The Q&A Archives: Establishing a New Lawn

Question: hello -- My front yard is completely barren. the only signs of life are a few hardy shrubs but its mostly dead, and its sandy in most areas.

What do I need to do before I begin planting?

Answer: Soil preparation is the key to developing a good lawn. Soil that is properly conditioned will be easier to maintain and cost a lot less to keep-up now and in the future.

Two other important considerations are drainage patterns and contouring the lawn so it looks nice and drains properly. Always establish drainage patterns so the water runs away from structures, not toward them. And, establish contours that look nice and are easy to maintain.

Decide what type of lawn you want. Do you want a tough, durable lawn for children to play on; a durable but nice looking lawn; or an attractive show type lawn. The type of seed or sod that you use will be determined by whichever type of lawn you desire.

To get started on the right footing you need to have your soil tested. What is needed in fertilizer; is it necessary to add top soil; is the soil acid or alkaline; what's needed to improve the quality of the soil? All these and other questions are quickly answered by observing the soil texture and by having the soil tested. The local Cooperative Extension Service has the forms and information on soil testing, and can advise you of the costs and time involved in getting the test results. Or, there are independent soil testing laboratories where you can have the testing done. In addition, there are soil test kits that you can purchase and do the testing yourself.

Whether you seed, sod or hydro-seed there are a few basic steps you need to accomplish first, to get the soil ready for planting:

Remove sticks, stones, large weeds and debris.
Obvious high and low areas can be leveled by simply scraping off the high spots, or filling in the low spots.
Next, rototill the seed bed to a depth of six to eight inches. Do it in two directions if possible.
Rough rake to remove stones and debris brought to the surface by the rototilling.
If it is necessary to add top soil or any soil amendments like Sawdust or Bark to break-up clay or hardpan, this is the time to do it.
Apply a lawn fertilizer like 12-4-8, 15-5-10, 9-3-6 or similar formula. Your local garden store may have other equally suitable formulas for new lawn construction.
Rototill again mixing the fertilizer, top soil (if added) into the seed bed.
Finish rake (holding the rake very upright and just skimming the surface) to remove debris and stones that have been brought to the surface by this rototilling.
Next, roll the entire area with a water-filled lawn roller. Rental agencies and many garden outlets have these lawn rollers available on a daily rental basis.
Now you should take a weighted ladder or frame made of 4 X 4's and drag the entire area to establish drainage patterns and contours.
Lightly surface rake again if needed.
Make a light application of fertilizer on the surface using the same type of fertilizer as before.
At this point the lawn is ready to be seeded, hydro-seeded or sodded. Some of the steps as outlined above may not be necessary, depending upon soil conditions, so eliminate those steps.

If you are seeding, spread the seed then lightly cover with about one sixteenth on an inch of peat moss. Then roll again with a lawn roller only half filled with water.

If you are sodding, simply lay the sod, cut-out for flower and shrub beds and roll with half filled lawn roller.

If you are having the lawn hydro-seeded, everything is ready to go.

Whether you seed, sod or hydro-seed the entire area should be fenced-off with a string or wire fence to keep the children and animals off the soft ground until the seed or sod has taken hold.

Keep the entire area moist until the seed germinates or sod has become re-established.

Best wishes with your renovation project!

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