Tips & Techniques
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Grass Seed 101: Filling in the Bare Spots

Lawn & Yard Care

By Marty Ross

Growing grass from seed is easy and economical, but it requires a commitment at the start. To achieve the desired effect—a pretty and healthy green lawn—choose the right seed for your climate and your site, prepare the soil, sow properly, and take care of your investment by watering diligently until the seedlings take hold.

When to Seed

The best time to sow seeds for a new lawn isn’t necessarily in spring. In areas with cold winters, cool-season lawns are most common. For the best results, they should be seeded in late summer or early fall. If you live in an area where winters are mild, the warm-season lawn varieties are most common, and the best time to sow seed is in spring or early summer, when temperatures are above 65 degrees.

Whether you live in a cold or mild-winter climate, or in the wide transition area in between (where both types of grass are grown), spring is a good time to patch bare spots.

Start With Research

Bare spots can be a problem. Weeds, which compete with grass for moisture and nutrients in the soil, are quick to colonize where the lawn is thin. Runoff can also be significant, especially in big bare spots, and rapid runoff can erode your topsoil.

To patch the lawn—or to start a new lawn from seed at the appropriate time for your area—start by checking with your local extension service to find out the best kind of seed to plant and when to plant it. An Internet search on grass seed, extension and your state’s name will lead to articles by your area’s turf experts. Make a note of the grassseed types they recommend, and take the list with you to a garden shop.

Patch Bare Spots

Here’s how to deal with bare spots. If you’re starting a new lawn from seed, the steps are basically the same, only on a larger scale:

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Before you plant, prepare the soil. Pull weeds, if necessary, and roughen the soil surface with a rake to improve soil contact and give the seedlings a better chance to establish their roots quickly.

For small areas, sowing by hand is fine. Ideally, you should cover the ground with about 10-15 seeds per square inch, depending on the type of grass you’re growing. Follow the directions on the label. More is not better; too many seeds will result in weak and spindly grass plants.

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A good technique is to mix one part seed and three parts potting soil in a bucket—use a coffee mug to measure—and then spread the mixture evenly on the bare soil.

Cover the seeded area lightly with fine compost, which adds a few nutrients for the emerging seedlings, and then walk on it to tamp it all down. Check the soles of your shoes first—flat-soled sneakers are good for this job: you’ll get good contact between the seeds and soil.

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Now, water well. A nozzle with a light spray, such as the “flower” pattern on Gilmour’s Thumb Control Watering Nozzle, will soak the seeds and soil without washing anything away. You want a gentle spray, so don’t hold the nozzle too close to the ground or turn the water on too high. You can adjust the flow with the thumb control lever on the nozzle.

While the seeds are germinating, water them once or even twice a day with a nozzle or use a small stationary sprinkler with a spray head just large enough to cover the patched area, leaving it on for only a few minutes before moving on to the next spot. Water just enough to keep the spots moist.

As the seedlings emerge and grow, continue to water regularly. The taller the grass grows, the longer the roots get. As it grows, it will be able to tap moisture further down the soil, so you can gradually taper off with the watering.

Wait to mow the new grass until most of the seedlings in the new area are about three inches tall. Follow your area extension office’s recommendations for fertilizing. It may not even be necessary.

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In time, the new grass plants will send their roots deep into the soil, and they will not need much water. In dry spells, water with a rectangular pattern sprinkler. You can set the sprinkler to water an area up to 60 feet wide by 67 feet long, or squeeze the arrow-shaped tabs to limit the watering to an area only eight feet wide. Control the length of the spray by adjusting the dials at the base of the sprinkler. When you have the sprinkler adjusted properly, all the water will fall on the lawn where it’s needed, and you won’t waste a drop.

 

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