The Right Grass
Another key is to select the best grass for the job. Here again, the county extension service is invaluable for advice. Consider aesthetics such as color, texture, and winter appearance, as well as tolerance to heat, cold, drought, moisture, compaction, sun and shade.
Also, do a realistic assessment of the maintenance you’re willing to perform. Will you do the constant trimming, watering, and fertilizing needed for a refined turf such as bentgrass? Or would you prefer to kick back in your hammock and watch your buffalograss grow?
Grasses are separated into two broad categories: warm season or cool season. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda, zoysia, centipede, and St. Augustine, green up slowly in spring and hit their stride during the heat of summer. When the fall frost arrives, they go dormant and turn brown. If you want to seed or sod with a warm-season grass, it’s best to get started in late summer or early fall. Cool-season grasses, such as fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and ryegrass, grow actively during the cool weather of spring and fall when temperatures range from 65°F to 75°F, so you can start them a bit later in fall.
Getting a jump on a new lawn is particularly important when seeding. The soil temperature several inches below the surface needs to be above 55°F for most types of grass seed to germinate. “You want seedlings to have some maturity before winter hits,” Fender says. “If you can have the seed on the ground about 30 days before your first hard freeze, you’ll be OK.”
Sod Versus Seed
Homeowners have two basic choices for creating a new lawn: seed or sod. Seed offers a wider variety of turf types and many seed mixtures formulated for sun or shade. With several grass varieties in a single bag, one or more is likely to thrive in your yard. Check the package label for named cultivars, a current “sell by” date, a germination rate of 85 percent or more, and a weed seed percentage of close to 0.01 percent.
The biggest draw of seed is lower cost. Depending on the variety of grass you select, you can seed a 1,000-square-foot area for approximately $20. It costs close to $200 to sod the same area.
Sod, however, does provide instant gratification. It only takes a few weeks for the seams to grow together into a picture-perfect lawn. Sod also prevents erosion on slopes better than seeding, and a solid blanket of sod over bare soil smothers most weed seeds. While fewer types of grass are available as sod, many refined hybrids are grown only that way. For example, common Bermuda grass is available as inexpensive seed, but the denser, fine-texture ‘Tifway’ Bermuda grass is sterile, so it only reproduces vegetatively
After your lawn is in place, you’ll need to establish a maintenance regimen that includes mowing, irrigation, fertilization, aeration, and weed control. It might seem like a lot, but just consider all it does for you. Lawns absorb air and noise pollution, control erosion, generate oxygen, give kids and pets room to run, and best of all, they look great doing it.