This guide includes all the steps involved in creating a beautiful lawn in the Central Virginia area. Beginning with establishing a new lawn, the guide will take you step by step through the process of turning any lawn into something to be proud of.
The best time to establish a new lawn or renovate an existing one is in the early Fall. The ideal time is between August 15 and October 15. This allows the turf time to become established while growing conditions are optimal. Your lawn will have close to a year of growth before having to contend with the heat and stress of Summer. If waiting for Fall is not practical for you, good results are also possible between March 15 and May 15. If you choose sod, your lawn can be installed any time the ground isn't frozen.
Whether starting from scratch or renovating, one of the most important factors governing your success is the soil. A soil test is essential for determining your pH and nutrient levels. Knowing and correcting the condition of your soil can save you time, money, and frustration as you build your lawn. Inexpensive testing kits are available for you to test your soil your self, or we can send it to a professional laboratory for analysis.
A major factor determining the overall performance and quality of your lawn is the type of seed you select. Seed should be considered as an investment. Some varieties and types of grass seem inexpensive initially, but may not be the most economical choice in the long run. The cost of doing it right the first time is minimal compared with the expense of correcting mistakes later on.
The best type of grass for the Central Virginia area is tall fescue. There are a lot of varieties out there. "Snow's Supreme Blend" is a combination of three of these varieties we feel will consistently perform in this part of Virginia. Snow's has developed this blend with our suppliers so that you can be assured of top-rated varieties without having to keep track of the ever-changing variety names. We have a second blend called "Dense Shade" specifically formulated for shady areas.
Once you have tested your soil and selected your seed, the next step is preparing your soil for planting. Follow the recommendations from your soil test results to correct the pH of your soil by adding the proper amounts of lime. The lime should be incorporated into the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. Where this is impractical, rake it into the surface of the soil or core aerate first to allow the lime to get into the soil. A proper pH of between 6.5 and 7.0 is essential for good root growth and a healthy turf.
The soil should be loosened before the seed is spread. For a new lawn, a seed bed should be prepared by rototilling or power raking the soil to loosen the top layers. A balanced seed starting fertilizer should also be incorporated into the soil to provide the proper nutrition for the developing seed. The soil should then be raked out and smoothed to a fine, level grade, breaking up any clods and removing rocks, sticks, roots, and other debris that will interfere with the new grass.
Spread the seed at a rate of 4-6 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Sowing a little thinly to start is best. You can always add a little more later to thicken the stand, but planting too dense a turf spells trouble later on. The seedlings will tend to choke each other out as they grow and compete for space, light, water, and nutrient. This also promotes disease development. Cover the seed with straw at a rate of one bale for every 500-600 square feet.
Keep your new seed moist by watering frequently until the seed has germinated. This may require a light sprinkling two or three times a day for up to three weeks. Without adequate moisture, the seed will not germinate properly and your results will be poor. As the new grass develops, reduce the frequency of your watering, but increase the duration. Gradually work it back until you are giving your lawn about one inch of water per week in one application. A slow, gentle watering is best, with as little run-off as possible.
Cut new grass for the first time when the blades are three to four inches tall. Maintain a three inch mowing height during cool weather and three and a half to four inches in hot, dry weather. Mowing at the proper height greatly reduces weed populations and builds drought tolerance and disease resistance. Never remove more than one inch of grass per mowing. This reduces the stress on the grass plants and eliminates the need for raking or bagging your clippings. The clippings will decompose rapidly, adding valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Always keep your mower blades sharp. Dull blades tear rather than cut and do serious damage to the turf.
Fertilizer has a greater impact on turf than just nutrition. The amount you use and the timing of the application can have a tremendous influence on the disease resistance of the turf and it's overall health and response to environmental stresses. The ideal time to fertilize your lawn is in the Fall. By fertilizing in Fall, the lawn has the nutrient it needs when it best helps the plants physiologically. As the weather cools down in the Fall, the lawn begins actively growing and storing carbohydrates in the roots for winter. Spring fertilizing can act to deplete the plant's stored energy reserve faster than it can be replenished and promote excessively vigorous growth. This requires extra mowing to keep up with growth. This condition is also ideal for disease development. In fact, for maximum disease resistance, nitrogen levels in the grass should be low entering into the stressful summer season. September, October, and December applications of a balanced, slow-release form of turf fertilizer (not agricultural grades such as 10-10-10) will provide your lawn with optimum nutrition at the times when it will be most beneficial to the turf.
As discussed above, excess nitrogen levels in the Spring and Summer are major contributors to turf diseases. True lawn diseases are caused by fungal organisms that attack the turf. The best method of control is through proper cultural practices. Fertilizing has already been discussed. Additional factors to control are free moisture on the grass blades, poor root development, and poor air circulation over the lawn. Proper watering will help control free moisture. Free water droplets on the leaf blades are essential for the germination of the fungal spores. Water once or twice a week in slow, soaking applications. Water only during the night, never in the evening or morning. The best time is between 10:00pm and about 2:00am. This allows the lawn to dry more quickly as the sun comes up, without being wet longer than the natural cycle of overnight dew. Deep watering also helps promote deep rooting as the roots travel deeper in the soil in search of moisture. Maintaining proper pH and phosphorus levels in the soil will also help to promote good strong root systems. Air movement over the turf can be enhanced by thinning trees and shrubs around and over the lawn to allow wind to flow more freely through the area. This helps to decrease humidity and free moisture levels within the turf stand. Chemical controls can help, but prevention is by far the most effective method of control.
Core aeration of your lawn every year will help to minimize soil compaction, aid nutrient and water penetration, help lime move into the soil faster, and help the thatch layer decompose faster. Only aerators that remove a plug of soil should be used. The spike or knife types only add to the compaction problems. The spaces opened up by core aeration allow air, water, lime, and fertilizer to get down through the grass and into the soil where they can be of greater benefit to the lawn. This should be done about once a year. Severely compacted lawns should be done twice a year. This procedure is best done in conjunction with Fall over seeding, fertilizing, and liming, but can be done any time.
Lawn weeds can be divided into two categories: grassy and broadleaf. The broadleaf weeds are the easiest to control because they are biologically different from grasses. Therefore, chemical controls are much easier to create. A broadleaf weed killer containing "Trimec" will generally eliminate these weeds quite effectively. Two or three applications are usually required to keep the weeds under control. The first one is made in Fall for control of cool season weeds such as chickweed, after the safety threshold has passed for any new seed that has been planted, and one or two applications in the Spring and early Summer will control warm season weeds. The second category, the grassy weeds, is more difficult. The most common grassy weed, crabgrass, can be effectively controlled by use of pre-emergent herbicides. Applied in early Spring, these herbicides block germination of crabgrass seeds, destroying them before they are able to become a problem. Some grassy weeds, such as wiregrass, require more drastic measures, as there are no selective control measures available. Proper mowing height will also eliminate a large portion of the weed problems from your lawn.
A common problem in lawns in this area is moles. Moles are small mammals that tunnel around just under the soil surface in search of grubs and other insects. This is their primary source of food. The ridged tunnels are destructive to the turf, making the ground very uneven and disrupting the root system of the grass. The best way to eliminate moles is to eliminate their food supply. Milky spore is a safe effective product to help eliminate the grubs in the soil. "Mole-med" is an effective repellent that can also be used to chase the moles out of the area.