Before putting in a lawn, decide where the grass, ground covers, shrubbery, and trees are to be located. Making the right decision at this time can avoid the problems that are caused by trying to correct mistakes later.
Although turfgrass will grow in a wide variety of soil types, a sandy loam or a fine sandy loam, six to 12 inches deep, is preferred. Soils much different in texture may result in problems later.
Have a mechanical analysis made when considering a purchase of soil. Keep in mind that the term "top soil" is any material that is on the soil surface. There is no legal definition of top soil. In many cases, the soil that is hauled in, usually at great expense, will not be any better than the soil already on the site. Of course, if depressions are to be filled in and no soil is available, it must be purchased.
For a mechanical analysis, send a soil sample to the Soil Testing Laboratory, U-102, Storrs, CT 06269-1102. A mechanical analysis costs $10. The resulting report will show the exact percentage of sand, silt and clay. The soil can be placed in a specific textural class. Send an additional $7.00 for a determination of the percentage of organic matter. Make checks payable to the University of Connecticut.
Most ornamental plants and turf grasses will not tolerate poor soil drainage. If the site is wet, an underground tile system may be necessary to drain excess soil moisture. Contact a qualified individual for help in designing a drainage system. In addition to subsoil drainage, grading must be designed to prevent surface water from collecting in low spots. It must also be sloped to keep water from gathering around the foundation of the house.
Submit a comprehensive soil sample to the soil testing laboratory as early as possible. Specific recommendations must be obtained before ordering and applying materials. A soil test is the only accurate means of determining limestone and fertilizer needs. There is a $5.00 fee for the regular soil test. Send it to the above address.
The lawn area should be cleared of all construction debris, such as stumps, branches, lumber and stones larger than one inch in diameter. Poor soil preparation will contribute to future problems such as dry spots and/or depressions where organic material below the surface rots and the soil settles.
After the initial grading, apply the recommended amounts of limestone and fertilizer so they can be worked into the soil during final grading. The final grade is important because it will influence the final appearance of the lawn. After the initial grading, roll the lawn with a light roller and check for high or low spots. Remove the high spots to make a smooth grade. Recheck after rerolling. Make sure that the grade will provide surface drainage. If in doubt, use a line level.
The soil test report will recommend the amount of limestone and fertilizer for optimum plant nutrient levels. These materials should be incorporated into the upper four to six inches of soil by tilling or harrowing. Once the turfgrass has become established, follow a fertilizer program as outlined on the soil test report to maintain good plant growth.
The turfgrass seed industry has introduced improved varieties (see next page) of all the primary turf grasses--Kentucky bluegrass, fine-leaved fescue, perennial ryegrass and the turf-type tall fescue. The seed purchased should include these improved, named varieties. If the seed label does not include named varieties, it is an indication of a poor mixture and may produce a substandard turf.
It is recommended that two or more varieties or species be blended in order to take advantage of combined strengths. Thus, if variety X and Y are blended and X is susceptible to a certain disease and Y is resistant, the Y variety will survive and maintain a cover. The entire lawn will not be lost when attacked by disease.
Where only one species is desired, e.g. Kentucky bluegrass, a blend of at least three varieties should result in a superior lawn.
A good seed mix for most home lawns should consist of improved varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, fine-leaf fescue and improved perennial ryegrass. A mix of 30% to 45% fine leaf-fescue and 30% to 40% Kentucky bluegrass with not over 20% perennial ryegrass, will provide an excellent lawn for most Connecticut conditions.
Improved Kentucky bluegrass* varieties include: America, Banff, Benson (Warren's 34), Blackburg, Crest, Eclipse, Indigo and Merit.
Improved fine-leaf fescue* varieties include:
Hard-fescue: Biljart, Reliant, Scaldis, Spartan and Tournament.
Creeping Red: Ensylva, Jasper, Longfellow and Pennlawn.
Chewings: Banner, Jamestown, SR5000 and Victory.
Sheeps: Azay and Covar.
Improved perennial ryegrass* varieties include: All*Star, Jazz, Palmer SR4000 and SR4100.
