The 7 Steps to Seeding Your Lawn
By Mark Carpenter
This article assumes that you already have an
established lawn. Also, this procedure is used for cool season grasses
such as, fescue or bluegrass. Warm season grasses such as Zoysia or
Burmuda grass is usually not propagated in this manner.
Step 1: Mow & Bag the area that you are
going to overseed. This step will clear the area of any debris (grass
clippings) that may possibly hinder germination of seed. At this time
any other debris such as sticks, rocks or trash should, of course, be
removed. I have found that setting your mower at a height of 2 inches
will remove most debris, and provide a good clean working surface for
Step 2: The next step is to Verticut your lawn. A
verticutter is a vertical mowing machine. Its major contribution to this
process is to cut furrows into the soil surface, and thus, provide a
place for the seed to settle into when the seed is sown. On average, the
furrows cut by the verticutter should not be more than an 1/8" to
ľ" deep. I say "on average" because most lawns have low
and high spots, and it is virtually impossible to get a consistent depth
across an entire lawn. When verticutting a level lawn the direction in
which you Verticut makes little difference. However, if verticutting on
a slope, the direction you Verticut becomes very important. You should
always run your verticutter at a 90 degree angle to the slope of the
lawn. In other words, if the slope of the lawn runs in a north to south
direction, then the direction you should run the verticutter would be
east to west. Why?. Think about it. If the slope of the lawn runs north
to south, and you put your seed down and you start to pour the water to
it or if you get a heavy rain, which way will the seed, lime and
fertilizer flow? North to south, correct. If you choose to Verticut
north to south, the seed, lime and fertilizer will wash into the north
to south furrows, straight down the hill and away from the area intended
for renovation. If however, you choose to Verticut east to west,
theoretically, the seed, lime and fertilizer will wash into the furrows
and stay put. I say "theoretically" because I have in the
past, overseeded a lawn, only to have all the seed, lime &
fertilizer washed away by a heavy thunderstorm. Believe me, sometimes
timing can be everything, just ask that customer.
If you are going to Verticut an irrigated lawn make sure that you
flag or mark any sprinkler heads. I have yet to find a sprinkler head
that was designed to be Verticut. If you do Verticut a sprinkler head,
plan on replacing it and only cry once. Also, on irrigated or
unirrigated lawns, flag any rocks, roots, valve boxes or any obstacles
that might damage the verticutter and cause injury to either yourself or
any bystanders. I have seen verticutters throw rocks and debris hard
enough to cause injury and if there is a window in the path of these
projectiles, forget it, it will be history.
In the area where I live, you can rent a verticutter for
approximately $15 to $18 an hour. If you donít have a trailer to haul
the machine, most rental stores will be happy to rent you a trailer for
another $5 to $15. Most rental stores have a two hour minimum so you can
expect to pay for at least two hours and possibly a trailer rental. This
would put the cost of doing your own verticutting at approximately $42.
If you follow this 7 step program you will need to Verticut more than
once, meaning you will need the machine for longer than 2 hours costing
more in rental charges.
A verticutter is not a power rake: A verticutter will
remove a minimal amount of thatch, but it is not designed for that
purpose. Its purpose is to prepare the soil to accept the grass seed. It
may reduce low and high spots in your lawn to a small degree, however,
it is not designed for that purpose. It is designed for cutting furrows
into the lawn surface and also for knocking the seed into the furrows
and covering the seed with just enough dirt to promote germination.
The two machines look identical, however, they are very different.
A verticutter: Has vertical fixed blades that are about
1/8" wide that are made to cut slits or furrows into the soil. Its
main function is to be used during seeding and preparing a lawn to
A power rake: Has loose, unfixed blades that swing
freely and basically beats the thatch out of a lawn. The
blades are about 3/16" wide and are designed to remove thatch from
lawns. Its main function is to remove thatch from highly neglected lawns
that have a serious thatch problem. If the thatch in your lawn is an
inch thick, you have a serious thatch problem. Due to my belief that a
power rake does more harm than good to a lawn, I highly recommend that
you try to remedy any thatch problems through aeration, or at least
consult a lawn professional before using a power rake on your lawn.
Step 3: Core aerification. An aerator has vertical tines or
blades that will poke holes in your lawn anywhere from one to three
inches deep, usually depending on how much moisture is in the soil and
on how compacted your lawn is. A core aerator pulls plugs up from the
soil and distributes the plugs on top of the lawn. By leaving the plugs
on top of the lawn the nutrients in these plugs will now be recycled to
your grass. This is a good thing. These plugs are often considered an
eyesore, however, they usually decompose in a period of 2 to 3 weeks.
