Advice on Overseeding Existing Lawn and more - Long Post

melosgirl(7)March 26, 2008

I am preparing to overseed my lawn. I have approx. 1/2 acre to prepare. We have an irrigation system with 12 zones. My lawn yellowed over this winter. I would like advice on what is the most cost-effective method to overseed and succeed in getting a dark green lawn. I would also appreciate advice on what type of seed would produce a dark green, thick carpet of lawn that is drought resistant and will withstand full sun for about 7 hours a day. Late last summer, I was up to watering some of our zones which are in full sun 20 minutes each, to prevent the grass from frying to a crisp. The water bill for that quarter was almost $750! Can I perform this overseeding without having to rent equipment? My preliminary plan was to cut the present lawn short (thus removing all the dead stuff) spreading seed with our spreader, and topping it off with starter fertilizer. I am skipping the the preemergent since I used it last year, as I got plenty of weeds nonetheless. I would be most appreciative of any advice you could offer.

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There is a lot of great advice in the lawn care and organic lawn care forums.

Fall is really the best time to overseed. Young grass copes better by being planted in late August or September and holds through the winter better than grass planted in April that has to deal with heat in July.

Do you know what kind of grass you have now?

Judging by what you said about full sun, it sounds like there are few shady areas.

Turf Type Tall Fescue is probably the best drought resistent grass that can also have a nice color and texture.

Kentucky Bluegrass knits together the best and has the best appearance and color of cool season grasses, but also requires the most fertilizer and regular watering or it will go dormant.

Overseeding is most effective when you rent an overseeding machine. It will cut shallow grooves in the soil where the grass seed will germinate much more readily. It's not a tough machine to operate and costs about $60 per day.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 4:23PM
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Kelleynelson: Thanks for the suggestions. There is no shade, except for what's created by the house's own shadow on one side. Other than that, it is full, unrelenting sun all day. If I hold off on seeding until the fall, what would you recommend to do now to green it up and get it healthy looking? The lawn is presently primarily what the builder put down two years ago, along with some Lesco seed we added last year after aerating. Do you recommend the preemergent? Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 5:49PM
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Seeding after aerating will help make good places for the seed to germinate too.

Different grass species hold their winter color differently. Regardless of type of grass, a late season shot of nitrogen is needed to give the grass some energy store for winter. Just because it turned yellow doesn't mean it died, it just went dormant. Applying some urea around November, after you don't have to mow the grass every week is best.

Your grass will probably green up well during April, you just need to start feeding it and caring for it the right way.

The best thing you can do to save on water is to train your grass to have DEEP roots. This will help the grass better deal with summer heat. Frequent watering will train your grass to have shallow roots - and the top of the soil dries out first. It's best to water weekly, in one shot per zone. This also discourages weed seeds from germinating.

Feeding - I like to use organic fertilizer. It's less important that you apply it evenly, improves the quality of the soil and it works more gradually, so your lawn won't grow like crazy for a week after application.

My favorite organic fertilizer is soybean meal. It's sold as livestock feed and is cheaper than the Scotts, Preen, etc organic products you find at the garden center.

Spread around 14 pounds of any of these for each 1000 square feet of lawn area:
Soybean meal
Alfalfa meal or alfalfa feed pellets
Corn gluten meal (expensive)
Cottonseed meal

Some other organic fertilizer options are:
Ocean Gro - (Made in Ocean County)
Milorganite (Sold at home depot, garden centers)
Cockadoodle Doo (Sold at home depot, garden centers)
Converted Organics - This product is made in Woodbridge township and will be available in a month or two. It's made from food waste from Rutgers university and other local food waste producers.

I don't really like the weed and feed products. If I have a weed problem, I prefer to spot treat the weeds. I try not to use any herbicides at all if I can. Weed and feed spreads herbicides all over your lawn whether you need it or not.

Another important tip to improve your grass and reduce the amount of work you have to put into it, is to cut your grass at 3.5 inches or a bit higher. Taller grass will discourage weeds from sprouting (shade the soil) and also slow the evaporation of water from the soil so you don't have to water as much.

Hope that helps!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 10:26AM
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On the pre-emergent, do you historically have much of a weed problem?

Also, as far as Synthetic products go, I have had good experiences with Lesco. I've used their seed to good effect too.

Lesco sells an organic fertilizer called EcoSential, which is similar to cockadoodle doo, but the price was pretty outrageous. It was probably $60 per bag - I pay about $14 per 50lb bag for soybean meal.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 10:45AM
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Thank you for the great suggestions, Kelleynelson. I like the idea of soybean meal and organics in general. I have kids that play in the grass! I am in Manchester, and I don't know offhand where I might find this. There is an Agway in New Egypt (used to be) perhaps I can find it there. If the organics work more gradually, will it be long before it really greens up? I can see the new grass starting to grow under the yellow stuff we are going to mow off. Also, how often will the soybean meal need to be reapplied? Is it applied via a spreader? I guess you are suggesting that I mow, apply the soybean meal and I am ready to go? Do I need to water in the soybean meal right after application? About watering, I don't know if the lawn could survive with just once a week watering in the extreme sun. Is that what you meant by weekly watering? I agree I think I have trained the roots to remain at the surface and plan to try to reverse that for my wallet's sake. You are a wealth of information and I appreciate your taking the time to provide me this information.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 8:04AM
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Glad to help! I have an infant and dog at home too and prefer not to take chances.

The organic feeds take effect more slowly. During active growth season, I see a difference after about a week to ten days.

The grain fertilizers are broken down by microorganisms in the soil, which create available nitrogen in the soil for the plants to use. Chemical fertilizers deliver nitrogen in a form that the plants can use directly. The feed-based fertilizer has to go through the step of being broken down. These microorganisms also help improve the quality of the soil.

Agway should have this available. I am actually buying and applying my first soybean meal feeding this weekend. The cool temperatures will mean that it will take longer than the 1 week to green up, but the grass will use the soybean as soon as it's ready. (Warm enough, grass comes out of winter dormancy.)

The soybean meal is ground up soybean particles, more coarse than regular lawn fertilizer. I use a broadcast spreader rather than a drop spreader. You'll be applying a lot greater volume of soybean meal than you would synthetic fertilizer because it's a natural product, rather than the very concentrated chemical product.

The best way to apply the soybean meal is to apply half going back and forth in one direction, then to apply the other half criss-crossing 90 degrees to your first path. It's less important to spread the soybean meal evenly than it is with chemical fertilizer. You can't burn the grass by applying too much.

However, applying too much soy CAN cause a little bit of a smell as it's broken down. Applying 14 pounds per 1000 square feet should have no smell. Doing more may cause a mild odor for a couple days.

Until the meal gets wet, the breakdown process won't begin. Not watering it in immediately won't hurt anything though.

I usually feed about 4 times a year, about every 60 days.

Unless your grass is long enough it needs to be cut, I'd just drop some Soybean meal on it soon and wait for it to start growing, then cut as necessary.

On watering, you can always change the schedule slowly rather than going cold turkey to the weekly watering. Tall Fescue roots can go down a couple feet into the soil.

Here are a couple photos. First was the lawn's state when I bought my house in March of '06. Second photo is from October of '06 after overseeding in September and using the organic fertilizers. (Full disclosure, I did also use a little synthetic seed starter fertilizer in September)

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 1:46PM
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Kelleynelson, you have a great looking lawn! I am looking forward to trying your suggestions. Thanks again for information and photos.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 7:06AM
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Good luck and please post and let is know how it goes. I put down my soybean meal on Saturday morning.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 8:18AM
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I also put down the soybean meal last Saturday. Kellynelson, I know it's premature - but one week later and barely any difference. I know you said 7-10 days, so I will wait it out. This mild temperature has me anxious to green everything up already. I hope I am not making a mistake by foregoing the preemergent. I am not overrun by weeds, but I have a few spots and two big patches in the rear yard about 12' by 4'. I will keep you posted.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 3:56PM
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I know, it takes an adjustment! I haven't seen a lick of difference from by soybean meal yet, but we got some decent rains last week to water it in. Give it another week or two.

As a counterpoint, my father in law uses all synthetic fertilizer on his lawn. It's green, green, green. He actually had to cut his grass last week. The synthetic fertilizer goes right to work.

When the weather is warmer, the organics work more quickly. The micro-organisms are more active. I happen to be sprouting some grass seed indoors in a tray. I sprinkled some soybean meal in the tray on the same day I applied it outside. In a few days I could see some fuzzy fungus growing on the soybean meal and a few days after that, the grass seems to be growing quicker. (about a week after applied) It's a lot warmer in my bay window than outside :)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 10:17AM
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Starting to kick a bit here now - the grass is still waking up. I noticed some of the grass seed I sprinkled on the thin spots in the yard is also just beginning to germinate.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 11:02AM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

Your lawn is lovely, Kelley. I have been considering moving over to organics and I think this year is the year.

However, I have a problem with crabgrass and need to use a pre-emergent. I have used the corn gluten which was a lot of money. I had limited success. It seemed to delay the crab grass but not stop it; perhaps I needed to apply it more than once?

Does the soybean meal help with the prevention of crabgrass?

    Bookmark   April 21, 2008 at 11:11AM
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Hi Melo - No, Soybean doesn't have any effect on crabgrass. If you get a lot of it, a pre-emergent is probably the way to go, at least temporarily. I have been overseeding and dormant seeding, so I have had to just live with the wild onion problem I have for now and focus just on thickening the turf.

I'm not a total organic purist, I still spot spray the relatively few annoying weeds I have with some selective herbicide.

As you strengthen your grass, it will compete better against weeds.

When I got back from my business trip on Friday the lawn had really woken up. I could also see I'd missed or gone light on the sbm in a few spots, oops!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2008 at 4:36PM
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I like the idea of orgainic as well. We just built our house in July and we do have lawn but not so nice. I applied the lesco winterizing in I think in Oct. and 2wks ago applied starter fertilizer. It looks green now but I do have to overseed in some areas and will rent a overseeder. But now that I used starter fertilizer when can I start with the organic?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2011 at 3:43PM
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