New lawn disaster, looking to Overseed

humdogjAugust 30, 2013

Hello. I live in Northeast Wisconsin and recently had a lawn put in on June 14th. The majority of the soil in front and around the house was topsoil brought in, but the majority of the backyard is crappy clay dirt.

The lawn has come in (sort of) but is now overrun by every weed imaginable, or so it seems. I fertilized with Scotts Turf Builder with 2% iron at 4 weeks and 8 weeks. Where the lawn is topsoil, it is definitely less weedy. But the backyard, yowza's! I believe I have crabgrass, bluegrass, ragweed, and other weeds I can't name. I've attached a picture of what things look like. I just mowed and the majority of my lawn looks like this.

We live right by a wetlands area and our house was new construction. The seed used was called Deluxe 50. It's 20% KBG, 15% Newport KB, 15% Ken Blue KB, 25% Creeping Red Fescue, 25% Ryegrass.

It's been about 2.5 mo. since our lawn was put in and I'm looking to do some overseeding this fall. I know the dirt in the backyard is mostly clay, so I had a load of topsoil brought in. I should of did this before the lawn went in, but it is what it is. Tight budgets you know.

I've read numerous things on the net about overseeding and they all vary. I thought I would post here to see if there is any advice anyone could give about overseeding in a fall Wisconsin climate.

Here's what I was thinking about doing. Mow lawn to around 2". Overseed with same grass seed, or something similar. Spread a thin layer of topsoil down over the seed. Water to germinate and then water to grow. Is there anything I can do about the weeds before I get started? Compost is not an option. I have to use what I have. Will I need a starter fertilizer if my last application of Scotts Turf Builder was on August 17th? I would like to do this project the weekend of September 21.

Should I go get some rabbit pellets and put that down now as an organic way of helping the soil?

Any thoughts on this would be super greatly appreciated.

This post was edited by humdogj on Fri, Aug 30, 13 at 10:08

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It looks like you have a pretty decent coverage of grass. You should work to eradicate the weeds and give the KBG in your mix a chance to spread in.
It may be a little late in Wisconson to prevent Fall weed germination,, but I suggest you put down a granular pre-emergent like Dimension or Halts this weekend. Water it in well and create a barrier to prevent Fall weed germination. Blanket Spray the yard with WBG Max or WBG CCO (depending on the types of weeds that are prolific.) when weather conditions are conducive per WBG instuctions. Follow instruction for additional applications of WBG. Fertilize mid-September with a triple 12 or 19. Once topgrowth stops around mid to late November, winterize with 46-0-0 urea. Next Spring apply a second dose of granular pre-m and spot spray the weeds with WBG throughout the Spring and Summer. You will NOT be able to seed again until next Fall due to the pre-M. Re-seed/overseed any bare/thin spots next Fall.. Good luck.

This post was edited by grass1950 on Fri, Aug 30, 13 at 17:25

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 5:14PM
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grass1950 - Thanks for the reply. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. After reading your post, I have a few more questions.

I wanted to also mention some things that I forgot to put in my last post. My lawn is full of some sort of jumping insects that I see when I mow. I believe they might be calld leaf hoppers. I've also had yellow dust but when I fertilized last time, it has since gone away, but it might return once the nitrogen gets used up. IDK.

I have 18 yards of topsoil to use, but if need be, it can stay tarped until next year. I would like to get some of it spread to help the soil that's already there. But, if I use a pre-ermergent this fall, there's no way really to put that dirt down and get some seed down and germinated.

I'm not sure if I can even use a pre-emergent because my lawn has been slow to grow. I've mowed it about 4 times, and some areas that I've went over, weren't even tall enough to get snipped by the blade (3" high setting on mower). Only the weeds were cut.

I think I would like to focus on the bugs and weeds for the remainder of the year. Let the winter freeze and kill the crabgrass. And then hit the lawn in spring with a pre-emergent and see where we're at. I'm thinking I should take care of the bugs this weekend. I'm sure they're sucking the juice out of my grass and have been getting free meals for the last umpteen weeks! Then, during the week, hit the entire lawn with some Weed B Gone Max. Then, in 3 weeks, sprinkle some grass seed down and then throw some topsoil around to just cover it, and have that dirt to seed contact. It would be a very thin layer just to knock some of the pile of topsoil down that I have. I would have the lawn mowed to around 2" by then so it's short enough for the grass seed and dirt to get down in there, but not be buried, and to help act has a moisture cover.

