Growing a lawn for a new home - Knowledgebase Question

San Pedro, CA (Zone 10)
Avatar for gbailey399
Question by gbailey399
April 1, 2005
We will be moving into a newly built home in August. The builder will landscape the front only. How do we go about growing a back lawn. There is a connection for a sprinkler system and there are drainaige holes. We will be living in the Inland Empire of southern California. Our lawn end at our retaing wall. Thank you

Answer from NGA
April 1, 2005
Creating and keeping a healthy lawn unfortunately demands a lot of labor and care. The effort that you put forth now, to put your lawn in will determine the quality of your lawn for years to come. It will also make a major difference in the amount of upkeep and maintainance you will have to perform in the future.

The condition and type of the soil under the grass is the most important element to the overall health of your lawn. In situations where you are putting in a new lawn you will have ample opportunity to prepare the soil before the grass is planted. It is a good idea to have the soil tested before establishing your new lawn. The soil test report gives the type and amount of fertilizer to apply for your lawn. This fertilizer (and lime, if required) should be worked into the top four to six inches of your soil. Once your lawn is established it is hard to do much to improve the soil at the root level.

Proper preparation of the soil is the first step in attaining a healthy lawn. The soil should be tilled thoroughly, either by a mechanical tiller or digging down a spades depth over the entire area. If you've added topsoil to your yard, you will want to be certain that it is well mixed in with the soil underneath. Otherwise it is possible that the roots of your lawn may not penetrate the native soil. If the tilth of the soil is very heavy or sandy, organic material such as peat moss, compost, sludge or even sawdust should be added. (If sawdust is added to the soil it is wise to add extra nitrogenous fertilizer to compensate for the nitrogen loss caused by the composting of the sawdust.)

Most lawn grasses do well in mildly acid soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, preferably about 6.5. You need to decide what type of grass you want to grow, according to your climate, soils, and how much foot traffic it will receive. Once this choice is made, you can prepare your soil accordingly. If the soil test shows high acidity ground limestone should be added at a rate of 50-100 pounds for each pH point below 7 per every thousand square feet of lawn. If the test shows alkaline soil (above pH 8.0) on the other hand, sulfer should be added at a rate of 20 pounds for every thousand feet of surface area. Add any other fertilizers which were recommended by the soil test. The soil should then be tilled again to mix in the added components.

The soil is now ready to be raked smooth, filling low spots and removing the humps and breaking up the larger clumps as you go. Phosphorus is slow to be absorbed into the soil, and next to impossible to introduce to the root zone once the lawn is in, so now is the time to mix some superphosphate into the top few inches of the soil. Use a cultivator to mix it in at a rate of 50 pounds per thousand square feet (even though other nutrients were added already).

Using a steel garden rake, a finish grade should be created to move water runoff away from the house. Level the soil to avoid any low spots where water may stand, or high spots that could cause the future lawn to be 'scalped' when you mow.

If you are planning to install an automatic sprinkler system, now is the time you should do it!

Roll the entire lawn bed with a roller (available from rental centers) to firm it up, then water it lightly to settle the area.

Selecting the proper grass seed mixture is important. What you intend to use the lawn area for, and the amount of maintenance you'll want to provide are two important factors, which should be considered before making the selection. Normally you will buy a lawn seed mix which has been formulated with different seed types for different needs and different climates. There are mixes which are designed for play areas which are tough and durable grasses, a lush green lawn in the sun, or you may want a putting green in the shade. No matter what your needs, there is probably a 'most appropriate' seed mix for you. Be sure to read the seed box or bag to make certain it is the right mix for you.

The best time to seed lawns is from late summer until early fall (August 15 to September 20) while the soil is still warm, and . You can also seed a new lawn in April or May. Late summer lawn seeding is best because the soil is still warm (faster germination), watering will not be as much of a problem, there are fewer weed problems, and the cool season grasses in the mix will have a better chance of getting established.

The best and most even results are usually achieved using a hand crank operated seed spreader. Sow 1/4 of the seed (at the recommended seeding rate) to the entire lawn area. Repeat three more applications, each in a different direction. Rake the seed into the surface of the soil lightly, using a bamboo or fan rake, barely brush the seed under the soil. Roll the entire lawn surface with an empty lawn roller to set the seed in contact with the soil. Water seeds in thoroughly with a fine mist. Once the seed is planted, make sure that the soil is kept evenly moist until germination. After the seeds germinate, you can water more heavily but less frequently. DO NOT OVER WATER, and do not use a strong spray. You don't want to drown the seeds, nor do you want to wash them away.

Water will continue to be a prime concern for your new lawn. About one inch of water per week (rainfall plus irrigation) will be required until your lawn is well established. You may mow a newly seeded turf when the grass is 2 1/2-3 inches tall. Use a SHARP mower so the grass is cut cleanly, and the plants are not pulled out of the ground. Do not cut the grass too short, about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches is a good height. After the first mowing you may apply a high nitrogen, turf fertilizer (23-4-6) at one-half the application rate recommended on the bag. Water immediately to prevent possible foliar burn.

Best wishes with your new lawn!

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