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Overseeding a Lawn

When it comes to cultivating a lawn, grass seed has quite an advantage over sod. "Sod growers buy good seed, know what they're doing and supply a good product," says grass seed expert Keith Hopkins, "but they don't give you the flexibility of shade, sun or geographical area."

Sod is suited to grow in limited conditions, usually full sun, and may not always be able to withstand the diverse or changing environments in your yard. However, if you go with seed, there are many varieties or mixes of grass to suit your needs.

Researchers are constantly developing new mixes of two or more varieties of seeds to grow turf that's more resilient, environmentally friendly, cheaper and easier to maintain. One alternative to a traditional lawn includes a mix of grass and clover seed. The clover draws nitrogen from the air and into the soil to keep the grass lush and green. "It's like a hands-free automatic fertilizing system, and you don't even notice it's there," says Hopkins. The clover is hardly visible in the turf. This lawn requires mowing every three weeks or so and won’t require nearly as much water as a traditional lawn.

If you want something more traditional, try a mix of three different rye grasses. The idea here is that if one type fails, the other two will be there to fill in and keep your lawn green. Rye can also handle a lot of foot traffic and rapidly recover from wear-and-tear. It germinates rapidly and is very forgiving. If you were to reseed your lawn, use rye as an overseeding mix since it makes a great base component for most grass seed mixes.

Some lawns have dead spots, which are often related to the poor condition of the soil. "Dead dirt grows dead plants; live dirt grows live plants. We're used to going to our garden every year tilling it up, fluffing it up and planting our plants." Soil in a lawn isn't as easy to invigorate as it is for a garden. We can't avoid walking on the grass, so the next best step is aerating and adding nutrients.

Aeration is the process of creating space in compacted soil to allow water, air and nutrients into the grass' root zone. Many types of aeration tools, such as a core aerator, are available to poke small holes into the ground. Add a healthy dose of compost to fill in the holes and add nutrients to the soil.

In smaller areas, gently rake the compost into the small crevices created during the aeration process. Scatter grass seed in a criss-cross pattern over the lawn for even coverage. Do this by hand or with a handheld seed spreader. Then you can either top-dress with more soil or rake the surface again to work in the seeds, and gently tamp the soil down.

When seeding a large area, spreading tools will help broadcast the seed more evenly than with your hands. Be sure to work it back-and-forth and side-to-side for full coverage. Then dress the area with topsoil.

The seed needs to be evenly moist with 15 minutes of light watering, once or twice a day for the next week or two. When the new grass is ready for its first mowing, switch back to deep watering.

Before purchasing grass seed, do your homework. The best seed grows the best lawn. Ask questions because it all looks the same in the bag. Once you plant it, it's yours, and it's hard to get back out. Find out what's available for the growing conditions. Consider if the area is in sun vs. shade and receives a lot of or a little foot traffic. Carefully read the seed package label to check its quality and look for seed with a weed factor of zero.

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