seeded dozens of brand-new lawns over the years, and I’ve over-seeded bare spots in hundreds more. No matter how large or how small your job is, success always starts with selecting the best grass seed for your region. Different grass species thrive in different climates. There are cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. The label of the package will tell you which grass varieties are included. It will also tell you whether or not there is a starter fertilizer included. Do not choose a blend that includes weed control products. They could harm young seedlings.
Which grass seed is best for your yard also depends on the amount of sunlight it receives. I suggest contacting a local garden center or feed store and speaking with them about the best options for your region. There are also some useful online maps with all the information you’ll need to choose the appropriate grass species for your growing conditions if you live in the US.
Some brands of grass seed come blended with a “filler” product intended to help you distribute the seed evenly and to act as a protective covering. I personally avoid these products because they are more costly than purchasing a bag of high-quality plain seed and they don’t cover as large of an area.
Preparing the ground for planting
After selecting and purchasing the seed, it’s time to prepare the soil for the planting process. This is a very important step in knowing how to plant grass seed successfully. The tender roots of young grass plants will not grow well in compacted soils so it’s essential that this step be done properly. Here are instructions for prepping the ground to overseed bare spots in an established lawn and instructions on how to prepare for planting grass seed in a large bare area.
Preparation for seeding a bare spot in the lawn: Begin by using a cultivator to remove the dead grass. If it’s a small spot, use a hand cultivator. If it’s a larger spot, use a diamond hoe or warren hoe. Then, dig up the area down to a depth of two or three inches with a shovel or trowel. Loosen the soil and break up any clumps.
To repair a “doggie spot” in your lawn, start by removing the dead grass.
Preparation for planting grass seed in a large bare area: If you want to know how to plant grass seed in larger areas successfully, begin by loosening the top three to five inches of soil. Use a rototiller for the job if it’s a very large lawn area. Use a shovel or hoe if it’s an area that’s just a few square feet.
For a smaller area, break up the soil using a warren hoe or a shovel. Larger areas may require a rototiller.
Whether the area is small or large, after loosening the soil, it’s time to rake it smooth. Use a bow rake or a seeding rake to further break up any soil clods and rake the soil out into fine particles and a smooth finish. Use the tines of the rake to smash any large clumps of dirt if necessary.
After loosening the soil, rake it out smoothly and break up any clumps.
The final step of site preparation for planting grass seed is to water the area well. Putting seed down on damp soil encourages speedy germination and provides immediate moisture to emerging roots.
Wetting the area before planting is an important step in the process.
How to plant grass seed
For small areas, use your hand to distribute the seed, flinging it out over the area. For large areas, use a walk-behind broadcast spreader or a hand-held hopper spreader to disperse the seed. It’s all too easy to put down too much seed, or conversely, not enough seed. When you’re finished, the grass seeds should be evenly spread over the soil surface. They should be about one-quarter to one-half inch apart (obviously no one expects you to actually measure – just eyeball it). If you sow grass seed too thickly, the plants will outcompete each other and their growth will suffer. If you don’t sow them thickly enough, weeds may move in.
In smaller areas, grass seed can be spread by hand. For large areas, use a mechanical spreader.
How to ensure good coverage
Sometimes it’s challenging to ensure ample coverage of grass seedlings. If you are using a drop spreader, I suggest distributing the seeds in one direction and then making a second pass in the perpendicular direction. This two-directional overseeding promotes more even grass seed germination and distribution. If you are spreading the seed by hand, it’s a bit easier to eye, but dropping the seeds from different angles helps.
What to put on top of newly planted grass seed
After the seeds are sown, cover them immediately to protect them from birds, keep them moist, and prevent them from washing away in a heavy rain. There are several different mulches you can use for the job. In my experience, straw (not hay, which can be filled with weed seeds), screened compost, or mushroom soil are prime choices. These products also act as soil amendments when they break down and can improve your soil’s fertility and structure. All three of these options are available from your local garden store or landscape supply center. Erosion mats are another option. They can easily be unrolled over the area with little mess and are biodegradable, though they’re also a good bit more expensive than the previous choices. Peat moss is not a good idea because it can repel water once it has dried out.
No matter what you choose to use to cover grass seed, more is definitely not better. One-quarter of an inch is about as thick as you should go. Compost and mushroom soil are great for covering fall-seeded lawns. Their dark color absorbs the sun’s heat and keeps the soil warm all night long. This speeds germination and encourages rapid lawn establishment prior to winter’s arrival.