How does this sound? Should I use a starter fertilizer when I plant the seed if I go this route? Let me know. I appreciate the knowledge.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2013 at 6:42AM
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I wouldn't worry about weeds or fertilizer at this point.

Your idea of putting down seed and covering with less than an inch of topsoil is a good one, and should get started right away. That is how I've always done it here in WI, and it has been successful everytime.

It appears that the heat wave is over so keeping the new topsoil moist enough to protect the seed should not be difficult. I'd water once in the middle of the day, if the dirt covering seems too dry, otherwise let the old grass get a little taller again and the seed should be well protected.

Don't water too much, remember it is clay and too much water means no air whatsoever.

Expect germination in about 7-10 days.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2013 at 8:15AM
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18 yards is a lot of soil. Your plan is as good as any, but I'd consider spreading most of the soil to start with (hopefully you can do that without damaging your yard's drainage) as it will be easier to move around and level than if used just as a topdressing with seed underneath.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2013 at 11:19AM
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maplebirch - thanks for the reply. Yeah, I'm definitely going to keep things thin. I'm going to hit the insects and weeds over the next few days because I don't plan on spreading and seeding until the 21st. I know it's a little later, but I think it will be even better weather for germination. Plus it gives me a chance to knock out the weeds somewhat.

grass1950 - Yeah, tell me about it! But, it was free and it's good stuff. I plan to go thin. I have about 8500 sq. ft. to go over. Plus we had a transplanted tree put in so that left some ruts. Also, there's ruts leftover from when it was seeded. We have a good pitch on the sides of the house and nice gradual pitch out back. I definitely won't be using it all this year. I would like to use more next year to see how things go.

The soil I have in my backyard will need amending and I plan on taking it slow. I'm going to wheelbarrow the dirt around the yard and shovel it on, and rake it all in. Should be pretty level. I'll probably get it rolled next year once things straighten out a bit. Luckily I have a brother-in-law to help!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Okay, so I was able to get down the granular insecticide (lots of leaf hoppers) yesterday and then woke up early this morning and did the whole lawn with Weed B Gone Max RTS. I will mow on Wednesday and start the process of getting the grass down to about 2".

In the WBG, it says that I should wait to seed until 4 weeks after application. Well, I really don't have that kind of time and want to seed in 3 weeks. I've modified my plan somewhat and will put down the topsoil dressing (thin of course), seed on top, rake in slightly. I'll use the established grass as a cover.

Do you foresee any problems with this?

grass1950 - What is a "triple 12 or 19"? I'm not sure what that is. Also, once I get the grass seed in, can I, or should I, apply a fertilizer to it?

Or, when I seed, should I throw something down like Chickity Doo Doo, or go with something like rabbit pellets considering I will have used Scotts Turfbuilder Lawn Food 5 weeks from the time I want to seed. (August 17 Scotts, Sept 21 Seed)

Anyway, thanks for all the advice.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 10:53AM
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Triple 12 is 12% of nitrogen, phosphorous and potasium i.e 12% nitrogen, 12% phosphorous and 12% potasium and labeled - 12-12-12. Triple 19 is 19% of each-labeled- 19-19-19. The triples were recommended when I suggested that you forego overseeding and concentrate on just strengthening the existing turf. Instead, you should use a "starter" fertilizer for the seeding. You can find starter fertilizer at nearly any store that sells garden products. It will have a lablel something like a 14-24-9. You can drop it at the bag's recommended rate at the time of seeding or drop 1/2 the recommended rate at seeding and another 1/2 of the recommended rate a couple of weeks after seeding.
Try to wait as close to 4 weeks after the WBG application to seed if possible. I'm sorry I didn't catch that in your revised plan. For some reason I read that as 1 week followed by 3 weeks for a total of 4 that you were planning to wait after WBG before seeding.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 7:29PM
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As always grass1950 thanks. Boy, I'm not sure if they sell something like 12-12-12 here in Wisconsin. I think we passed a law that was trying to do away with phosphorous because of all the algae blooms in the lakes, rivers, streams, etc.

