As soon as construction and rough grading is complete, it’s time to decide on finish grade work. For lawns in East Tennessee and Northwest Virginia that have an abundance of red clay, a gently sloping lawn is better than a level one. For a healthy lawn, it is essential that the run-off be directed away from the home’s foundation to designated drainage areas.
1) Finish grading will accomplish several things:
(a) final smoothing of the surface soil
(b) addition of good topsoil, if needed, to a final depth of approximately 12″;
c) final removal of loose rocks, roots, etc.
2) Get a soil test. This will guide your decisions for soil amendments. In most cases, you will find the need to add “lime” (at the rate of 50 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft.) and superphosphate (at the rate of 2-3 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft.). Work these minerals into the soil.
3) The next step is seed bed preparation
. Loosen the soil to a depth of 8″. If heavy equipment was used during construction or finish grading, you will need to use power rototillers, etc., to break up clods and compacted soil. This is important for grass root penetration. At this point, hand raking (or small tractor with a finish rake for large areas) will complete the task.
4) To obtain the best result on your lawn, you need to use the best seed. “Kentucky 31″ is acceptable for minor use or heavy traffic areas. However, front lawns, or places where you will stroll and where green views are important, are a different matter. USE THE BEST SEED! The cost of the seed is only 5% of the cost of the total lawn installation. Even though “Kentucky 31″ is less expensive (about $1.00 per pound), the best seed is only about $2.00 per pound, and the difference is dramatic!
5) Sow the seed at the recommended rate; more is not better. The goal is to get one live grass plant per square inch. Usually, 8-10 lbs. per 1,000 square feet of hybrid fescue is the correct ratio. To get good, even coverage, use a seeder designed for sowing grass.
6) Lightly rake the seed until it is barely covered with soil. Cover the soil with one bale of straw per 800 1,000 sq. ft. Spread the straw so that 40% of the soil is still showing.
7) Keep the seed moist by lightly watering 2 or 3 times each week. This can vary with the time of year and weather conditions. Don’t soak the soil; use just enough water to moisten the top ½”.
8) Once the grass seed has germinated, water deeply with the equivalent of 1″ of water per application. This will soak through to the roots to help them grow deeply. Do not water again until the soil surface appears dry, but is still moist just below the surface. Watering is somewhat of an art, but the goal now is to encourage deep roots, i.e., a drought-tolerant lawn. Water during each week of the first growing season, unless you have received the equivalent of 1″ or more of rainfall per week.
9) When the grass is 3″ tall, mow your lawn so that 1/3rd of the grass blade is removed. Do this as often as needed, usually once per week in the spring and early summer.
10) Fertilize with a complete, slow-release lawn food. Slow release nitrogen fertilizer is the key ingredient as a turf fertilizer. “10-10-10″ farm fertilizer is fine for a garden, but will do a poor job on a lawn. For best results, follow an established program that is available at your local garden center.
11) Apply lime to keep the soil pH around 6.5, usually once a year in this area.
12) Keeping the soil pH and fertility at the correct levels, in addition to proper soil preparation initially, help prevent weed and disease problems. Water your lawn during periods of prolonged drought and enjoy!