Ask the master gardeners
Q: This summer’s crazy weather has wreaked havoc on my lawn. Can I plant new grass seed now, or should I wait until spring?
A: Although we often think of spring as the optimal planting time, there is a glaring exception when it comes to grass. When grass is planted in the spring the roots tend to be shallow and the plants are not strong and can be overtaken by perennial weeds. But the cooler temperatures that begin in the fall are ideal for the grass seed to plunge down deep roots and really take hold in your lawn.
There are relatively few guidelines to follow when planting grass seed. However, they are important and attention should be paid to them. If the seed is falling on compacted soil, the soil should be aerated and loosened.
Also, any lawn receiving grass seed should be free of layers of leaves. The ideal solution is to use a mulching mower in which the leaves are chopped finely and left to help fertilize the soil. Otherwise the leaves should be raked and placed in a compost pile for decomposition. Don’t be afraid of overseeding your lawn — this is great way to choke out weeds.
Fall is also the ideal time for fertilizing the lawn. A light fertilizing should occur in early fall followed by another round in late fall. Always follow directions.
The most important guideline is to be sure to keep the newly spread seeds moist. Keep careful track of your project and water well until the seeds sprout. Watch the weather forecasts. I always try to plant my seed on a sunny day, followed by a few days of rain. I also sprinkle my newly sown seed with weed-free hay so that the birds do not carry it away before it can sprout.
There seems to be a grass seed type for every condition these days. Some to take a look at include Red Fescue, which grows thick and compact; Meadow ,which is smooth stalked and resistant to wear and tear while being efficient in drought; and Bentgrass, which is the golf course favorite and still looks good when it is cold. And don’t forget that these grasses can be mixed.
But if you find you have an area that will not take grass, don’t forget that other suitable groundcovers will solve your problem. Happy spreading!
Judie Phillips, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester