I am receiving many questions about seeding fescue this September. September is the best time to seed or overseed tall fescue. You need about six weeks of good root growth going into winter to achieve a solid stand. Therefore, if your plan is to plant this year, the time is now!
After you have eliminated unwanted plants and weeds like bermudagrass and broadleaf weeds, the keys to successful lawn seeding are proper rates, even dispersal, good seed to soil contact, and proper watering. Evenness is best achieved by carefully calibrating the seeder or by adjusting the seeder to a low setting and making several passes to ensure even distribution. Seeding a little on the heavy side with close overlapping is better than missing areas altogether, especially for the bunch-type tall fescue, which does not spread. Multiple seeder passes in opposite directions should help avoid this problem.
A more serious error in seeding is using the improper rate. For tall fescue, aim for 6 to 8 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet for new areas and about half as much for overseeding or seeding areas in the shade.
Kentucky bluegrass is much smaller seed, so less is needed for establishment. Use 2 to 3 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet for a new lawn and half that for overseeding or shady areas.
Using too much seed results in a lawn more prone to disease and damage from stress. The best way to avoid such a mistake is to determine the square footage of the yard first, then calculate the amount of seed. Using too little seed can also be detrimental and result in clumpy turf that is not as visually pleasing.
Establishing good seed-to-soil contact is essential for good germination rates. Slit seeders achieve good contact at the time of seeding by dropping seed directly behind the blade that slices a furrow into the soil. Packing wheels then follow to close the furrow. The same result can be accomplished by using a verticut before broadcasting the seed, and then verticutting a second time.
Core aerators can also be used to seed grass. Go over an area at least three times in different directions, then broadcast the seed. Germination will occur in the aeration holes. Because those holes stay moister than a traditional seedbed, this method requires less watering.
If the soil that has been worked by a rototiller, firm the soil with a roller or lawn tractor and use light hand raking to mix the seed into the soil. A leaf rake often works better than a garden rake because it mixes seed more shallowly.
Water newly planted areas lightly, but often. Keep soil constantly moist but not waterlogged. During hot days, a new lawn may need to be watered three times a day. If watered less, germination will be slowed. Watering three times per day should only be done during the germination period. Cool, calm days may require watering only every couple of days.
As the grass plants come up, gradually decrease watering to once a week if there is no rain. Let the plants tell you when to water. If you can push the blades down and they don't spring back up quickly, the lawn needs water. Once seed sprouts, try to minimize traffic (foot, mower, dog, etc.) seeded areas receive until the seedlings are a little more robust and ready to be mowed. Begin mowing once seedlings reach 3 to 4 inches tall.
— Scott Eckert is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent for Harvey County. Horticulture is his specialty. The Harvey County Extension Office can be contacted at 284-6930.