New Lawn in Charlotte, NC

smkyleJuly 17, 2013

I am in the process of forming my strategy for starting a lawn in the fall. I need some advice on what I'm getting right and where I'm totally off.

Step 1) Aerate. 2 passes perpindicular to each other
Step 2) Fertilize with lawn starter
Step 3) Seed with tall fescue
Step 4) Rake in 3/4 in of mushroom compost
Step 5) Water enough to keep the ground moist
Steps 6 through infinity) Add starter fertilizer once a month for 5 months and then switch to maintenance fertilizer. Kill weeds as needed.

My home was built this spring. I have clay. I have white clover, a few dandelions here and there, some crabgrass, and who knows what else. Where there is sun, there isn't much. Where there is shade, there are weeds and some grass. I am adding the compost because it was recommended and is supposed to hold moisture and has magical ingredients, missing from fertilizers. The seed I am buying is $89/50 lbs. I attached my soil report. Oh and I have read a ton but I have no idea what I'm doing.

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If your soil is the same as what you submitted to be tested, then you don't have clay. A soil with a CEC of 10 would be classified as a sandy loam. Perhaps you sampled the very top layer of soil, and there is clay beneath, but if the soil you submitted is pretty consistent as you go down 6-12 inches, then it's not clay. Also this soil test is incomplete. Mg and Ca levels would be very helpful, as well as base saturations. It sounds like your property is very shady. Tall fescue can do pretty well with 3-4 hours of direct morning sun, but only if you select the right cultivars. If you get substantially less, then you will need to cut some trees down. As far as your plan. You should consider killing all the old grass and weeds two weeks before you seed. If you want to aerate, then that's fine, although some people feel you will bring up a lot of weed seeds. I am not one of those people. It would be better to spread the compost before seeding. Covering seed with 3/4s of an inch of soil or compost isn't the best idea. If you top dress seed it should be very light, 1/4 inch max. You might consider renting a water filled roller to press the seeds into the compost. Also, I wouldn't fertilize monthly with starter, it's unecessary. I usually put down a half app at seeding, and the other half after the first or second mowing. Regarding your seed, $89 per fifty pounds tells me nothing about what cultivars you are using. When it comes to seed buy the best, otherwise your results won't be as good.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 3:31PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Start now to improve your soil. The clover has already started for you.

1. Fertilize with alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Follow that up in 3 weeks with 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. 20 is normal but 10 is needed to help the soil microbes get ready for the 20 later on. This is much more valuable than the starter fertilizer and the compost combined. You might still want starter (personal choice) but you definitely will not need compost if you do the alfalfa. Alfalfa is much cheaper, easier to apply, and more beneficial than compost.

2. Water deeply, 1 inch, all at one time. Do that once every week from now until mid August.

3. Mulch mow the yard on the mower's highest setting once per week.

Get used to doing these three things because those are the basic steps for lawn care.

Then in late August (or when the summer heat just starts to cool off)

1. Spray RoundUp on everything.

2. Water daily for 4 days trying to get new stuff and weed seeds to germinate.

3. After a week rake off all the dead stuff.

4. Water daily again for 4 more days.

5. Spot spray RoundUp on everything that is still green or has sprouted.

6. Rake up anything else you need to but otherwise do not disturb the soil. You are going to seed right onto the surface.

7. Spread the seed.

8. Roll the seed down with a water filled roller.

9. Start watering 3x per day for just long enough to moisten the soil and seed. That should be about 5-10 minutes each time. If you plant only fescue you will need to continue this for 2 weeks before you see any grass seed sprouting. Continue with the 3x per day until you get about 80% germinated. If you add 10% Kentucky bluegrass to you grass seed (which I strongly encourage for the sunny areas), then you will need to continue the 3x per day for at least 3 weeks before the KBG sprouts.

10. After you have about 80% of the grass sprouted, start to back off on the 3x per day. Go to 1x per day but water 3x longer (15 minutes). When the grass is tall enough to mow at the highest setting on your mower, then back off on the daily watering to every other day for 20 minutes. Next time you mow back off again to every third day for 30 minutes. While you are doing this, use some cat food or tuna cans to measure how long it takes your sprinklers to fill the cans. That time is going to be your target time for watering. When you have mowed the grass 3 times, back off again to once per week and apply a full inch. If you decide the grass is too thin in the shady areas, NOW is the time to remedy that with more seed. Do not seed in the spring as that will bring crabgrass in.

