The Need For Seed

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If your lawn looks awful, tired, worn, thin and generally not something you’re proud of or happy with, the next four weeks are the best time of the year to do something about it.Unless you are going to resod your entire lawn, don’t expect a quick fix. But if you’re willing to spend some time and some money and follow through for two or three years, then there’s a new method of lawn renovation that might be just what you need.

This new method is called “repetitive overseeding” and it was developed by David Chinery, the senior resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Of Rensselaer County. He worked with Dr. Frank Rossi at Cornell and Rick Harper who, at the time, was with the Westchester Extension office and is now teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Three great people with great credentials.

The goal of the project was to find a way to develop good lawns without the repetitive use of pesticides to control weeds and to establish a lawn that would have a good degree of resistance to insect and disease problems.

The genesis of this new method for lawn renovation comes from the old, standard way we have had our lawns renovated using a combination of power raking, core aeration and dropping seed onto the rough that’s been created as a result. The seed settles into the nooks and crannies developed by the mechanical disturbance, and when you add water and the seed comes into contact with the soil, a certain amount of the seed germinates. The process isn’t cheap though and some recent research has shown that core aeration can be relatively ineffective and even pointless in our sandy soils.

So Mr. Chinery had the thought that by repetitively applying seed directly to lawn that’s been compromised—by weeds, the effects of disease and insect problems—that a good portion of the seed would make contact with the soil and germinate. He began to experiment based the theoretical method developed by Cornell and Iowa State.

Using perennial rye grass, which germinates faster than Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues, he tried this method on high school sports fields, home lawns and on bare soil. He noted that this method is particularly effective when there is ample rain or irrigation.

Now I wish I could tell you that conclusive university research has shown this method to be as effective as any other method of lawn renovation but I can’t. What I can say is that there are a lot of positive comments about the method and it may well be worth trying, especially if you are looking to develop a healthy lawn and use fewer pesticides at the same time.

If you’d like to know more about repetitive overseeding, you can access Mr. Chinery’s brochure at nysipm.cornell.edu/grantspgm/projects/proj09/orn/chinery.pdf. Remember though that this is not a one-shot deal and you may have to repeat the process for a few years.

Also, when buying the perennial rye grass seed try to get a blend of several different types of perennial rye grass, as blends perform much better than just one type. Many local garden centers will have prepared blends or can make them for you on the spot.

Which brings me to my lawn. I’m completely at the mercy of the weather. While I water my perennial gardens I simply don’t have the time to drag around the hoses or pay for the water it would take to keep my little piece of heaven green from May through October. As a result, if we go for two weeks or more without rain my lawn looks like, well not nice.

I still experiment a lot, though. I do some spot weeding and I’m pretty religious about getting my organic fertilizer down three times a season (about 2 pounds of nitrogen per year per 1,000 square feet). And I never ever pick up my clippings.

I do screw up though.

My son Wyatt usually does the cutting. But as he’s gotten older, having him around on the weekend to mow has become a challenge. So now I’ve had to do the cutting a few times.

Early in August I set the height level at ‘M.’ He later told me he always set it closer to ‘H.’

In the end, I did a good job of scalping the lawn. And there were clippings all over the place that I had to rake up.

The general consensus is that in the heat of the summer, a lawn should be cut on high to provide some shade to the root zone. Try to keep it around 2½ to 3 inches tall.

After my mowing disaster, the lawn looked awful. And then it didn’t rain. Thankfully, a week later we had nearly 2 inches of rain, but then it got really cool.

A lawn loves it when it’s gotten plenty of water with cool nights and warm days. Within two weeks of my scalping the, it lawn looked terrific—from a distance. From the distance of the road, driveway or the front porch it looked lush, green and the envy of every dog looking to plant a burn spot. Up close, not so much.

Walking the lawn tells a different story. You see all kinds of weeds, including patches of violets, ground ivy, a crabgrass here a crabgrass there and some plantain.

I could easily spray for the weeds but it’s so much easier just to step back and not look so carefully. After all, it still looks great from the porch, the road and the driveway.

I will do some spot weeding though. And yes, I will use a chemical.

Remember, I said spot weeding. I won’t be applying a herbicide to my entire lawn. Today even the large corporate lawn care companies seem to be abandoning the old spray-the-whole-lawn technique and instead adopting the spot-spray-as-needed approach.

And yes, I’ll even use a three-way herbicide that has 2,4-D in it. I’m a rational moderate, not a radical, when it comes to my horticultural politics. I try to protect the environment as well as that green space around my house that I call a lawn.

Oh, I’ve been doing repetitive overseeding for three years. That probably helps the most.

Keep growing.

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