Lawn Care
 



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The Groundwork
Maintaining and Sustaining
Starting a Lawn


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Starting a Lawn


The key to a healthy lawn in the future is good preparation in the beginning, so take the time to do it right the first time. Years from now, you'll be glad you did.

Much More Than Dirt
Soil is much more than dirt. Healthy soil has good drainage, structure and nutrient balance.Keep Chemicals Out of Lake Whatcom

Drainage troubles often stem from problems most easily corrected before seeding your lawn. Subsoil must be able to drain effectively. Gravelly subsoil is the best because spaces between small rocks promote good drainage. If you have a subsoil type that does not drain well, like clay, consider installing a properly designed and constructed drainage tile system.

Cover the subsoil with 6 inches to 1 foot loam soil, a mixture of sand or silt and clay. Too much of one soil type will lead to watering and drainage problems. Sandy soil cannot hold onto water or nutrients very long and clay soil increases runoff hazards because of slow infiltration of water. Adding organic materials such as compost or peat moss can improve soil structure, allowing for adequate drainage.

The last step to ensure healthy soil is proper fertilization. A soil test lets you know what nutrients need to be replaced and if the pH, or acidity, needs adjusting. If phosphate or lime needs to be added, this should be done before seeding. Other nutrients can be added before or afterwards.

Because watershed residents live in a sensitive area, soil tests are strongly encouraged to prevent excess nutrients from leaching into the lake. The following guidelines provide a margin of safety for the water, but applying fertilizers based on soil testing greatly reduces your risk of contaminating Lake Whatcom.

Apply a 19-26-5 or similar "lawn starter" fertilizer at 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 sq.ft. Two to four weeks after germination, apply additional fertilizer, up to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 sq.ft., with at least 50% slow-release nitrogen. Read fertilizer bags carefully to determine the percentage of slow release nitrogen.Knowing Your Soil

Sod or Seed
When deciding between sod and seed, consider several factors: erosion control, lawn use, and your budget. If you have an erosion problem, sod is one of the best ways to quickly get it under control. Sod is also a good choice if you'll need to use your lawn soon. You must treat newly laid sod gently until it is established, but this takes less time than lawn establishment from seed. On the other hand, sod is expensive compared to grass seed.

Sodding Suggestions
Purchase quality sod that has been freshly cut. Try to use sod that has been grown on a similar type of soil as the site soil to reduce potential incompatibility problems. Install sod right away, in a staggered pattern, similar to laying bricks. Try not to stretch the sod and avoid leaving gaps between pieces because this will invite weeds.

New sod should be watered deeply, enough to wet the entire root zone, after it is installed and frequently until it is established. Deep waterings enhance root health. Mow as you would an established lawn, removing only one-third of the blade at a time. Aeration is suggested after the sod has firmly rooted to the soil.

Sowing Seeds
Get your seeds off to a good start. First, don't plant turf in areas where it just won't do well. Landscape with something else if areas are shady, steep, or not very wide. Consider options other than grass if spots have unfixable drainage problems or will be trampled on all the time. Once you've decided where the turf should go, smooth out those surfaces. Grade, rake, and smooth the areas to ensure a level lawn.

Seed blends made of perennial ryegrass and about 20-30% fine fescue are recommended for most lawns because they complement each other well and grow vigorously in the Pacific Northwest. Follow package directions for seeding rates. It's best to distribute the seeds in a criss-cross pattern. For example, sow half the seeds in a north-south direction, and then seed the rest going east to west. Save some seed for patching up thin spots later. Gently rake the seeds ¼" into the soil and then go over with a lawn roller half full of water. For the next 7-10 days, keep the surface moist by watering several times a day for short periods. If seeds dry out, not as many will survive.

Be Gentle
Lawns with newly emerging grass blades are delicate. After germination, decrease watering frequency to twice per day, then once, then every other day, and so on as needed. Young lawns cannot tolerate harsh chemicals, so don't apply pesticides or fertilizers before it's six weeks old. After six weeks you can start mowing to build crowns and increase turf density.
Do not allow heavy use for at least three months. Treating your new lawn gently now will make your turf healthy later, which is good for you and Lake Whatcom.

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For more information, contact Scarlet Tang or Todd Murray
WSU Cooperative Extension (360) 676-6736
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