Watering new lawn areas correctly after a fall seeding is vital to successful grass seed germination and maturation. A fescue lawn needs to have an overseeding service done each year to maintain a thick and healthy population of turf. When fall seeding is usually such an investment for homeowners, proper seeding aftercare is a key part of making sure that your investment reaches its maximum potential.
A turf type tall fescue lawn typically receives an aeration and overseeding service in the fall each year. Fall is the ideal time for cool season grass seed to be planted because air and soil temperatures are typically between 60 and 75 degrees, which is best for the encouragement of germination. Aeration and seeding is a big service for a typical residential property. As such, it is much more involved and labor intensive than other services, and it is significantly more expensive than almost any other single day event in standard turf management.
Anytime that you invest in something meant to improve the quality of an aspect of your home and property, it’s to be expected that you want to do everything possible to ensure the quality of the investment itself is as high as it has the potential to be. Unfortunately, seeding is not the same process as sod. It is not something that grows in uniformly overnight and turns into an “instant lawn.”It requires weeks and even months of tending, which means that homeowners need to know exactly how to provide that proper aftercare. The correct care to be given to grass seed in order to encourage healthy germination and development comes down to watering new lawn areas, staying off the lawn for as long as possible, and having patience.
Low Duration, High Frequency
Throughout the warm months of the year, fescue lawns require a substantial amount of water to stay healthy and withstand the high temperatures. Turf type tall fescue is a cool season grass, which means that it struggles in the heat. Typically, fescue does best with about one and a half inches of water per week. The majority of homeowners measure their irrigation systems to determine how much time it takes to reach one half of an inch of water, then run their systems for this amount of time in the mornings three times a week, making adjustments for significant rainfall.
The purpose of this type of watering regimen is to drive root development to deeper, cooler depths and complimentary maintain a deep level of soil saturation. However, when a lawn has had fresh grass seed put down in the fall, the intention behind watering changes. Rather than being concerned with keeping mature grass alive through the heat, we become more concerned with encouraging the grass seed to germinate and take root. This is done on a shallow surface level, which means that watering needs to keep the surface damp rather than trying to soak the water down deep.
Watering new lawn seed requires a fine balance between getting enough water down to keep the seed damp and to encourage fast rooting without putting down so much that the grass seed can be disturbed, washed away, or rotted. You never want your yard’s soil to feel dry, hard, or dusty, but your don’t want it to squish, puddle, or develop fungus either. This balance requires fine tuning on the part of the homeowner, but there is a basic rule of thumb that can help as a starting point.
Rather than going for a low frequency with higher duration to drive water deep as you do in the summer, you want to aim for a high frequency at low durations to keep that surface damp through the day. High frequency means watering three times a day, every day, adjusting only for measurable rainfall. Low duration, on the other hand, means scaling back to only five minutes or so per zone. The goal is not to put down so much water at once that it pools or soaks in deeply, but to put down the small amounts that keep the surface damp frequently enough to balance out the faster drying that takes place at the surface due to sunlight and air exposure.
By watering new lawn areas for brief intervals at dawn, noon, and late afternoon, seed is constantly receiving the proper amount of hydration for germination to occur. Moisture is really the only thing that grass seed needs in order to germinate successfully when air and soil temperatures are appropriate. Sunlight and soil contact are important when the actual rooting and development come into play. Moderate success can still be expected from fall seeding most years when homeowners elect to rely on rainfall rather than watering it as recommended, but for the most part, watering new lawn seed is the most important time of the year to run any kind of irrigation.
When planning how to go about watering new lawn areas that have been recently seeded, have you irrigation schedule adjusted appropriately by the time of your seeding service. Once the lawn has been aerated and the fall seeding is put down, begin watering that same day. This schedule needs to be maintained for several weeks.
Once all of the grass seed has germinated and the baby grass has grown to a height of at least two to three inches, it will be safe to return to a normal watering schedule until your irrigation system is ready to be winterized. This process generally takes three or four weeks, but can take longer if a sudden heat wave or other issue has slowed germination. It is important to continue watering until your system has to be winterized because your lawn still benefits from that moisture.
Keep Off the Grass
Believe it or not, the process of mowing a lawn is extremely stressful to the turf involved. This is why it is so important to mow with sharp mower blades at the correct frequency at height setting. These rules and guidelines for proper mowing only get stricter once the lawn has been seeded.
