HOW TO: ESTABLISH TURF FROM SEED
A primary benefit of seeding turf is low cost compared to other techniques. However, you must follow certain steps. The following procedures help ensure seeding success (this does not include hydraulic seeding; see the Grounds Maintenance Web site archives for the August 2001 article, “Hydraulic Seeding: it's all in the slurry,” accessible through the GM home page at www.grounds-mag.com).
- Clear the site
This includes surface debris — rocks, construction debris, etc. — as well as buried objects — roots, stumps and, again, construction debris. Site clearance also includes eliminating weeds. Of course, this also applies to total renovations, where the old turf must be killed first.
- Rough-grade the site
Move soil as necessary to achieve the desired contours. If possible, eliminate steep slopes and potential drainage problems that may become maintenance headaches later on.
- Obtain a soil test
Now's the time to fix nutrient deficiencies or soil structural problems. A soil test is cheap compared to the maintenance issues that might emerge after establishment.
- Apply fertilizer and needed amendments
An initial application of fertilizer at establishment helps seedlings get a vigorous start. Other amendments — organic or inorganic, such as lime — can be useful for improving soil quality. However, what you need depends on the soil; soil labs can advise you. Till in amendments and fertilizer to 4 to 6 inches.
- Finish-grade the site
When the soil has settled and is moist (not too dry or wet), finish-grade the site to provide a smooth seedbed. Use wide rakes for smoothing and removing rocks, and a roller to firm the surface. Alternate between raking and rolling until footprinting is minimal. “Cultipackers” and similar implements are efficient for large sites.
- Apply starter fertilizer
If you did not till in fertilizer before, be sure to apply 1 to 1.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet on the surface.
- Apply seed
A variety of tools are available for seeding, ranging from broadcast or drop spreaders to disk seeders to hydraulic seeders. The important thing is uniform and accurate application, and good seed-to-soil contact. Disk seeders and similar equipment (such as cultipacker-seeders) create the necessary seed-to-soil contact. If you use a spreader, afterward you'll need to lightly go over the seedbed with a rake or cultipacker.
- Apply mulch
Straw is by far the most common mulch, though other wood-based products are available. Where extra holding is needed, staked twine or liquid binders help hold the mulch in place. Burlap or jute is often used on slopes to prevent erosion during establishment.
- Provide good aftercare
The seedbed must be kept constantly moist. Therefore, provide water by whatever means available, every day if necessary, until the seedlings become more self-sufficient. Commence mowing as soon as possible. Be sure the blade is sharp.
Weed control is difficult in seedling turf. However, mowing — once it begins — will eliminate many weeds. Most herbicides will be acceptable after a few mowings. Be sure to read labels carefully.
After a few weeks, apply 0.5 to 1.0 pound of nitrogen to the turf.
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