Throw a lifeline to your lawn


Grass planting by the numbers

2 months: Length of time that nearly daily effort is needed for a complete overhaul of a yard (killing off existing lawn and replacing with new grass).

6 weeks: Time daily effort is needed to thicken up an existing lawn.

10 days: Waiting period after applying Roundup or other glyphosate-based product for it to take full effect and kill off existing lawn before next step can be taken.

1 to 2 days: Amount of time needed to power rake a yard after spraying Roundup to kill off existing plants.

10 to 14 days: Average germination period for tall fescue.

21 days: Average germination period for Kentucky bluegrass.

7 to 14 days: Germination period for perennial rye grass.

3 times daily: Frequency of light watering necessary from the date seed is planted through the first week of germination. Decrease to twice daily in second week and once in third week.

½ to 1 inch: Height of new grass at which you apply a starter fertilizer

50 to 80 degrees: Ideal temperature for germination.

Source: John Fech, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Most common mistakes:

» Buying poor quality seeds. Cheaper packages may contain old seeds from previous years so reduced germination is possible, or it may contain older varieties of grass that may not have the more desirable growth characteristics, disease resistance of newer types. Cheap brands sometimes harbor weed seeds. Look for blue-tag certified seed or an ingredients list that explicitly describes percentages of grass varieties. Avoid bags labeled as 'variety not stated.'

» Planting too few seeds: Follow package directions, don't over-seed and crowd out seedlings, but don't sow thinly in an effort to conserve seed.

» Lack of contact between seed and soil. Raking in seed can help with this.

» Failing to keep new seed and young seedlings properly moist until all grasses germinate (especially important with Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass mixtures). Roots of young seedlings typically extend no more than an inch or two deep, and this layer of soil dries out quickly on windy days. Likewise, overwatering can cause seeds to float away when water pools.

Sources: John Fech and Sarah Browning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educators; Keenan Amundsen, University of Nebraska School of Agronomy and Horticulture

The 2012 drought may be a distant memory for some people.

But not for yards.

Lawns across the region are still struggling to recover from last summer's historic drought — which brought a record lack of rain to Nebraska and near record lack to Iowa.

For people wanting to green up their lawns, there's not a better time to plant grass seed than now — mid-August to mid-September. And this particular year, the weather is turning out to be perfect for lawn restoration.

“The temperatures have been great, and we've had decent moisture. This is the optimal time to plant cool-season grasses,” said Keenan Amundsen, assistant professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Cool-season grasses — tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass — are the most commonly planted varieties in lawns around the region. Warm-season grasses such as buffalograss and zoysia are planted in late spring to early summer, although zoysia is discouraged in this area.

Sarah Browning, a horticulturist and educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County, said it's not surprising that lawns still need extra TLC.

Tall fescue won't thicken up without help from the homeowner, she said. Bluegrass, despite its ability to spread on its own, will probably need several years to recover given the severity of the drought, she said.

The next few weeks are the best time to plant grass seed because there will be enough time for seeds to germinate and roots to get established before winter sets in, Amundsen said.

There are several reasons late summer is better than spring for planting grass, he and Browning said:

» Less competition from weeds allows the grass to get off to a faster, healthier start. Weeds grow more aggressively in the spring.

» Temperatures and rain are less prone to wild swings. Cool weather contributes to higher germination rates, while weather that's too hot or cold represses germination.

» Grass planted in late summer will resume growing earlier in the spring, so it will be hardier by the time summer's heat arrives.

If you're thinking about undertaking a major lawn restoration, keep in mind that successfully reseeding a lawn is not for those with short attention spans or little time. For example, if temperatures warm into the 90s, then keeping soil moist becomes more critical — and tougher to keep up with.

Before starting, think about how much time and effort you're willing to commit to repairing your lawn, said John Fech, also an educator and horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Successfully over-seeding a yard requires about six weeks of daily attention, said Fech, who works in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Completely redoing a lawn — removing the old grass and then reseeding — requires nearly another two weeks of work.

“Take into account your family activities, work hours, resources and money,” he said.

Amundsen said this need for commitment will extend beyond this fall.

Newly established lawns remain vulnerable for much of the following year. Despite a surface appearance of good coverage, the turf isn't fully mature and the root system hasn't fully developed, he said. This makes new turf more susceptible to pests and other stresses.

“Lack of patience is probably the number one cause of failure,” he said. “People often stop managing the lawn once it looks established. ... Provide extra care throughout the first full year after seeding to be safe.”

Types of grasses

Tall fescue: Cool season grass with a deeper root system and fewer insect and disease problems than other grasses. Good heat tolerance. Better able to survive dry conditions than Kentucky bluegrass, but less able to survive extended drought (will die rather than go dormant). Doesn't spread easily to fill in gaps. Germinates quickly, within about 10-12 days. Tolerates minor to moderate shade.

Kentucky bluegrass: Cool season grass, spreads more readily than tall fescue to fill in gaps. Less tolerant of lack of water than tall fescue, but capable of surviving extended drought by going dormant. Slow to germinate, can take about three weeks, so seed mixes usually include fast-germinating rye grasses. Doesn't handle shade well, so look for shade-tolerant varieties, if needed.

Perennial rye: Fast-germinating, short-lived grass included in some mixes to provide quick appearance of green and stabilize bare soil.

Zoysia: Not recommended. A warm season grass, planted in late spring, early summer.

Buffalograss: Warm season grass, planted in late spring early summer.

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