The Problems with Spring Grass Seeding
As winter reaches its welcome end, you begin to have visions of a lovely lawn all the neighbors will envy. Both literally and symbolically, spring is a time of renewal and fresh growth, and you are feeling the spirit. This year, you are going to have that lawn that you vowed you would every previous year. It’s finally time.
And it’s the perfect time, right? Temperatures are warming, and a long growing season lies ahead. It’s time to get out there and reseed all those bare spots and shore up the healthy-looking areas.
Well, maybe not. Yes to the warming temperatures and the long growing season, but no to the perfect time. Actually, two key factors make spring a very difficult time for seeding. More accurately, spring is not a difficult time to seed, but it is difficult for spring-seeded grass to survive. All that time and money you put into the lawn could very well go to waste.
Cool-weather grasses like those we have in the Sioux City area are happiest and grow best with warm days, cool nights, and regular rainfall. If that sounds just like spring, it is! Spring and fall are, truthfully, the best times for grass to grow because the conditions tend to be so good and consistent for it.
So then what is the problem?
The problem is that time of year when the days are long, friends and family gather to barbecue and socialize, and people lounge out back to admire the night sky: summer.
Sure, summer is a great time for kids and for families with vacation time, but it’s a pretty terrible time for grass to grow. This is because it’s just too hot.
Once temperatures approach 80 degrees F, most plant growth, including that of cool-weather grass, slows, though not to the point of threatening its survival. However, as temperatures near and exceed 90, which happens much of the summer, growth dramatically slows.
When that happens, a process called photorespiration begins. Put simply, a plant is consuming more energy than it is producing. Older, well-established grass with deeper root systems can endure, but this becomes too much for newer grass. Even new grass that looks strong and healthy is weaker than it appears. The combination of the heat and the reduced food (because photosynthesis slows as growth does) often causes spring-seeded grass to die. This results in the brown and bare patches you frequently see by late summer.
The other significant impediment to the survival of spring-seeded grass is weed growth, and this is a problem in both spring and summer.
Spring may be the perfect time for grass to grow, but it is also the perfect time for weeds such as crabgrass to grow. Crabgrass loves to grow in bare spots and where the grass is damaged or dying, so those spots you want to reseed as spring begins are the very places crabgrass is likely to grow.
No problem, you might think; I’ll just do some preventive weed control. Although pre-emergent herbicide applications are great ways to prevent crabgrass from growing, they present a couple of problems where growing new grass is concerned.
Early spring is the prime time for applying re-emergents, but these herbicides are not species-specific. In other words, the pre-emergents will keep crabgrass away, but they also keep new grass seeds from growing.
The solution, then, might seem to be waiting a few weeks before planting new grass, but that has a catch, a serious one. Putting down a pre-emergent will prevent that grass seed from germinating for up to 90 days. That puts you into early or mid-summer, which means a loss of critical growing time, and now your grass faces the dual assault of heat and the lack of water for the seed to grow. That newly planted grass will have little chance of surviving.
Now let’s go back to what we said about the summer heat and bare or discolored patches in the lawn.
When that new grass dies, those spots are ripe for a takeover by crabgrass and other weeds, which can then start to spread to other areas. Yes, you can battle them with post-emergent herbicides, and you probably should, but that dead grass is still dead and not coming back.
And all of that time and money you spent since the start of spring turns out to be all for naught.
What To Do?
By this point, you may be thinking of just giving up. Maybe a “wild” lawn will have to do until next year (the neighbors are really going to love that). You might even start half-wondering if artificial turf or turning the lawn into a rock garden might be better. After all that effort and the results you got for them, no one could really blame you.
The good news is that there are some solutions and that you can have a healthy, beautiful lawn.
If your lawn isn’t extremely thin, and if it isn’t mostly bare, then seeding in the fall is the best option. Like in spring, conditions are typically excellent for plants to grow. Cool-weather grass can take around 9 months to establish itself. Planting in the early fall leaves ample time for grass to grow, and then growth resumes in the spring. This allows the grass more time to become strong enough to withstand the onslaught of summer.
Planting in the spring can still be an option, too. Although spring is not the ideal time to seed a lawn, that doesn’t mean you can’t seed a lawn then and see it thrive. But it’s going to take more work and more expertise. In that case, it’s probably best to consult a professional lawn-care service. The experts there will inspect your lawn, determine the right approach, and then commence doing what they do best.
The Sharp Solution
At Sharp Lawn Care, we are attuned to the Sioux City region’s climate and growth season, and we know exactly what works best here. There are two basic options.
1: If you decide to seed in the spring, it will be necessary to forgo a pre-emergent weed treatment and the first broadleaf weed-control application (a post-emergent treatment) because they occur in April and May, the times your grass is growing best.
You are still going to have the heat- and drought-related troubles come summer, there almost certainly will be an abundance of weeds as well. For the rest of the summer, then, we will focus on getting rid of the weeds, and then we will reseed in the fall.
2: What we think is the better option, as long as the lawn isn’t extremely thin, is to utilize a fertilization and weed-control program and include aeration in both spring and fall. Strengthening the grass already there is the goal of the fertilization, and the weed control provides not just aesthetic value but also creates bare spots where new grass seeds can germinate.
We have found that thorough cleanups in spring and in fall to remove grass-killing debris, spring and fall aeration, a well-inclusive fertilization/weed control program, and annual fall seeding result in thick, healthy grass. After the lawn is nice and thick, continue each service every year, although, fall seeding only needs to happen every subsequent two or three years.
Either option, if you need a hand, Sharp Lawn Care will get it right and will get your lawn into great shape.