Best seeding strategies?

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by CW-DXer, Jul 26, 2012.

  1. CW-DXer

    CW-DXer LawnSite Member
    Messages: 40

    I'm planning to do an annual core aeration and overseed on my 1/3 acre property in September and I have a few questions about the right way to do this.

    I have two distinct lawn conditions: Front Yard gets >6 hours of summer sun a day. North yard and back yard get much less sun due to a large tree and being a north yard. Front/road-facing yard looks great most of the year; north-side is sparse and gets a lot of plantain, and this year had some significant insect damage as well. The back yard also gets plantain and looks great only until about July, at which time the tips are green but the blades near the soil are yellow/brown.

    The back and north side yards get a fairly heavy foot traffic from family use; the front yard only gets foot traffic when I'm mowing or picking up fallen branches, etc. I mow to 3" from May to September then 2.5" until the end of the growing season. I irrigate to at least 1" a week (two 45 minute watering sessions a week per zone). I prefer to buy my supplies at Lesco/JDL whenever possible.

    So, with all that out of the way, my questions.

    • What should I overseed with this fall? My thoughts are Lesco shade mix for back/north-side and Park & Athletic mix for the front.
    • Before aeration/overseeding, how low should I cut?
    • After aeration/overseeding, how long should I wait (or how physically long should I let the existing grass grow) before my next mow?
    • What should I fertilize with when overseeding? I have very high Phosphorous levels as of this past spring's soil test (200+ #/Acre) and low-adequate levels of Potassium. My pH is 6.8. The analysis also recommended Nitrogen at the rate of 3.5-4.5 lb/1000 sq.ft.
    • If I do this in mid-September, should I do a 30-0-10 straight-fert in late October or should the next one be more a winterization fertilization (something like Lesco's 13-0-6 with lime)? Last year I used Scotts starter in August, 30-0-10 in mid-Sept and 13-0-6 in mid November.

    Finally, this year I'm planning to rent a core aerator and do the work myself as opposed to trying to find a company who can schedule in a non-regular customer for a one-off in their peak busy schedule--this hasn't worked well in years past. Presuming I can find an aerator to rent when I need to do the job (my local HD has two but they're always in high demand), are there any pitfalls I need to avoid in their use? I'd planned on doing a double-pass (left/right then top/bottom), leaving the plugs on and immediately overseeding and fertilizing.

    Thanks to one and all.
  2. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    The mixes sound fine to me, but I would actually ask the local Lesco guys because they deal with this over and over in your exact area. Your concept though is correct.

    You should cut as low as you possibly can, down to 1" or so if possible.

    You should continue to mow as you normally would and do your best to stay off the lawn anymore than necessary. You can mow a few weeks after seeding. An important key is to
    make sure you do not mow wet grass or over wet soil, then you can tear and pull up the new seedlings. Since you have to water a lot to keep the new seedlings moist, the key is to not water one time so that it dries just a bit, mow, then water immediately afterwards to keep the water on the seedlings.

    Lean on your local Lesco guys to give you the best advice on fertilization. Generally speaking a starter fert is used during seeding or overseeding, and formulations are also made for the fall and late fall/winterizing fertilizations.

    Good luck, you got this just go to your local Lesco guys and trust they will steer you right. EVen if it sounds wrong, they know best, imo.
  3. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    Aerating? No no no no no! It's hard work and a heavy machine, and getting a guy out to do your 1/3 acre for say $50 or $75 should be a snap.
  4. CW-DXer

    CW-DXer LawnSite Member
    Messages: 40

    Not sure I fully understand. You're saying it's safe to cut as low as 1" before aerating/seeding? Wouldn't that kind of scalping hurt it big-time? Even if only once?

    You then say mow "normally" a few weeks after seeding. I take that to mean the process should be:
    Cut to 1" (not all in one pass, I take it--over a couple of days?)
    Water briefly 2x day (and at least a 1" drenching once a week)
    Do not mow until all the seedlings are up.

    Since KBG won't even germinate for three weeks, then another month to be robust enough to take the blade, won't I have an overgrown mess of a lawn by then? I normally cut to 3" (3.5 in high summer).
  5. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    OK I hear you and let's go through this thoroughly so you are confident in what you are doing.

    When staring a new lawn, or renovating an existing lawn with an overseeding, you are temporarily departing from the normal best practices of how you traditionally maintain a lawn. As soon as the renovation is up and growing, you slowly go back to your old practices.

    1) Aeration should occur only when the grass is actively growing -- in Fall (late summer is usually OK in the north), or in Spring. So that means that the renovation should wait until then.

    2) You can and will mow as soon as the existing lawn requires it, it does not have to do with when the new seedlings come up. Repeat -- You will not base your first mowing on the new seedlings. You will base it upon the existing lawn.

    3) #2 helps explain why you scalp it down to 1", or 1-1/4" or 1-1/2". The shorter it is cut, the longer the seedlings have before they will be mowed over. It's not nearly the big deal you think it is to mow over new seedlings. They can take it. And, if some plants are weak and can't take the scalping, so be it. New seedlings will take their place from the overseed. But don't worry here, you aren't going to lose your lawn.

    4) Fall germination is ideal because of warm soil temperatures, thus the germination is the fastest it can practically be. Technically right now is when germination would occur the fastest (hotest soil temperature). But keeping the seeds moist is impossible and once they dry out, they die. Point is, you'll be pleasantly surprised how fast it begins germinating. My guess is you will see new grass plants sprouting in 10-14 days, with all of it up in 4-5 weeks.

