Redoing a lawn - repairing old lawn

MissMoss(5)December 5, 2012

I need some advice. I have a backyard lawn which is in a decent shape, but this past year acquired a lot of crabgrass and weeds courtesy of a neighbor who didn't bother mowing his lawn most of last year. I also discovered that is has pretty large amounts of moss in it. I was planning to do dormant reseeding in December but also wanted to apply pre-emergent crabgrass killer in the spring. Will the crabgrass killer prevent my dormant grass seeds from sprouting as well? Should I skip the seeding now and just do it in the spring, after I apply crabgrass killer?
I plan on using the Pennington Pennsylvania state mix grass seeds.

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In theory dormant seeded grass germinates at the earliest possible time, since it is in the ground as the soil temps hit the minimum temp for germination. If you live in an area of the country with long cool springs the grass seed you put down could become mature enough to allow you to use a crabgrass preemergent. Crabgrass is a warm season annual which germinates when soil temps are above 60 for a week. For some areas this can be late in the spring, or even early summer. One other option is using Tupersan to prevent crabgrass, and it doesn't affect turfgrass seed germination. It is expensive and doesn't last long though, so you will need to do monthly applications when soil temps favor crabgrass germination.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 2:40PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

You cannot blame your neighbor for your crabgrass. Crabgrass seed is everywhere, but it only germinates when the environment is right. It was your management that allowed the crabgrass to get started. Every now and then we will get a note here thanking us for the watering and mowing advice which put a dead stop to the neighbor's encroaching crabgrass. If you are doing it right, crabgrass will grow right up to the edge of your lawn and stop. It will stop because your soil is too dry for seed to germinate and because your grass is too dense for the crabgrass to get any light.

First of all you need a dense canopy of grass. If you have fescue turf, you should overseed every fall until it is as dense as necessary to keep the crabgrass out. If the Pennington bag has Kentucky bluegrass in it, then the turf can become dense without annual overseeding.

Secondly, only seed northern grasses in the fall. Why? Because crabgrass seed only germinates in the spring. If you seed grass in the spring, you will germinate all the crabgrass seed in the process. Also if you seed grass in the spring the summer heat will kill it.

Third, do not mow at your mower's lowest setting. If your grass is dense you can mow at the 3-inch level. If it is less dense, then you might raise it up to the mower's highest setting until the grass becomes more dense. That might take years of overseeding if you have only fescue and no Kentucky bluegrass.

Fourth, don't fertilize in the early spring. Wait until after the fast flush of spring growth is over. Memorial Day is a good day to shoot for.

Once your lawn is established, the watering mantra is deep and infrequent. Deep means one inch all at one time. Infrequent means monthly watering in the cool months and gradually increasing the frequency to weekly in the hottest heat of summer. By allowing the soil surface to dry out completely between watering, the weed seeds cannot germinate. They need to have continual watering to do that. You might have neighbors who water daily for a few minutes. That is exactly wrong for too many reasons to go in to. After you have a few months of deep and infrequent going on, then you can adjust the amount you put down for your situation. Variables include shade, sun, clouds, wind, humidity, soil type and condition, grass type, mowing height, and probably some that don't come to mind right now. You need to measure the output of your sprinklers using a cat food or tuna can. Time how long it takes to fill a few of those cans placed around the yard. My system takes 8 full hour to fill a can but my neighbor's takes only 20 minutes. Every system is different. Another example of different is my house in San Antonio is under a dense canopy of oak trees. With my grass, mowing height, and soil, I can normally water for 3 hours per week in the summer (3/8 inch) but sometimes I have to go to 5 hours. During our driest years I will have to water for 7 hours per week to keep the grass from wilting before the week is up.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 3:57PM
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Thank you, dchall san antonio, for detalied advice. This year was actually the first year I really started taking care of the lawn, and need all the advice I can get. In the spring I used Scott's pre-emergent crabgrass preventer (the one with the fertilzer) and then used general lawn fertilizer twice during the season. I noticed good improvement in the way our grass looked. I don't have a sprinkler system and since our yard is quite large I usually just depend on rain to do my watering. I mow it on a medium setting - I was already educated about that!

I want to do winter overseeding but right now it doesn't seem to be any snow in the forecast so I am not sure if I should wait or go ahead and overseed now anyway. There could be no snow this winter - last year we only had a big snowstorm for Halloween and then really nothing for the rest of winter. I am thinking that the thawing and freezing process will work the seeds into the soil anyway, even without heavy snow.

