Protecting New Lawn from Low Temps

Roger505(7b)November 24, 2013

This fall after a few weeks of reading as research I concluded trying to 'revive' my lawn was a losing battle and would take several years. So I bought a few tillers off of craiglist and preceded to till everything up and start over. Being a noob has its advantages as I will never do this again especially so late in the season and such a large area(1700 sq/ft Started tilling October 13).

I took me about 3 weeks to prepare the surface for seeding! This is working nights/weekends after my 8-5 day job of course. Much more work then I anticipated but not too bad overall considering the area. All in all I tilled in 6 cubic yards of compost along with fertilizer and lime. The soil was pure clay is many areas so it really needed this, I don't think over seeding or core aerating would have fixed my soil even after several years.

Finally on November 4th I had the seed down & the wheat straw (Some good Fescue strands from a local Nursery) . I was very worried that I would have a straw lawn all winter for the first week as there was little activity. Fast forward today 20 days later everything is looking pretty good!

However with all the great progress I am very worried about the forecasted drop in temperature tonight its supposed to get down to 21 deg !!

What should I do? What can I do? Should I add wheat straw today and make sure the soil is sufficiently damp? Supposedly this will help keep the soil temps higher, especially with it absorbing all the sun today. However 21 deg is pretty low so even this will probably not keep it from freezing.

Thoughts, opinions??

Here is a link that might be useful: Album

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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

Hate to break it to you but your new grass is probably doomed. The seed should have been on the ground by mid September. At this point your new grass is still too tender to handle the cold. With the temps they are calling for the rest of the week your grass will probably be dead by this time next week. Possibly someone here can give you some ideas that might give it a better chance but more than likely you'll get to chalk this one up to live and learn.

The next problem you will most likely run into is an extremely bumpy lawn. The dirt will settle for several years from tilling it up and while it's really smooth now it won't stay that way. Chances are you will get to start over next fall and do it over. Once again, live and learn. I'm not claiming to be an expert and not trying to give you a hard time. I've already been down the same road as you and learned a lot of this the hard way.

My suggestion is to spend from now until late summer researching and learning all you can. Getting a soil test done now and spending some time making sure it is perfect by next fall would be a good start. Selecting a good quality seed is your next step. I did a complete renovation this year with seed I ordered from The Hogan Company. In the end it was only slightly more than the best stuff they sell at Lowe's or Home Depot but the quality is much better. So far I am thoroughly happy with it and right now my lawn is still green. I spoke with Bob Hogan (the owner) and he spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me making sure I got exactly what I needed and answering questions to make sure I didn't screw anything up. Here's a photo of my lawn yesterday (November 23rd) just after mowing and getting up leaves.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2013 at 3:53PM
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Roger, as previously suggested, chances are---and there's not a chance your seed can survive the present temperatures---your going to have to do it all over again int he spring.
Your mention about temperatures---air temperatures--grass does not grow in air---it grows in the soil and its that temperature you should be concerned about.
Your 'soil' temperature I'm sure wont recover what promotes grass to germinate until well into the spring.

As far as lumpy soil, you could go over it with a trailing piece of lumber...(2 X 4) which could help break up the lumps and rain---and heavens...snow...will help to do the rest.
Rolling the area with a 1/3 full roller will even out the areas that need it. If 1/3 seems too heavy....go back to `1/4...or 1/5....just don't break your back doing it.

I'm in the dark about what type of grass seed you should use....speaking to your neighbors and your neighboring full-service nursery could guide you in that respect.
Myself....I believe in combo's....higher percentage of bluegrass with slightly lower percentage of ryegrass and fescue.....each then, gives its best when conditions warrant.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2013 at 7:13PM
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Well I guess all I can do is wait and see what happens!

Seeding again in the spring wont be the end of the world. I've pulled a few of the strands to see the roots and they are about 2" long right now so most likely it wont be a total loss. The conditions from the beginning have been less than ideal plus we had a few nights last week or the week before that dipped down into the low 20's. However there is not much warmth in the immediate forecast either , from what i've read the roots should continue to grow (slowly) even at 32deg there will be some activity.

Also I did roll the lawn after tilling about 1/4 full and rolled again after seeding lightly with less water. I'm not really concerned about that even if I do get some lumps I can smooth it out. I'd rather have some lumps then rock hard clay dirt that only grows crabgrass.

ForsheeMS - I did look into the Hogan company while researching seed I know they have really good stuff but ended up finding some a good fescue blend through a local nursery.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2013 at 7:53PM
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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

Spring seeding generally doesn't work too well either. The new grass can get the roots established well enough to make it through the heat of summer. Even if you do get it through the summer you're almost guaranteed to have a lot of weeds. Yes, I've been down that road too.

If it were me, I'd just ride it out until early August. If the weeds have taken over spray everything with roundup. Once it's all dead water for a couple weeks and spray anything that turns green. That should set you up for seeding sometime during the first 2 weeks of September.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2013 at 8:37PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I'm a little less pessimistic about how much will pull through the cold temps. It would be great if you can keep us updated as to how things turn out.

It does pain me to see what people go through when they don't get good advice. Maybe you had more time than money but the quick solution to preparing your surface for new seed or sod was to hire a guy on a tractor with a box blade. If he showed up at 9am you could have had new seed down by 3pm.