11. Spot spray broad leaf weeds with Weed b Gone. Mist not drench.

12. After you have mowed 3 times, then consider another fertilizer app. It can be alfalfa again or it can be a starter fert. When you fertilize bare ground, there are no roots there to do anything with the fertilizer. It will wash through the soil before you have roots. I believe waiting is better.

If you decide to fertilize with chemicals, you should apply once in late spring, once in early fall, and once in late fall. If you do this right you should not have to worry about crabgrass or other weeds. If you decide to continue with organics like alfalfa, you can apply those any time of year, rain or shine, without fear of hurting anything. They work completely different from chemical fertilizers.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 3:39PM
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Thank you both for the responses. I definitely have clay at lower depths so maybe I need to take another sample. Would my ph at 2" be any different than at 4?

I am trying to locate the best seed possible. Based on the NTEP turf trials I can see some cultivars that might be suitable, but I have no idea how to find out which seed brands use them. Speedway by Seed Research of Oregon looks promising.

I am worried about the watering process. My biggest motivation to go with mulch, and in particular mushroom compost, is because it is supposed to hold moisture. My yard area is like a great big flat square tilted away from the house at about 3 degrees. It also has big ditches on either side that run between the houses. We have had a tremendous amount of rain this spring and summer and it has only puddled where I dug out a big rock.

So what is the best approach to keeping seeds moist? Is the alfalfa plus 1/4" top dressing a reasonable approach? I'm afraid to start a strict watering regimen without knowing what happens with the water once it hits the ground. Does that make sense?

I am indifferent to organic versus chemicals from a philisophical perspective. I have the impression that they both have their uses and one is not necessarily a substitute for the other. Yes?

Based on your recommendations I am now going to kill off what is currently growing and I'm going to use a water roller after I spread my seed.

I still need help on figuring out how to keep my seeds moist and how to give them the proper nutrients.

I added a link to the growing guide I have been consulting most.

Here is a link that might be useful: NC Coop grass guide

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 10:16AM
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I live in Charlotte too and have put in 3 yards. Two had established grass already and the other was from scratch. I am a simple man, and like to keep things that way.
On the lawn that was already established, I used Roundup to kill everything. I let the grass grow to about 5 inches before I killed it so that there would be enough cover (mulch) for the new seed. I then spread seed onto the dead grass at a rate a little more than if it was bare lawn, because some of the seed will not get to the soil. I then roll it out. I do not put ANY fertilizer down until the grass is tall enough to be mowed. (If you let the seedlings dry out even for a short time, the fertilizer will suck the water from the roots quickly, so I wait on this step). I then water two times a day (morning and at about 1:00 or 2:00.) Until the grass is ready to mow. Then back off the water depending upon the weather.
I do not like to aerate before throwing down seed. The action of watering the lawn pushes most of the seed into the aeration holes and you get about 30 seedlings coming up in a half inch hole and nothing sprouting up in between.
I sow seed at the rate that gives me a seed every one quarter of an inch. The dead existing grass is the mulch that keeps the seeds moist until they can handle the heat. I would not plant the lawn until the first sign of things cooling down... usually very late Aug. or first of Sept here. The window is small here. Too early and the seedlings will burn up no matter how much water you throw at it, and sow too late, and the seedlings do not have enough time to establish enough roots to last the winter.
For the lawn that is bare dirt, again, I do not aerate, but you do have to loosen up the top of the soil to give the seed something to bite into. Again, no fertilizer. I then mulch with pine straw, not that crap that the big box stores sell for straw. It is full of weed seeds and the actual straw seeds will sprout too and out compete the grass! I can not stress not using this stuff. Just use pine needles.
Like others say here, make sure you get crabgrass preventer down about late feb the following season, and water infrequently but deeply. My current lawn is on a slight slope and is also clay with sandy quartz and it takes me two heavy doses of the preventer to last the crabgrass season.
Please chime back with what seed you decide on... I am looking for the darkest green seed that I can grow here, and am coming up with little info.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:33PM
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I decided on Scotts Southern Gold seed. I like that it has three cultivars and low weed %. I was also able to get it shipped to my house for free! I considered getting seed from super-sod which was about the same cost per pound. Ultimately I decided that both were likely great seed and I would go with the free shipping to save myself a drive. I have a feeling that it's hard to pedict from year to year exactly which seeds will perform the best, especially since each yard is a little different and weather is unpredictable.

I guess we'll see. I'm going to put down some rabbit food next week.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 9:13AM
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