Boy, I'd like to wait 4 weeks to seed but I think the ideal time is within the next 3 weeks. If I wait 4 weeks, that puts me around September 28th and you never know with our weather here. Frost/freezing etc. I think I'm going to test a patch out next week and see if I can't get it to germinate in a week. If it works, then that puts me right around the 21st for the project.

My only concern is that I really won't be able to scratch up the existing surface. The topsoil will go down, seed on top, rake it in. Will I be able to establish a good root? Or, might it start in the topsoil and then hit the harder dirt and stop? I might try to yard rake everything the day before I do the project in hopes it will scratch up the surface a little bit before I put the topsoil on.

I'm sure I'm over thinking this but it's a fun experience.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 8:17PM
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I wouldn't say it is a best practice, but the 3wk period should be OK. Don't worry about scratching the surface. Turf roots are quite capable of making their way trough the soil. If you are spreading soil and then seeding over it, consider rolling the seed in for improved seed to soil contact. Your biggest assignment will be keeping the seed moist throughout the germination period. Don't worry about the triple 12, the starter will provide the N the existing turf needs until you winterize, concentrate on your seeding and good luck.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 9:10PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

It sounds like you basically ignored Grass' original advice and went ahead and did what you wanted to do.

The problems you're having were cast in stone when the lawn was seeded in June. The only worse time of year to seed is the few weeks after you seeded. You're lucky to have any grass at all.

If you are shooting for "level" in your back yard, you are going to be disappointed. Level soil does not drain. You need the soil to have a slope so it drains away from your house. You cannot add soil up against the house, so if adding soil outwards away from the house will redirect the drainage toward the house, then you cannot use any soil there. Adding topsoil to a lot that was once properly graded is a huge mistake.

It is a common misconception that adding soil will help the old soil. It won't. Adding organic fertilizer or compost will help. 99.99% of the time the problem with the old soil was depletion of the organic microbes. Adding organic fertilizer feeds them and they repopulate the soil.

You should not have to reseed a Kentucky bluegrass lawn. KBG spreads and forms a dense carpet of grass. Give it a chance, and it will become dense all by itself. Next year will be great and 2015 will be fantastic. Just leave it alone. Overseeding is a concept for fescue and rye, not KBG.

From the picture it looks like you are mowing at the lowest setting. It will do better mowed between mid way and the top. That will help keep the weeds out. Mature KBG lawns should have little problem with weeds.

The hopping insects are harmless. You wasted your energy, time, and money on those guys. Furthermore your insecticide will wipe out the beneficial insects in your soil. Those include the invisible insects that were helping to give you good soil. So by adding the insecticide you have made your soil just that much less healthy. At this point you can give the insecticide a few weeks to dissipate and then come in with the chickety doo. After doing this to the soil it sorely needs the chicken manure to replenish the microbes you've been killing.

So if I can be helpful instead of critical, I'd suggest you save your money on seed and spend it on the chicken doo. Also when the grass stops growing and before the first snow, hit it with a high N fast release fertilizer as a winterizer. In the early spring use a preemergent that does not contain fertilizer. Do not fertilize with any chemical ferts until Memorial Day. When the lawn comes out of dormancy, it will be growing like a wildfire whether you fertilize or not. By fertilizing early you can force the grass to use all it's energy causing it to crash in late April. Avoid that and just fertilize in late May.

Watering has not been mentioned at all in this thread. We often assume the OP knows how to water, but in your case I'm not so sure. I just can't imagine how you still have any grass left after a June seeding unless you were watering "wrong." Wrong means lightly every other day or more. In your case it might have accidentally allowed the new grass to survive, but it is a bad habit for long term care. This time of year in northern WI you should be watering about once every 3 weeks. If you are watering more frequently than that, then that will encourage more and more weeds to come to the lawn. If you need to change to once per month, do it slowly. Then in the spring you can start with monthly and as the temps move up into the 70s, move to once every 3 weeks. In the 80s go to watering every 2 weeks. The amount to water is an inch unless Mother Nature has helped you out. Measure an inch using cat food or tuna cans placed around the yard.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 2:40AM
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