A recent introduction to the turf market are the turf-type tall fescues. The generic tall fescue are a very coarse grass not suited for a good lawn. The turf-type varieties will blend well with the other turf-type grasses. They can be planted as a blend of several varieties.
Turf-type tall fescue varieties* include: Avid, Crossfire, Houdog, Mustang, Olympic II, Rebel II, Shortstop and Titan.
Avoid the coarse-leaf tall fescue such as Kentucky 31, which is usually considered a weed grass in a well-maintained lawn.
Preferred seeding time is late August to early September. During this time, the air temperature is cooling and the soil is warm, favoring root growth. Rainfall, usually dependable at this time, will keep the soil moist, which is essential for germination. The grass seeds germinate without competition from spring or early summer weeds, and the annual weeds that do germinate will be killed by the frost. The new lawn is able to develop into an established turf with reduced competition from weeds during the fall and early spring months. Once established, a vigorous lawn will resist invasion from weeds and crabgrass, if certain maintenance practices are followed during the year.
The second best time to seed is mid- to late spring. As the season progresses, weed and crabgrass competition will increase. To minimize this problem, the herbicide siduron (Tupersan*) can be applied to the spring seeding. This is the only herbicide that can be applied to a new seeding without causing injury to germinating turf grass. When the new grass is two to two and one-half inches high, mow to one and one-half inches. Mow to the lower length to induce tillering. This will cause the sod to be denser.
Laying down sod will give an instant lawn. This is the only shortcut in establishing a new lawn. Soil preparation, liming and fertilizing are as important with sod as they are with seeding. Since the cost of sod is much higher than seed, it does not make sense to give insufficient attention to site preparation. A sodded lawn may be installed almost any time during the growing season except July and August, when water requirements may be restrictive. Sod establishment requires careful watering during the first few weeks. If the site does not have the irrigation capacity to maintain an adequate soil moisture level, seeding is wiser, since a sodding failure is more costly.
Sod should be laid over moist soil. Butt the edges tightly, staggering the joints as in laying bricks. As soon as possible, lightly roll the sod and apply water. Water daily for several days, increasing the interval between waterings through the first few weeks as the sod roots (knits) to the soil. The sod and soil must be kept moist. Loss of sod is often due to insufficient water.
As in a seeded lawn, mowing should take place when the grass is two inches high. Remove no more than one-third the growth at each cutting.
Maintaining a healthy green lawn through several growing seasons with minimal weed, crabgrass, insect and disease problems is demanding. The lawn requires continual attention and care. Good lawn maintenance should integrate several basic practices. Neglecting one practice may begin the decline of the lawn.
The soil should be tested whenever there is any doubt about the general fertility of the soil or health of the lawn. Testing every two or three years is usually sufficient.
The average lawn can be kept vigorous and competitive with one to three applications per year of lawn fertilizer at the recommended rate. One pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet is a standard rate for most brands of fertilizers.
Fertilizers vary in the availability of nutrients. Some of the materials that make up the fertilizer are water soluble readily available. These give a quick "greenup" response but will not supply nutrients over an extended period. Therefore, they might better be applied at half the suggested rate but more frequently. Organic sources of nutrients take longer to show an effect, but extend their availability over a longer period of time. They do not usually "burn" the grass. Synthetic sources of nutrients and water insoluble fertilizers have extended the period of nutrient availability but are usually slower to show results. Most fertilizers contain various mixtures of two or more sources of nutrients.
Fall fertilizing will provide greater benefit to turfgrass development than traditional spring feeding. In the fall, the grass plants store carbohydrates and develop tillers, roots and
rhizomes, thereby thickening the turf. This provides strong competition against weeds and crabgrass the following spring. Apply the fertilizer in early September and repeat in mid- to late October. Delay the traditional spring fertilizing until mid- to late May.
Ground or agricultural limestone is required on most Connecticut soils to maintain a pH of about 6.5. The soil's pH (the measure of soil acidity/alkalinity) can be determined by a soil test. If the pH is too low (too acid), some essential plant nutrients may remain in a form unavailable to the plant roots. At the target level of pH 6.5, most nutrients are at an optimum level of availability to grass roots.
