by Pamm Cooper, Turf Program Educator
With the extended drought over much of Connecticut last year, some lawns may have areas that will need to be reseeded in the spring. Areas that stayed brown from summer until the frosts arrived are likely dead. To keep weeds from gaining a foothold in these areas, new grass needs to get established before the weeds can take advantage of having no competition for light, water, and nutrients.
Most of the lawn grasses used in our state will germinate when the soil temperatures near or on the surface are 50 degrees. Many annual weeds - including the ubiquitous crabgrass – need the soil to be at least 55 to 65 degrees for a few consecutive days before they will germinate. This gives us a window of opportunity to get a head start on the grass so it will be able to shade out the weeds before they can get established.
Remember to give the grass seed good contact with the soil. Never seed on top of thatch or dead vegetation, as the new roots will be unable to penetrate the soil to anchor the new seedling, nor will they be able to obtain water to stay alive for very long. The dead grass can be raked out to expose the soil. Then the soil surface can be loosened a bit and the seed sown. A little topsoil can be sprinkled over the new seed, but no more than ¼ of an inch deep.
Once the seed is watered for the first time, it needs to be kept continually damp until the seedlings emerge. Then water an inch or so deep – do not saturate the soil – every other day to encourage deeper root growth. The idea is to water to keep alive, but not too much. If a grass plant is to survive the heat of summer, its roots need to be down where the soil is cooler and where there is, hopefully, more water available during droughty conditions.
If there is little living turf over a larger area, these spaces can be slice-seeded or even tilled and rolled and then seeded. The same watering principles apply with any seeding project. Keep constantly moist until germinated, and then water less frequently, but deeper. If the weather is hot, dry, and windy, the seed may need misting several times a day, and seedlings may need daily watering, depending upon how well the soil retains moisture.
Consider using fescues, which are very drought tolerant when established. There are fine fescues which have a needle-like leaf and have a very fine-textured look, and turf-type tall fescues, which have a medium texture similar to Kentucky bluegrass. Both fine and turf-type tall fescues need less fertilizer and less water, once established, than the other lawn grasses commonly used in Connecticut.