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IN THE YARD: Steps and calculations to sow, grow a new lawn


STUART SUTPHIN Contributing columnist

This was the complete loss of a small wooded area beside my home. I have spent the spring and summer cleaning the area up so I can sow grass this fall and have a new lawn. I prefer this as it would have taken too long to bring up a crop of trees to restore that woodlot.

I thought someone my might benefit from the steps I will follow to establish this new lawn. In addition, a lot of the previously existing lawn areas were severely damaged by the tree removal and by the construction equipment used to make repairs after that February storm.

The first step was to measure the areas where I will be planting grass. This will help me to determine how much grass seed I will need. This is a simple calculation. Take the average length and multiply by the average width to determine how many square feet are involved.

Since these areas are not squares — nor are they rectangles — I took several measurements and averaged them. I didn’t run out and buy a 200-foot measuring tape for this because the measurements do not need to be exact. I know each of my footsteps covers approximately 2 ½ feet. I stepped off each distance, then multiplied by 2 ½ to get the approximate length and width measurements.

This does not need to be rocket science. As long as the measurements are reasonably close, it will work. I learned the new lawn will be approximately 10,000 square feet or 10 units of 1,000 square feet (I’ll explain why in a minute).

I also learned I have approximately eight units of existing lawn that need not be restored.

Back in the spring, I knew I would need to know how much lime and fertilizer I would need for the projects. Instead of waiting until the last moment, I took soil samples and sent them off to the Virginia Tech Soils Testing Lab in Blacksburg. It took only a week to get the results back from those tests. For the new lawn, I will need approximately 170 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet. For the other areas, I only needed 60 pounds of lime as I had limed my lawns about three years ago.

The test results also included general information about what fertilizers to use, mostly a complete fertilizer with high amounts of phosphorous and potassium to help the new grass establish its roots. The formulation I will be looking for is 17-17-17 or something close to that.

It takes about one to three months for lime to enter into and react with the soil. Also, it is best not to apply large amounts at one time, since it will likely either wash away or blow away. I put the whole amount needed for the areas I am restoring in July. I put 60 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the new lawn area in July with the rest going in planned applications in September and December.

A new lawn needs about 8 to 10 pounds of fescue grass seed per 1,000 square feet. To restore the existing lawn areas, I estimate I will need 5 to 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet. I plan to sow the seed either in mid-September or early October. Fescue is a cool-season grass and will not germinate if the soil is too warm. I want the nighttime temperatures to drop at least into the low 60s (mid-50s is even better). I also want some rain to keep the soil moist. I live in a rural area and get my water from a well, so irrigation is not feasible for me.

I also want to sow the grass early enough so that it will germinate and take root before I begin raking leaves. There’s no sense in sowing a lot of seed if it will just be picked up along with the leaves.

I have already applied 1,080 pounds of lime (27 bags of 40 pounds each). I will need another 15 bags of lime in September and another 13 bags in December. The fertilizer I am looking at will cover about 5,000 square feet per bag so I will need four bags. I will need 100 pounds of grass seed for the new lawn and 50 pounds for the areas I am restoring for a total of 150 pounds.

I prefer to use blends of grass seed to enhance disease protection and appearance. I will probably use 100 pounds of a fine fescue blend (Rebel, Scotts, Pennington or a similar mixture) and 50 pounds of good old Kentucky 31 (K-31) to add to the texture. I will be sure to check the expiration dates on the seeds and the weed content. I used some cheap seed last spring as a temporary measure and got mostly annual bluegrass. Annual bluegrass comes up pretty in the spring but it dies out in the hot summer and leaves large bare spots in the lawn. Another name for annual bluegrass is Poa annua.

Here’s to a successful lawn.

Enjoy your garden.