Overseeding a sunny Michigan lawn, best seed?

eefranklinSeptember 1, 2008

I am looking to overseed my ~3500 sq ft lawn shortly, and would like some advice on the best choice of seed, and even brands. I am in southwest Michigan and my lawn is currently dormant. I'm not sure what type of grass it is, but it has shallow roots and lots of thatch, despite dethatching this spring. I heard the previous owner had sod put down a couple years ago. The soil is very hard in most places, and is mostly full sun. All of the grass is brown, except for a nice green area by the privacy fence (I am assuming the previous owner used a shade grass, but the only shade is a two foot shadow next to a fence). A good amount of weeds have crept in, and there are quite a few bare spots that weren't there last fall.

I am looking for a good seed that can fill in the bare spots, thicken any thin spots, and hopefully crowd out the weeds. Ideally it would have a deeper root system that what is currently there (Beyond Scotts and store brands, I'm not familiar with seed brands, so I would certainly like to hear any recommendations on brands to look into.



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billhill(z5 MI - KBG)

For over-seeding your typical lawn in SW Michigan, I recommend Scotts Premium Kentucky Bluegrass blend. If you cannot find a pure KBG blend, then KBG with a little fine fescue and perennial rye should work well for you. Equally or more important than choice of seed, cultural practices affect the performance of any lawn. Mow it at 3 to 4 inches, removing only 1/3 or less of the grass blade. Water your lawn when it shows signs of drought stress. Fertilize now and again November 15. Use a pre-emergent crabgrass preventer in the Spring. Use only organic fertilizers in the heat of summer. Allow your lawn to grow long. Water deeply but infrequently. For best over-seeding results, rent a core aerator machine and run it over your lawn a couple times before dropping seed. Good luck in over-seeding your Michigan lawn.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 6:53AM
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billhill, thanks for the input. I do mow at 3", and water about weekly for at least an hour or so, it just didn't seem to be doing the lawn justice. Like I said, I'm not sure what the lawn is composed of, so maybe it isn't KBG, or maybe the weather is just against me this year. I haven't had to mow in 3+ weeks (because it hasn't grown in 3+ weeks). I will try out the aerator along with your other recommendations. Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 8:33PM
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That lawn likely went dormant, and is in trouble, because of fertilizer starvation.

Please tell me when, this year, each of your three fertilizer applications went down.

One in the spring?
An organic, like Milorganite, in June?
An organic, like Milorganite, in August?

Any of these get skipped?

What about last fall's two big-first-number fertilizer applications? Either of those get skipped?

What about the prior owner? Any of his fertilizer apps get skipped?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 8:46PM
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Yes, I am assuming the lawn is dormant (~2500 sq. ft), but it looks like the rest of the neighborhood, so I didn't think it was in too much trouble. Two fertilizers went down this year. The first was in the spring and the second in late June or early July. I think the spring was a Scotts Stage 1, and the second was a weed preventer + fertilizer (though probably a little late to stop the weeds). In between, I put some gypsum down in an attempt to help loosen the soil. Last year we had TruGreen service the lawn (carried over from the previous owners), so I believe it was regularly fertilized last year (though it still went mostly dormant in Jul/Aug 07).

I'm thinking of core aerating and overseeding with Kentucky blue grass, plenty of water, then a fall fertilizer in a week or two. I also figured I should have the soil tested before any of that. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 11:52PM
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I don't like to fertilize in the summer at all, since it encourages growth (which makes the grass need more water). If you do fertilize in June, July or August, make sure you use something that is slow release. An organic fertilizer (as Philes recommends) is a good choice for summer.

A weed preventer in late June/early July probably didn't do any good, but also probably didn't do any harm. A weed and feed product at that time could do some damage, because it's generally too hot to safely apply a weed killer at that time. If you fertilized with a fast release source of nitrogen at that time, it might have stressed the lawn a little.

The thatch and shallow roots are often symptoms of improper fertilization and/or watering. Thatch usually accumulates when grass is watered shallowly and over fertilized. Shallow watering also contributes to shallow roots.

Core aeration will probably do more to eliminate the thatch than dethatching.

Gypsum will only help loosen certain kinds of soil (sodic, I think), and I think it's unlikely that you have soil that will be helped by gypsum. Check with your extension service to find out if sodic soils are common there.

You'll probably have better luck if you can work on increasing the organic matter in your soil. It will also help with the thatch issues.

Always mulch mow. Mulch mowing returns organic matter, water and nutrients to the lawn. It doesn't contribute to thatch (except with Zoysia) and actually helps get rid of thatch.

Tree trimming services will often deliver truckloads of wood chips for free since it saves them a trip to the dump and also saves them dumping fees. 1 cu yd per 1000 sq ft of lawn is about 1/4 inch deep.

Since you have a fairly small lawn, you may be able to switch from using synthetic fertilizers to using coffee grounds. You can use coffee grounds even in the summer and they're free from Starbucks. Other restaurants and coffee houses may give them to you, also, but it's corporate policy at Starbucks. They're a mild nitrogen source, so they're not very practical on large lawns, but I pick them up whenever I pass a Starbucks and just fling them around the lawn. don't put them down too thick or they'll repel water, but I start in one corner, fling them on the lawn walking backward until I run out. The next time I get some, I start where I left off. When I finish the lawn, I start over.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 1:25AM
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One of my (newbie) thoughts about the shallow roots was the hard soil. I planted a tree earlier this year and had to use a pick ax to dig the hole, as jumping on a shovel didn't accomplish much of anything. The top 3-4 inches of soil was/is hard as a rock (yet there were very few rocks actually in it). Below that top hard layer, it is "normal" density. That was why I tried the gypsum. I assumed the compact soil had something to do with the shallow roots (If brute force and a shovel has trouble, why wouldn't grass roots?). I assume the core aeration will help. Anything else?

For the watering, I put up an oscillating sprinkler and leave it on for over an hour. How long/how much water is considered "deep" watering? I suppose I should set out a coffee can next time and measure it.

I will start mulching the clippings. I was concerned that would build up thatch, but with a little recent reading, it turns out to be a myth.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 9:35AM
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egghead2004(5/Central MA)

Yes, mulch mow and try to use organinc fertilizers. These will reduce the thatch layer. The more organic material in the soil and thatch layer will promote more of the micro organism population. Those are the ones who do all the dirty work and eat away at the thatch layer. To dramaticly increase that population, top dress with 1/4" 1/2" of compost, or spray a compost tea on the lawn. Your lawn will be happy.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 10:06AM
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If you are going to overseed why not just go the extra step and kill the grass for a full rennovation and have an awesome KBG blend lawn.

Here's the Blend I used based on the national turfgrass reports for southeast Michigan:
Moonlight, Bedazzled and Blue Velvet

Bought from williams lawn seed.

Here's a thread with some pics of my yard in Plymouth MI.

I'll try to get some updated photos up this month, my lawn is recovering a tiny bit from the August drought :)

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 1:37PM
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