The Q&A Archives: Starting a Lawn

Question: I have small patches of grass surrounding my large oak tree on my front lawn, and thick grass on all other the sides of the house. The front lawn has full sun half of the day, but it is mostly barren. It is January here, and I was thinking of spreading fertilizer and seeds in the spring, but not sure when or in what order to do each step. I've been told by friends to fertilize in the spring and fall, but not to seed too soon after, as the fertilizer will kill the seedlings. Please advise how to proceed after the last frost here in southern VA.

Answer: You may have a problem establishing a thick lawn beneath your oak tree. The roots of the tree will compete for moisture and nutrients, to the detriment of the grass. Oaks tend to shade the area, too, so you'll want to find a grass seed that is specifically blended for dry shade. To prepare the area for planting, rough the soil up a bit (don't dig too deeply or you'll disturb the tree roots). After roughing the soil up, broadcast the seeds and then lightly roll or rake the area to ensure good soil/seed contact. You can add a light topping of peat moss to discourage birds from feasting on the seeds and also to keep the seedbed moist. Water well and keep the area from drying out for the next week to 10 days. You may need to water several times a day, depending upon weather. Don't fertilize until the grass is high enough to mow (usually 2-3 weeks). At that time the plants will be ready to be fed. Apply in amounts as recommended on the fertilizer label. Best wishes with your lawn!

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