The application of limestone will not show immediate, dramatic results since limestone is relatively insoluble. The finer the limestone particles are, the quicker they will raise the pH. It takes a few months for an application of limestone to alter the pH in the top one inch of soil. Limestone may be applied at any time the soil is not frozen. A finely-ground limestone applied to a warm, moist soil will react faster than a coarsely-ground limestone to a dry and/or cold soil.
Most of the limestone used in Connecticut is dolomite or dolomitic limestone. This means the liming material is a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbonates. Calcite limestone contains only calcium carbonate. Because most of the soil in Connecticut is low in magnesium, the dolomite or dolomitic form is preferred. The use of hydrated lime or quicklime is discouraged.
Probably the most inexpensive lawn maintenance practice is mowing. Keep the mower blades sharp. Dull blades do not cut the grass but beat it off. This results in the flailed grass turning brown, giving a dull yellow-brown appearance to the lawn. Furthermore, dull mower blades increase gasoline consumption by as much as 25 percent.
Set the mower so that it is cutting at a height of not less than one and one-half inches. The higher the plant is allowed to grow, the deeper the root system. With a deep root system, the plant has a greater reserve of soil moisture and nutrients to draw upon. This is particularly important during the summer months when moisture may be deficient. Grass that is allowed to reach a reasonable height will tolerate stress conditions better than a lawn that is cut shorter than one and one-half inches.
Ideally, when a lawn is mowed, no more than one-third of the total height of the plant is cut off. Thus, if the mowing height is two inches, the lawn should be mowed when it is three inches high. Removing more leaf surface than this upsets the plant balance, resulting in stress. A healthy, vigorous lawn that is not mowed until it reaches two or more inches will provide effective competition against weeds and crabgrass. These weed plants will not grow well in shade. The shade from a dense turf is often sufficient to inhibit the germination of weed seeds.
Whether or not to collect lawn clippings is a perennial question. Lawn clippings do not contribute to the problem of thatch even though they may be present. In fact, clippings recycle plant nutrients, the equivalent of one normal fertilizer application during one growing season. Lawn clippings may present a problem if the grass is allowed to grow too long and a thick carpet of clippings is left. If it is not possible to see the underlaying grass once the clippings are dried, remove the clippings.
A dense, vigorously-growing lawn is the best defense against broadleaf weeds and crabgrass. Where crabgrass is a problem, the application of any of several pre-emergent herbicides should provide excellent control. All herbicides must be applied at the right time and at the recommended rate. All pre-emergent herbicides should be applied before crabgrass seed germinates. For a rule of thumb. materials may be applied during the latter stages of forsythia bloom but before lilac bloom. More specific information will be stated on the label. Following an herbicide application, avoid raking, aerating or slicing which will disturb the protective chemical barrier. If perennial weeds become a problem, it may be necessary to use a herbicide.
Edmond L. Marrotte, Consumer Horticulturist
*New varieties of all species will continue to be introduced and should receive consideration.
**Mention of a varietal name does not constitute endorsement of these seeds by the Extension System.
The information in this material is for educational purposes. The recommendations contained are based on the best available knowledge at the time of printing. Any reference to commercial products, trade or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended. The Cooperative Extension system does not guarantee or warrant the standard of any product referenced or imply approval of the product to the exclusion of others which also may be available.All agrochemicals/pesticides listed are registered for suggested uses in accordance with federal and Connecticut state laws and regulations as of the date of printing. If the information does not agree with current labeling, follow the label instructions. The label is the law.Warning! Agrochemicals/pesticides are dangerous. Read and follow all instructions and safety precautions on labels. Carefully handle and store agrochemicals/pesticides in originally labeled containers immediately in a safe manner and place. Contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for current regulations.The user of this information assumes all risks for personal injury or property damage.Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kirklyn M. Kerr, Director, Cooperative Extension System, The University of Connecticut, Storrs. The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System offers its programs to persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an equal opportunity employer.