One of the most important parts of caring for a newly seeded lawn is to give it as much time as possible without any disturbance or stress. After all, your lawn has basically become a nursery for the new seedlings that have been put down. Like a nursery, it is vital to create as quiet, calm, and healthy of an environment as you can to encourage development and reduce the risk of accidental injuries.
It seems like it should be common sense, but surprisingly few people realize just how fragile baby grass is from the time the seed germinates to the time it’s fully matured. That’s why it’s just as important to avoid doing anything on or to the lawn areas in the first few weeks as it is to follow the proper instructions on watering new lawn areas. The following is a rough estimate, but it helps give you an idea of the best degrees to which you should keep off the grass during certain periods of time:
- The first few days: It takes about one week in ideal conditions for seed to germinate, let alone begin developing. This is when it is easiest for that seed to be disturbed. To the greatest extent possible, newly seeded areas should be kept off of completely by people, pets, and especially mowers.
- The first few weeks: Within this window, seed has likely germinated, but is extremely fragile and fine with less than an inch of root to hold it in place. When at all possible, it is still ideal for any foot or paw traffic to be minimized, but if necessary, lawn areas can be crossed carefully. Once the baby grass has achieved a height of at least three inches after approximately three or four weeks, it is safe to be carefully mowed.
- The first few months: From the first mow after the seeding until the first mow of the spring, baby grass is continuing to develop by growing deeper roots and thicker blades. By now, it is safe to spend time on again, but any avoidable stress should still be given careful consideration.
This may seem like overkill, but the more that traversing a lawn can be avoided, the better development you will see from the fescue seedlings. Even walking across baby grass can crush it and uproot it, which results in a loss of success for the initial investment in the seeding service. That being said, these ideal recommendations must be taken with a grain of salt when considering day to day life. While it’s difficult to shield your backyard from any stress for three weeks when you have a dog that needs to go out to use the bathroom, you can make a difference by avoiding cutting through the front lawn your way to the car or to the mailbox.
Where mowing is concerned, the three or four week minimum spent between the seed going down and the first post-seeding mow should give a homeowner plenty of time to have their mower blades sharpened. Freshly sharpened mower blades are important during the first cut you give your lawn because of how fine the baby blades of grass are. Not only do dull blades tear grass, causing a greater amount of stress, but they can also make baby grass uneven and disturbed in its growth.
The first cut given to a newly seeded lawn should always be on the highest setting and should only go over the lawn once. In the month that the lawn hasn’t been cut, the mature fescue will have grown significantly. This is why part of the preparation for aeration includes gradually mowing your adult lawn down to a lower height before the seed is applied. Starting out with a lower height to the lawn gives you more of a buffer as it spends weeks growing in without being cut again.
Ideally, homeowners should wait to cut or have their lawn cut until the baby grass has grown in about three inches tall. This generally coincides with the development stage that marks when watering new lawn areas can go back to a typical watering schedule. Remember, this will take at least a few weeks, if not more.
When the time finally arrives in which the baby grass is ready for a cut, it will still be quite sensitive and in need of gentle care. Even though a mature lawn does well to be cut multiple times to chop up left behind grass clippings and create nice stripes, this is a lot of traffic to put on your lawn at once. For at least the first couple of mows after seeding, it is best to mow the whole lawn once and then be done. If there is a risk of clumps of clippings being left behind due to the excessive growth that has occurred, this is a situation in which it is justifiable to use a bagger.
Like with any investment, it is normal to be eager to see the results of a service as soon as possible. Like fertilizer and most other aspects of turf management, seeding takes time. It takes a week or more for the seed to germinate, then several weeks at least for it to grow to a height even close to the rest of the lawn. After that, it takes months for that new grass to harden up and mature, and it’s only by the end of winter that the seedlings really blend into the now thick and uniform lawn.
As a result, patience is a virtue where seeding is concerned. Rather than being impatient, it’s great when homeowners can channel that excitement into the close supervision involved with watering new lawn seed and measuring its development. From the time of fall seeding until the following spring, a lawn should be considered as “under construction.” It is very likely that winter weeds will develop alongside the grass, but it’s important to remember that the baby grass is the priority, and herbicides are likely to be an avoidable stressor.
If a lawn can be cared for properly in the days, weeks, and months following aeration and overseeding, the chance of that new grass growing in properly is basically guaranteed. Remember, professional turf management companies that provide seeding and fertilizer services are an asset where aftercare pointers are concerned. Be sure to contact a local professional like PPLM today to discuss your fall lawn care plan.