Tilling in the compost, fertilizer, and lime is not usually a good idea. Now I'm going to get pessimistic. Yes, I know every magazine article tells you to do that, but here's why not. Unless your compost was perfectly decomposed, it is going to have some undecomposed wood pieces in it. Those must have a lot of nitrogen to decompose. Usually wood decomposes above ground where the air provides all the nitrogen needed by the fungi which decompose wood. When you bury the wood, those fungi will slow down greatly because they can't get air. Instead they will "rob" nitrogen from the soil and all the fertilizer you will be applying for the next many months/years. This will show up as very sluggish growth, thin, and yellow grass. Tilling in fertilizer was a waste of money because there are no roots in the ground to take up the fertilizer. Unless you used organic, the fertilizer will dissolve and wash away as you water or it rains. Tilling lime in could be a good idea if you had done a good soil test which told you exactly how many pounds per 1,000 square feet and which type of lime to use. But I'm not getting the idea that you already did the soil test.

"Pure clay" is likely not the case, but there are blends of soil minerals and salts which can cause a soil to act like clay. If you do not have a brick factory in your neighborhood, then you don't have pure clay. There are other things you can to do soften hard soil, open it up, and allow water to penetrate. Core aeration is not one of them, although if you go an extra mile, you can make something like that work, too.

There are still plenty of mistakes you can make in the spring. I would strongly suggest watching this forum starting in late Feb for people having issues similar to those you will be having. I'll kick start you with something that comes up every spring - You'll start getting urges to fertilize or use weed n feed. Please don't jump the gun on fertilizer. No matter how many commercials you see from Scott's, wait until late April or early May to fertilize. And never use weed n feed as a noob. Even very experienced lawn nuts don't get very good results with those products. If you want to kill weeds, fertilize first and follow up 2 weeks later with a herbicide designed for the weeds you still have.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 7:56PM
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Well grass is doing great! seems to have made it through that 18 deg night and looks like I had alot of growth today with the rain and warm temperatures, most of the grass is just under 2" now.

"Pure clay" might not be true but it was pretty bad as you can see below & I did find a few bricks along the way too. Also in the area pictured below I pulled out a ~ 2'x2' chunk of concrete out about 3" below the surface. Looks like they missed the first time when pouring the sidewalk a bit.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 11:55PM
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P.S . Not that it matters because no matter what you do there will be a critic that says you did it wrong or you should of done this or that... Anyways I tilled in a slow release nitrogen fertilizer but also used a starter fertilizer on the surface.

My roots are already over 2" long from the seedlings I pulled, seems like they are not too far away for utilizing the tilled fertilizer ?

    Bookmark   November 27, 2013 at 12:09AM
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Just an update for anyone following or in a similar situation. Grass seems to be doing great! Still alive but probably not growing much in these temps (low 26/ high 50) although it seems to be longer everyday.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 4:37PM
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Cool! Keep posting the updates :)

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 5:10PM
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well here is my 2 week update! Grass is looking good still and definitely still growing! Anyone still think its not going to make it?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 6:34PM
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forsheems(Lexington, NC)

In this case I'm glad to say I was probably wrong. Glad to see it's still doing good! It does look really good. I did my last application of fertilizer on November 15th I believe. Got in a few more mowings and now the growth has stopped but it's still very green and all the straw is gone or at least not showing anymore. I'm really looking forward to the spring green up now.

Keep us posted on your lawn.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2013 at 10:16AM
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Alrigth everyone just another followup here.
The front yard still looks great! We had several hard frosts over the past few weeks and I think its pretty much stopped growing for now in the front or very slowly at least.

Another thing I wanted to show you guys are a few areas which I seeded much later that are growing in pretty good right now. I was finishing up a path on the side of the house that I didn't have a chance to seed with the front. I put this seed down on December 1st and really didn't think it would grow in so well but its looking pretty good!

Also in the back yard I need to install some irrigation stuff in the spring but I decided to seed this one area around the path I made just for the heck of it (December 15th). To my surprise its sprouting up all over the place!

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 9:10PM
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Alight here is my 5 month update. Looking pretty good I think it survived!

This post was edited by Roger505 on Fri, Apr 11, 14 at 23:10

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:04PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

That is nice. We all learned something, so thanks for not abandoning us as we picked on you. I still think you're going to see the surface continue to get bumpier over the course of the next few years. But at least it will be green!

What are you doing for watering, mowing, and fertilizing?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 2:23PM
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I've mowed twice this spring so far & i'm due again tomorrow. My soil test in the spring showed my P & K were very high so I put done some Nitrogen fertilizer two weeks ago. Right now I'm trying to seed some spots in the front with the last of my seed from the fall so I have been watering that section (using Tenacity & Speedzone for weeds).

The surface grade hasn't changed that I've noticed at all. Dont get me wrong I know it can happen, I have seen a bumpy lawn after a reno. With all the grading leveling and rolling I did I just cant foresee any significant settling.

The picture above does kinda look bumpy but thats an illusion. I just have some areas that are thicker and growing faster, there are also a lot of small patches that never germinated most likely due to the leaves that I couldn't remove in the fall. Some of this is what i'm trying to fill in now but likely the majority in the fall.

P.S. this what my lawn last year October 14th before I started the project.

This post was edited by Roger505 on Sun, Apr 13, 14 at 1:25

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 1:24AM
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Nice job bro! Looks fantastic!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 5:53PM
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Looks good.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 6:35PM
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Thanks for uploading the before picture, which in my mind,didn't look that bad that it needed a total redo, but the redo definitely looks better. I'm glad it worked out.

When you showed the first picture of just the dirt lawn after you had tilled it, I'm sure the neighbors must have been gasping in shock, but now they will be gasping in admiration.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 11:34AM
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