I have a related question. I am in the process of completely redoing my front lawn as well. We got little delayed and what we've accomplished so far was to kill the old grass (99% weeds really), mow it very low and put some topsoil on top of it. Originally I intended to put the seed down as well but since the project is behind the schedule it was too late for seeding. My dilemma now is when to seed. Should I do winter seeding or wait for spring? What if it gets to be February and still no heavy snow in the forecast? Would it be totally pointless to spready the seeds now?

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 9:42AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Okay, gotcha. You're looking for low maintenance. For you there might be a much better variety of seed than what Pennington offers. Now I need to know where you live. I made the assumption you lived in PA but need to know for sure where. Do you have much shade? Are you willing to water as much as once a month starting in June?

I use hoses with oscillator sprinklers instead of my sprinkler system. I have about 1/2 acre of grass with a potential of 3/4 acre if I play my cards right. The rest is home or driveway. It takes a lot of sprinkler moving, but it gets it done.

Most of what I know about dormant seeding I have learned from tiemco. Listen to him on that topic.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 10:54PM
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"After the first snow" is just a guide for convenience. Dormant seed when temps aren't going to rise high enough for germination until Spring arives. You don't want to seed on top of snow, but if there is no snow, and you don't want to buy a soil thermometer, just seed once the soil is frozen--if you can't stick a fork in it, it's good for dormant seed.

This post was edited by grass1950 on Wed, Dec 12, 12 at 0:30

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 12:26AM
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I live in PA, the Poconos. Our front lawn is full sun, the back lawn as well with the exception of a strip near the end of the property where we have a thin row of trees shading it a bit for part of a day. Low maintenance sounds good, but I am willing to put in some work. I can handle watering once a month. I estimate that or grass area is about 3/4 of acre so that would probably mean a lot of tangled hoses....

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 9:00AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

What I had in mind was prairie grasses. Some of them, notably the wheatgrasses, look great when sowed fairly densly and mowed down to lawn height. You might ask your county ag agent to see what he might suggest. They all need full sun, but they usually get along on very little attention.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 8:14PM
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Interesting suggestion. I will check it out. I need to see how it looks once nicely mowed since the person who will be doing the "looking at the lawn" (ie my husband) - as opposed to the person who will be actually taking care of it (ie me)- really wants a lush, green turf :)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:43PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I just happen to have a picture. One of the gurus who used to hang out here, bpgreen, has a mix of wheatgrasses, blue grama, and strawberry clover in Salt Lake City. Here is his lawn...

Looks like a lush, Kentucky bluegrass lawn to me. It has none of the KBG characteristics, though. It really is more like a lush fescue lawn.

Salt Lake City is basically desert at high altitude. They don't get much rain. bp starts watering about June and, if I recall correctly, waters about once a month after that. He does not fertilize and mows monthly.

His original plan was to convert his KBG lawn into native prairie grasses by attrition. He overseeded the natives in the fall and withheld water in the summer. He expected the KBG to die out faster but it continued for many years. What you see would be very very little KBG and mostly the natives.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Well, my husband was set on the fescue mix he selected so I just went ahead and seeded the whole area mid-December. Of course, a week later we got a torrential rain but happily, it didn't do as much damage as I was afraid. The freezing-thawing must have already attached the seeds to the ground because only some areas on a steeper slope were a bit washed out. I will have to add more topsoil there in the spring but it's not a big deal. We also got quite a bit of snow cover since then so it looks like my project is more or less going ok.

Now I have a question on what to do next, when the spring arrives. I have a few bags of Tupersan (siduron) that I was planning on applying in the spring to prevent weeds taking over. I know I should apply it quite early in the spring for it to be most effective. But - here is my dilemma - since the area to be treated is just a brand new topsoil with seeds, in the spring it will be a mud field. If I try to walk on it with a drop spreader I will just create one huge mess - I had a preview of it when I was spreading the seeds. So, can I apply it when the temps still drop below freezing at night? This way, if I did it at the crack of dawn, I would still be walking on a frozen ground and not creating a mess. That might mean applying Tupersan earlier than recommended but I read that it stays active in the soil for a while so it might be ok. What do you think?

    Bookmark   January 28, 2013 at 9:05PM
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