    5) Your watering practices are going to be altered during this time. You do not want lots of water on the lawn during the first 2-3 weeks. Why? Because a flooding rain, or a drenching watering with a sprinkler or hose risks the seeds washing away, or almost as bad, bunching up in the low spots of the yard while other areas wash away bare. Learn this lesson the easy way -- if a heavy rain is predicited in the next several days, WAIT. It can destroy your hard work. Ideally you get NO RAIN, so that you can fully control the watering.

    6) You water 1 or 2 times a day as needed. Sometimes depending upon conditions, it's one very light watering a day is enough. You have to actually monitor it yourself, and watch for areas that are in the heavy sun versus the shade. Keep everything MOIST, not soaked.

    7) Do not water deeply in these first few weeks. The light watering you are doing is enough to keep all the existing grass going. Now, does that scalping and shallow watering hurt the existing lawn? No. What is does is reduce the depth of the roots. Now that sounds bad, which it is, but remember -- the goal here is to renovate the entire lawn.

    8) After the germination begins, continue watering lightly the same way for about 2 more weeks, enough time for all the seeds to germinate. Then, begin to water once every 2 days, 3 days, until you are back at your normal watering schedule. The 1" rule can go back in effect at about 4 weeks or so, and if after the first 2 weeks you get a heavy rain, it will probably be OK.

    9) Mowing -- you scalp it once. After that, go back to mowing at your ideal Fall height, somewhere around 2-1/2" or so. Mow as soon as it needs it (say 2-3 weeks), then mow it again as often as necessary. No hard, sharp turns, be gentle on the new lawn. The new seedlings have no input in when the mowing is done.

    10) About 4-6 weeks after you overseed, you should be back at your normal schedule again. The roots will begin to grow deeper, the new seeds are coming in and you are now back to the traditional lawn maintenance plan you usually follow.

    I've done this many times, and usually do it every Fall. I've read and discussed all these issues with many of the folks here and am confident I do this correctly.
  6. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    I am a Do it yourself guy, but if you want to make this easy and get an optimal result, consider hiring someone to do both the aeration and also a slit seeding. The slit seeding puts the seeds at the perfect depth under the soil and saves you all the trouble of doing the work. You just have to mow, water and wait. If you do it yourself, it will come out great, just make sure you are up for the hard work. Using a spreader to get the seed placed is OK, not as good as a slit seeder but plenty good to do the job.

    Definitely hire someone for the aeration though. It's a b---- of a job and the guys who own the big rigs are desperate to do as many lawns as they can, they will give you a great deal and you can find someone easily who will come out as early as is practical.
  7. CW-DXer

    CW-DXer LawnSite Member
    Messages: 40

    Where I live in North Jersey, you can't get a Landscaper to step foot on your property with anything more than a lawnmower for under $200. I've had this done every year for the last 4 years and the best price was $200 for my ~10,000 Sq. Ft; the average price is $275. This includes top-dressing and prepping the soil where grass has died out, a two-pass core aeration and broadcast seeding with premium Lesco seed. Not to mention, almost all the local landscapers near me won't even return your calls from about July through October unless you're an existing customer. They have more work than they can service as it is during those months. Two years ago I got a quote from one guy, scheduled the job and waited. And waited. And waited. He never showed, refused to return my calls and by then the window of optimum weather had passed. I since found a nicer guy but even there, I coudln't get into his schedule until early October. That's just how things roll in western Essex County, NJ.

    I can rent a professional-grade aerator for $45 for 4 hours at Home Despot or a tool rental facility. Ditto a slit seeder, although I'm guessing a broadcast flinging of seed ought to be enough since about 80% of the lawn is reasonably well established and I'm just doing a touchup job for the most part. The areas that get hit the hardest are about 3000 sq. ft. on the north side of the house. In the shade, poor drainage, thin turf, more weeds, etc.
  8. ChiTownAmateur

    ChiTownAmateur LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 386

    Well you've done this before and know your area. In 4 hours you should be able to get it all done no problem. Because you are overseeding as opposed to starting from scratch, the slit seeder is less important. The existing grass helps hold the seeds in place.

    Every area is different, WOW is all I can say there are so many signs and people around wanting to do this I wish I could send you someone from here, lol!

    Good luck with the renovation, it will look great once it's done. Cutting very low has some other interesting aspects, one of which is that you will be surprised at how many small bare spots you have underneath the tall grass. Often it grows over or flops over an area and looks great. The aeration/overseed will fill those spots and keep a thick beautiful lawn going.

    Since you are aerating yourself, make sure that you have the right soil moisture level when doing so. I am not an aerating expert so I can't advise on this area. Others here can though, and I know it to be very important. VERY hard ground makes for a hideous and difficult experience....very wet ground makes for a wet nasty mess and a clogged machine. Somewhere in between is ideal.
  9. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    Aerating, for the sole purpose of over-seeding, is not your best option at all... if you're going to rent a machine to overseed, then rent a seeder...
  10. CW-DXer

    CW-DXer LawnSite Member
    Messages: 40

    OK, so a followup. I followed the advice of ChiTownAmateur yesterday. I cut to about 1-1/4" and did a multi-pass core aeration, an application of Lesco 14-20-4 fertilizer and overseeded with Park & Athletic mix. This was the first time I did it all on my own, and while it was a bit of money saved, I think I'll go back to paying for the pros to do it. Last year the entire service was $275 all-in (aerating, seed and fert).

    This year's costs: Seed: $50, Fert: $21, aerator rental: $72 (including tax and damage protection). Add to that the fact that loading and unloading a 275 pound machine is not a trivial exercise. The actual job of core aerating my lawn with plenty of curves and sharp turns was the single most physically challenging thing I've done in years, and every muscle in my upper body is still aching. So basically I'm paying the local company roughly $135 to do it all for me, which, given the hard labour involved, is well worth it IMHO.

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