Turfgrass Establishment – All You Need to Know (2022)

The cool season grasses are:

  • Tall Fescue-Several Varieties
  • Bluegrass
  • Ryegrass
  • Bentgrass

The cool season grasses differ from warm season grasses in the climate that they prefer to grow in. Cool season grasses have their best growth during cool temperatures of spring and fall, slowing their growth or even going dormant during the hot summer season. Warm season grasses are opposite in their growth habit. They prefer the warm temperatures of summer during which they put on their fastest growth.

The cool season grasses are best established in the fall. Typically, after the hot summer heat subsides, or around Sept. 1, begin preparing for establishing your new stand of grass. What method you use will be determined by the results you are looking for, the health of your lawn, and perhaps the equipment you have available. If you have a decent stand, but just want to thicken it up, aerating followed by overseeding is a good choice. If you have extreme bare spots or are just getting a lawn started, then the complete job is needed including tilling or disking, leveling, incorporating organic material, lime-fertilize, mulch, and water. The type of cool season grass you are to plant will determine seeding rates. A chart will follow listing pounds per 1,000 square feet of seed needed.

Complete renovation or establishment involves completely tilling up the lawn or soil to a 3 to 6-inch depth, smoothing, fertilizing and liming, and adding any needed organic matter. This method is used most in new construction or where the lawn is in such bad shape that less invasive methods won’t work. When disking up a lawn or preparing for a new one, make sure you level completely, this grade is where the final grade to mow will be, and how rough or smooth the lawn will be to mow. Do it right the first time and you’ll be happy later. If at all possible, you may want to consider not disking up the lawn. If all you need is thickening up the lawn or spots that are thin, aerating or slit seeding will work great.

Aerating & Overseeding

When making a lawn fuller by aerating and overseeding, what you will need are an aerator and a seed and fertilizer spreader. Start by aerating the lawn several times making passes in different directions. The more holes you make, the better the results will be. Also, use a core aerator instead of a spike type. The spike type actually does more to compact the soil than to loosen it.

A core aerator will pull small plugs of soil the size of a finger out and deposit them on the soil surface. The grass seed will go into the holes and mix with the cores and form a nice seed bed. After aerating, spread the seed and fertilizer you are going to use being sure to completely cover the area. Missed spots will be very noticeable. Next, if you have a garden tractor, drag a sheet of chain link fence or similar material over the lawn. This will crumble up the cores covering up the seed and holes as you go. It works great!

Another method of renovation without disking is slit seeding or no-till seeding. You will have to hire this done or rent a very expensive piece of equipment to do it, but they do a great job in one step. The machine is sort of a cousin to a no-till corn planter. It cuts a small groove in the soil, then a second disk drops a pre-measured amount of seed into the slit while partially covering it up. The grooves are 2 inches apart making a very thick stand. When the grass first comes up it comes up in rows, but soon blends together. A machine like this can be rented for about 125 to 150 dollars a day.

Another method of renovation without disking is hydroseeding. This is done both on the tilled ground and existing turf. When overseeding the machine is spraying the seed mixture directly into the soil between existing grass plants. The seed will germinate and fill in the bare spots. Hydroseeding is a method where the seed, fertilizer, and a fiber called Hydromulch, are mixed together in a tank with water. The tank agitates and mixes the solution keeping it in suspension. The seed is soaked in water causes it to germinate much faster than other methods. This equipment is also very expensive and is probably best handled by a professional, besides that very few rental stores will have one for rent.

Warm Season Grasses

Types of Warm Season Turfgrasses include:

  • Bermudagrass
  • Zoysia Grass
  • Centipede Grass
  • Buffalograss
  • St. Augustine

The major difference between warm season grasses and cool season grasses is the time of establishment. Cool season grasses prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall, while the warm season varieties like the hot temperatures of summer. First of all, bermudagrass. Bermudagrass makes an excellent lawn. Some people fuss over it crawling into their flower beds and across the walk. But this same detriment is an advantage also. When you have an area that has been damaged, it will recover very quickly by spreading rhizomes and stolons. In a cool season, grass will not recover and spread over such an area.

Bermudagrass is used extensively on golf courses throughout the south and west. It is regularly mowed down as low as 3/16 of an inch. Most home lawns will need a mowing height of about 1 to 2 inches. Bermudagrass can be established by seed, sod, or sprigs. The seeded varieties are mostly improved cultivars of common bermudagrass, a courser textured, taller growing variety. Hybrid bermudagrass has a much finer texture, smaller blade, and lower growth in height. Overall, I prefer the Hybrid. The only problem is that the Hybrid must be established by sprigs or sodded, dramatically increasing the cost of the lawn. The cheapest way is to sprig.

To sprig a lawn: Till up and level completely to your final grade. Remember this is what your mower will be rolling over. Then purchase sprigs from your local sod producer. You will need approx. 500 bushels per acre of ground to be sprigged. Spread the sprigs over the area being sure to not leave any piled up. After spreading, till again. Then roll with a heavy roller behind a tractor. This will press the sprigs into the soft soil. Start watering now. AND DON’T STOP The sprigs must be kept moist, don’t drown them, but keep them moist. It may require two or three waterings per day. It will take about 3 weeks to start seeing results. During this time you will think that everything is dead, but keep watering. In 8 to 10 weeks you will have grown in. Fertilize with a 6-24-24 when sprigging at a rate of 200 # per acre.

Bermudagrass can be seeded like fescue following the same basic methods. The only difference is that you will do it in May or June. Normal seeding is marginally successful. Hydroseeding works much better. The seed is soaked in water and mulch solution with fertilizer included. This is sprayed on the prepared soil, forcing the seed into the soil causing seed-to-soil contact which is needed.

Zoysia Grass can be sodded or sprigged only. The most common variety is Meyer. Using the methods described for bermudagrass, substitute the Zoysia and complete the job. The only other alternative is to sod the area which will be very expensive.

The popular methods of establishing turfgrass vary for each variety. Cool season grasses are most commonly broadcast seeded after working the ground up in some way, either aerating for a renovation, or disking/tilling for new construction. Other methods for cool season grasses include slit seeding and hydroseeding. Both work excellent, much better than aerate and overseed. No matter what method you use, you must keep the soil wet for the grass to germinate. Sprinkle daily, 2 to 3 times per day if you can. After the grass gets established you can revert to normal infrequent and deep watering. During establishment, you reverse that thought and water frequently and shallow just to keep the surface moist. Remember, NO WATER-NO GRASS!

For warm-season grasses the choices of establishment methods become limited. Some grasses can be seeded and others cannot. Bermuda can be seeded, sprigged, hydro seeded, sodded, or stolonized. Zoysia the same applies to. First, choose the grass you want that will do well in the location you have, then determine how much needs to be done, can you renovate, or do you need a total makeover? After determining this, choose the method of establishment that you can best handle with the equipment you have. Sometimes you will be best off to hire the job done to be sure that it is done properly, besides, you may not have all of the equipment needed to do the job. Usually, a professional contractor will offer a warranty of some type if they do the project.