After spreading the seed, cover the area with a mulch of straw, fine compost, or mushroom soil.
How long does it take for grass seed to germinate
Some varieties of turfgrass take longer to germinate than others. For example, perennial rye grass germinates in as little as 3 to 5 days, fescues take more like 10 days, Kentucky bluegrass takes 2 to 3 weeks, and warm-season grasses like centipede, Bermuda, and zoysia grasses can take over a month. If your grass seed is a mixture of varieties, know that not all of them will germinate at the same time. To encourage good germination and a healthy start no matter which type of grass seed you planted, it’s critical that you keep the seeded area and the young plants well-watered until they are established. See the section below on watering for more info on how and when to water new grass.
Water newly planted grass in well and keep it watered until it’s established.
Planting grass seed in fall
In many climates, the best time to plant grass seed is in the autumn. The still-warm soil of late August, September, October, or November encourages optimum root growth, while the cooling air temperatures discourage excessive top growth. This is perfect for establishing lawn grasses and promoting extensive root growth. It also makes the turf more resistant to drought and better able to access nutrients in the soil. In addition, in most regions, fall also brings increased amounts of rainfall. This means you won’t have to lug out the hose and sprinkler as often.
It’s time to plant grass seed in the fall when nighttime temperatures drop down to about 60 degrees F. Keep an eye on the forecast. Opt for sowing grass seed when there’s a day or two of rain predicted.
Planting grass seed in spring
Spring is another great time to seed the lawn. It’s particularly good if you live where springs are long and cool. For spring planting, it’s absolutely essential that you continue to regularly water the seed and the sprouted grass through the remainder of the spring, summer, and well into the fall. Establishment failures are often connected to improper watering. Early summer is another possible time, but you’ll need to water more often.
How often to water grass seed after planting
Water newly planted grass seed daily if the weather is over 80 degrees F. Every other day is a good watering schedule if temperatures are cooler. Prior to germination, wet the top inch or so of soil. But, once the grass seed germinates and begins to grow, reduce the frequency of irrigation but water more deeply. Once your new grass is about two inches tall, reduce your watering schedule to once or twice a week, but water until the ground is wet down to a depth of about three inches.
Once grass is fully established, stop irrigation all together, unless there’s a prolonged period of drought. When it comes to watering established lawns, it’s always better to water less frequently but very deeply. Always water lawn in the morning, if possible, to reduce the chance of fungal disease issues.
Young grass plants can be mowed when they are 3 inches tall.
When is it safe to mow new grass?
Mow new grass when it reaches a height of about 3 inches. Mow high through the first growing season (3 to 4 inches). Make sure your mower blades are sharp (here’s my favorite sharpening tool) so they cut the grass cleanly, rather than tearing it which can create an entryway for disease.
When to fertilize new grass
When learning how to plant grass seed, many people think you should add fertilizer at planting time. This is not a good practice however, because fertilizers (especially salt-based synthetic lawn fertilizers) can burn tender young grass roots. Instead, top-dress the lawn with compost (here’s how) or use an organic granular lawn fertilizer instead of a synthetic brand. You can start to fertilize new lawns after you’ve mowed the grass 6 times.
Now that you know how to plant grass seed, it’s easy to see how doing it right can make all the difference. Follow the steps outlined above and you’ll have a healthy, thriving lawn instead of one that’s struggling.
For more on growing a beautiful landscape, please visit the following articles:
What do you suggest for slugs. I have huge issues worth them this summer. I have switched to a battery lawnmower vs. gas. Would the gas have killed them in the past? Anyway I planted triple rye seed this fall and found hundreds of them.I have been going out at night and scooping them up with a spoon and dumping them in soapy water but I never beat them just control them somewhat. Thanks kindly for any advice.
Hi Barb. Here’s an article on our site that discusses what to do about slugs: https://savvygardening.com/how-to-get-rid-of-slugs-in-the-garden-organically/
Annwen mazetti says
I see you don’t compost the soil. Just want to double check that that is ok – do I really only need to topdres?
If your home is new construction then I would suggest working compost into the area. But, if you have an existing lawn, there’s really no absolute need. It doesn’t hurt to add compost prior to planting, though.
Amy Conley says
What do you suggest for moles that are destroying my yard and therefore my grass? It needs to be safe around pets.