The addition of soil (plugs) to the thatch layer in your lawn will also
promote faster decomposition of the thatch layer.
Getting oxygen into the soil so that the plant can use it to make
food through respiration is the most important benefit of core
aerification. The roots of a plant use oxygen during respiration to make
C6H12O6 + O2 ---> CO2 + H2O
sugar + oxygen ---> Carbon Dioxide + Water + energy
Compacted soils have less oxygen and therefore inhibit the growth of a
plant. The clay soils that are predominant in the Kansas City area are
often oxygen deprived. Aerification can improve this problem greatly.
The holes created by the aerator makes available oxygen to the
microbes (and the roots of the turf) that are required for a healthy and
vibrant lawn. If your lawn is compacted, it probably means that the
microbes (that break down nitrogen, that make it possible for your grass
to use the nitrogen) are oxygen starved. By getting oxygen into the
soil, you encourage the growth of these microbes and, therefore, the
growth of the grass in your lawn. These microbes are also responsible
for the decomposition of the thatch layer in your lawn. Promoting the
growth of these microbes is one of the most important functions that
aerating your lawn can provide.
Another benefit derived from core aerification is the reduction of
compaction in the lawn area. Have you ever tried to grow grass in an
area of your lawn where there is a lot of foot traffic, or where your
dog runs up and down a fence line or even worse where someone parks his
car on the lawn? It canít be done, because the soil is just too
compacted. Aerification (while probably isnít going to grow grass on
somebodyís makeshift driveway) will increase the chances of getting
grass to grow in high traffic areas of your lawn. Even in low traffic
areas of your lawn, think of the things that promote compaction. For
instance, someone walking on the lawn while they are mowing, if you mow
your lawn 25 times a growing season, the compaction adds up. How about
during the winter when we get 12 inches of snow on our lawns? Just the
weight of the snow on top of your lawn could be enough of a reason for
aerating your lawn.
Another benefit from aerification is that as the aerator pokes holes
in your lawn it cuts grass roots, rhizomes and stolons which in turn
generate more grass, which in turn increases grass density. Also, as the
new grass seed falls into or washes into these holes it gives the
seedlings an excellent spot to germinate. Along with the seed, lime and
fertilizer will fall into these holes, which will hasten the
incorporation of these lawn enhancing amendments into your root zone.
Obviously, core aerification is not something you do only when you
are seeding your lawn. I core aerate my own lawn twice a year, once in
the spring and then again in the fall (Sept.) when I seed my lawn. With
the wind blown clay soil we have in the Kansas City area which compacts
so readily, most lawn companies recommend aerifying twice a year. If you
donít notice any difference immediately, donít be discouraged, it
may take several years to reap the benefits of core aerification.
Step 4: Mow & bag your lawn again. However, set your mower
height up one inch so you donít remove the plugs that the aerifyer has
put on the surface of your lawn. The mower will also (hopefully) break
up some of the plugs that the aerator has left on the surface of the
lawn. Mowing & bagging your lawn will again remove any grass
clippings or possibly any thatch that the verticutter may have deposited
on the surface of your lawn. This will give you a clean surface to work
with for the next step, which will be seeding the lawn.
Step 5: Seeding the lawn. What kind of seed should I use? In the
Kansas City area on unirrigated lawns there really is only one choice of
grass seed. Tall turf type thin bladed Fescues. Why?
- 1. Fescue is a native grass in this area.
- 2. Fescue is drought and disease resistant.
- 3. The thin bladed varieties of fescue come very close to looking
- 4. Unlike Bluegrass, thin bladed fescues donít require the
intense watering or care that Bluegrass does.
What about Bluegrass? Bluegrass is not a native grass to the
Kansas City area. Our environment does not lend itself to Bluegrass the
way it does Fescue. However, if you have an irrigated lawn and are
willing to pay the water bills that will come with a Bluegrass lawn and
if you are willing to put up with the diseases (fungus) that come with
excessive watering during June, July and August, then I say go with it.
Otherwise, I say go without it. Donít get me wrong, a nice Bluegrass
lawn is as attractive a lawn as you can get. Bluegrass has long been a
highly recommended grass to grow in this area because of its aesthetic
qualities and will continue to be so. However, for the average
homeowner, it may be considered to be too much of a high maintenance
grass to grow in this area.
Zoyzia & Bermuda grass? These grasses are warm season grasses
and they look great during the hot summer months. On the other hand, the
rest of the year, they look somewhat less than attractive. If you wish
to cultivate these grasses in your lawn, they are usually plugged or
Below, I have included a Grass Evaluation Chart with this handout
which, should give you an idea as to what grasses do well under certain
specified conditions for the Kansas City area.