The Q&A Archives: Starting a new lawn

Question: We have just built a new home and need to start all over with a lawn. What are the steps we need to take to insure a nice green thick lawn and the best grass seed to buy?

Answer: Good soil is the foundation of a healthy lawn. To grow well, your lawn needs soil with good texture, some key nutrients, and the right pH, or acidity/alkalinity balance. Start by checking the texture of your soil to see whether it's heavy with clay, light and sandy, or somewhere in between. Lawns grow best in soil with intermediate or "loamy" soils that have a mix of clay, silt, and sand. Whatever soil type you have, you can improve it by adding organic matter such as compost or aged-manure. Organic matter helps to lighten a predominantly clay soil and it helps sandy soil retain water and nutrients. Your first step will be to remove stones and other debris then spread 4-5" of organic matter over the top of the soil, digging or rototilling it in to a depth of 8-10".

The right type of grass - one that suits your needs and likes the local weather - will always give better results. Grasses vary in the type of climate they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they need, their resistance to pests, their tolerance for shade, and the degree of wear they can withstand. In your gardening region, cool-season grasses are the turfgrass of choice. There are three major types of cool-season grasses: bluegrasses, fescues, and ryegrasses.

The blades of bluegrasses all have a characteristic boat shaped tip, with the edges curved up like the sides of a canoe. Most are relatively cold tolerant but need generous amounts of water and fertilizer. Kentucky bluegrass is the most popular; rough bluegrass is often added to shade mixtures.

Fescues come in many forms and are generally classified as fine or coarse. The fine-textured fescues described here are chewings, hard, and red fescue. Turf-type tall fescue has coarser blades but are more wear-tolerant than fine-textured fescues, and it does better in hotter areas.

Ryegrasses tend to clump rather than form runners, as many other grasses do. They germinate and establish themselves quickly, and are used in low-cost mixtures to cover large areas.

You might want to purchase a mixture of grass seeds so you cover all the bases!

Watering properly will help your lawn grow deep roots that make it stronger and less vulnerable to drought. Most lawns are watered too often but with too little water. It's best to water only when the lawn really needs it, and then to water slowly and deeply. This trains the grass roots down. Frequent shallow watering trains the roots to stay near the surface, making the lawn less able to find moisture during dry periods.

Best wishes with your new lawn!

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