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Turfgrass Establishment Series – Planting & Mulching

By Ed Nangle, Ph.D.

All the hard work has been done! Its now time to seed the lawn and cover the newly seeded area with some form of protection against the elements. In a previous post the seeding rates were discussed and to this post will focus on the idea of putting the seed in the ground. Ideally the seedbed has been prepared and is now lightly broken up and, leveled and raked smooth ahead of seeding – this then leaves multiple options.

How to apply seed:

Ideally a drop spreader would be used, which can be calibrated over an area of e.g. 100 ft2 which can then be multiplied by 10x to get the 1,000 ft2 rate for the selected species. If you are an aficionado and really want to enhance the precision, then applying at ½ of the calibrated rate in two directions is a way to go. Ensure that conditions are dry prior to seeding as much of it will stick to wheels and feet otherwise. If no drop spreader is available, then hand seeding can be done or the use of a handheld spreader. Settings on the handheld spreader may be more focused on fertilizer prills and so keeping the opening as small as possible will offer some level of precision but calibration should be completed if possible prior to seeding. The aim is to get as even a coverage as possible and not put too much seed down at one time in specific areas. Seeding too densely will lead to issues with disease later and seeding at an extremely low density will mean opportunity for weed invasion.

Timing of seeding:

The optimal time for seeing Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is late August / early September in Ohio, while Tall Fescue (Schedenorus arundicaea Schreb.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) can be seeded later into September. In all situations climate will control the success of establishment, but due to the longer period of time required for Kentucky bluegrass to germinate, it is recommended to seed earlier with that species.

Post seeding:

Once seed is on the ground, lightly rake the surface – this will enhance seed to soil contact and aid in germination and establishment of the lawn. A light barrier of material can be used to cover over the area further. The use of paper mulch or clean straw is beneficial and there are some processed products out there that can break down over time while turfgrasses establish. The main aim of these products is to retain moisture around the newly germinating seeds as well as trying to prevent washouts from heavy rain events as much as possible. The use of peat moss is not recommended for this as it can get dry – and once it gets dry it becomes problematic to re-wet and help seed establishment. Many other materials will degrade over time and this is desirable to many. Once material is covering the seed, aim to begin irrigation and follow along the series for updates on irrigation applications and timings.

Interested in other establishment-related topics? Check out the other articles in the Turfgrass Establishment Series.

Ed Nangle, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Turfgrass Equipment Manager Certificate at Ohio State ATI.