The Q&A Archives: New lawn and lawn prep

Question: I live in Denver and just bought a new house. The backyard is very large but full of weeds. I would like to plant a lawn next spring but am not sure what prep I should be doing now. Should I use round-up to kill the current batch of weeds before winter hits? A neighbor told me to just wait until spring and till the entire thing. Also, if I till in the spring, isn't it going to stir up all the dormant weed seeds and allow them to grow? Should I abandon my spring lawn, spend next summer properly weeding, and plant in fall? Thanks for any advice.

Answer: If you kill the current weeds, new weeds will show up in the spring and you'll have to do it all over again so I think your neighbor is giving you good advice. I would wait until spring and rototill the entire area, then rake out the debris. By tilling a second time you'll bury lots of the weed seeds that were on the soil surface. Then you can seed your lawn. A thick, lush lawn will crowd out weeds by effectively shading the soil. As the grass matures and can handle it, you can apply a pre-emergent to prevent any weed seeds from germinating.

A lawn can be successfully started from seed anytime during the growing season. However, it's easier to establish cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, in late summer. Warm season grasses, such as buffalo grass, are usually seeded in May or June.

Before seeding grass, have a basic soil test done to help determine specific fertilizer requirements. And control perennial weeds in the area to be seeded prior to disturbing the soil. If you use an herbicide, select one with no soil-residual activity.

Cultivate the area to be seeded to loosen the top 12 inches of soil, and make any grade adjustments to direct drainage away from building foundations. Remove large rocks and other debris.

Till three to five cubic yards of decomposed manure, compost or sphagnum peat moss, along with fertilizers called for by the soil test results, into the top six to eight inches of soil. Otherwise, apply any starter-type lawn fertilizer or one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square-foot area.

Next, smooth and firm the soil surface to be seeded. Broadcast seed in two directions to evenly apply the recommended rate. Gently drag the back side of a rake to lightly cover seed with soil.

Water lightly and often enough to keep the surface of the soil moist during seed germination, which can take up to two weeks. Watering frequency will be determined by time of year and weather conditions. As the roots grow deeper into the soil, gradually decrease the frequency and increase the amount of water to encourage deep rooted, healthy plants.

Best wishes with your new lawn!

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