Cool Season Grasses for a Winter Lawn

Cool Season GrassesThere's just something about a velvety lawn that captures the American heart. For me a swathe of lush green grass symbolizes leisure time - a place to set up a lawn chair and read, play a game of croquet or walk barefoot, feeling the cool blades between my toes.

In terms of garden design, lawns offer a smooth carpet-like texture to balance out the frenetic blooms and foliage in the beds and borders. In my own garden I have a wide path of lawn that cuts through the middle of two mixed borders. And in the middle of the rondel garden, I have a large circle of zoyisa grass that anchors four bordering beds filled with colorful annuals and perennials.

In my zone 7 garden I grow the warm season grass called zoysia Cavalier'. Similar to Bermunda and St. Augustine it stays green all summer, but goes dormant in winter. This year I've decided to try my hand at overseeding my lawn with a cool season grass such as fescue, rye or bluegrass. These types of grasses will stay green throughout winter and well into spring. If you live a cooler climate, these grasses will stay green for you all year round.

To get some advice about overseeding my lawn I visited the experts at Pennington Seed. I discovered that these folks know everything there is to know about growing and maintaining beautiful grass.

I toured their research farm in Portland, Oregon to get some tips for greening up my lawn for winter with cool season grasses. Here's some of the information they passed along.

Autumn is the Perfect Time to Start
Late summer through mid-October is a great time to establish a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn. All warm season grasses can be overseeded in fall with the exception of centipede grass. Centipede resents the root competition. You'll want to sow the seeds about 45 days before the first hard frost. Although cool season grasses can be sown in spring, fall is even better. The soil is still warm from summer, but the air is cooler - perfect conditions for germination. Plus when grass seed is planted in the fall, the seedlings have the entire fall and spring to become established before hot, dry summer weather sets in.

Test Your Soil
Test the soil with a simple pH soil kit to check if your soil is acid or alkaline. If acid (a pH of 6 or less), apply a fast-acting dolomite lime at the rate of 50 pounds per 1000 square feet. If alkaline (a pH of 7 or higher), apply a granular gypsum at the rate of 50 lbs per 1,000 square feet.

Prepare the Area
For overseeding a lawn, mow the existing grass as closely as possible.

Lightly rake or aerate the soil where the turf is growing to allow the new seed to make contact with the soil. If your lawn has a heavy thatch (compacted dead grass and roots) it will need to be removed.

Sowing the Seeds
For even coverage of the grass seed use a spreader. If you don't want to purchase a spreader, most garden centers will rent you one for the day. A drop spreader is preferable to a broadcast spreader because it allows for better control of where the seed is distributed, which is especially important if you are sowing around flower beds.

Calibrate the amount of seed to be broadcast before you get started. You will find the recommended application rate on the grass seed package, adjust the spreader accordingly.

Rake the grass seed into the area to get good seed to soil contact.

Water the area.

Do not apply any type of herbicide or pre-emergent until approximately 3-4 weeks after planting. These chemicals can burn the tender seedlings.

Germination
Germination time for grass seed varies from 7-21 days, depending on soil temperatures and seed species. During this time be sure to keep the area consistently moist.

Water lightly several times a day until the seedlings are about 1 inch tall. At this point the grass should be watered thoroughly once a day. Maintain this schedule until the grass has been cut 3 times.

Grass should be cut for the first time when it has reached 3-4". Mower blade should be sharp. After the third cutting, water 1-2 times per week, applying a total of 1" of water.

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