After the contractors left late last summer, our back yard was a mess of tire ruts, torn up sod and exposed soil. Not that we had a great lawn to start with. We inherited the bumpy, rocky, weedy lawn when we bought the house and had done nothing to improve it. I viewed the construction aftermath as an opportunity to improve our turf. The timing was perfect.
In New England and other cold-winter climates, August and September are the best months to sow grass for several reasons:
- Grass seed germinates and grows best when the soil is still warm, but the nights are cool
- Cool, damp fall weather means less watering
- Roots grow until the ground freezes in November and resume in early spring
- The lawn will be ready for foot traffic and regular mowing by May
- There is much less competition from weeds
We repaired the ruts and compaction by spreading an inch or two of compost over the area and rototilling it into the top few inches of soil. An energetic workout with a garden rake took care of the rocks, big weeds and clumps of old turf. A gentler raking smoothed the surface and prepared it for seeding. Choosing the right grass seed was more complicated than I expected because I found so many choices and the prices varied considerably. Some blends listed generic turf grass species like bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Better mixes contained named varieties of two or more grass species, such as Abbey Kentucky bluegrass, Pennlawn creeping red fescue, and Buccaneer perennial ryegrass. These new grass varieties resist insects and disease, tolerate heavy foot traffic, need less water and fertilizer, grow more slowly and have a dark-green color, which means less work and a healthier lawn.
After all the work to prepare the soil, I decided to buy the best seed, even if it appeared to cost more. Surprise! The most expensive seed per pound actually turned out to be the least expensive per square foot of coverage, based on the recommended rate listed on the labels. After calculating the cost per square foot of coverage on competing packages, I found that we needed only ten pounds and $30 worth of the more expensive seed to cover our yard. The less-expensive generic seed called for twenty pounds to cover the same area for a cost of $40.
You get what you pay for with grass seed. A year later we can see that we made a good choice. The new lawn looks so much darker and more lush than the front yard that we may tackle that one next year. Maybe.