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Horticulture Tips for Spring - Turfgrass Establishment

Posted Feb. 1, 2002

This is the time of year the calls come in regarding turfgrass establishment. Most calls are prompted by mud being tracked inside on shoes when it rains. Or, calls start when the soil begins to erode down the driveway or sidewalk. It doesn't matter why we receive the phone calls, but it is the time of year that matters. Spring is best suited to start the warm-season turfgrasses: Bermudagrass, St. Augustine, Zoyiagrass and Buffalograss. The fall is the best time to establish cool-season turfgrasses like Tall Fescue and Ryegrass.

It is important to take into consideration soil temperatures before establishing which grass to plant. In the middle of December, an individual called to ask where he could buy sod. If he did till the soil and rake to grade for proper drainage, and get the sod rolled out between rain showers, it has a good chance of freezing before spring. Turfgrass should have plenty of time to establish itself before the winter months as well as the summer months. We cannot expect the grass to survive extreme weather conditions unless it has been properly established and maintained.

The following is a schedule for establishment of warm-season turfgrasses that normally grow from May to October, and cool-season turfgrasses that normally grow from September to May.

Weak stands of turfgrass are generally taken over by weeds because their seeds germinate when turfgrass is thin. If fertility is low during the growth stage of the grass, weeds will take advantage of this weakness. Fertilize before the growth stage of the predominant turfgrass to take advantage of its growth pattern.

Monthly schedule for establishment of turfgrass:

January: Soil temperature is too cold for grass establishment. Do not forget to irrigate turf during periods of prolonged drought.

February: Soil temperature is too cold to seed, sprig or sod. Do not forget to irrigate cool- and warm-season turf during periods of prolonged drought.

March: Soil temperature is too cold to seed, sprig or sod.

April: Soil temperatures are beginning to warm up. Soil temperature needs to be above 60 degrees to germinate seeds. One seed that has a chance to germinate at low soil temperatures is ryegrass, which is a cool-season grass. However, if a warm-season bermudagrass is used in this area, the overseeded ryegrass will have to be removed.

May: Seeding, sprigging, plugging and laying sod can be done in May. Rainfall and temperatures are adequate for turfgrass establishment. Bermudagrass, St. Augustine, Zoyiagrass and Buffalograss can be started with the assurance that the growing conditions are in place for proper establishment. Cool-season grass can also be seeded at this time. However, these grasses will have only 45 to 60 days before the hot, dry, summer months take their toll. Competition from weeds is also the greatest at this time. Fall is the preferred establishment period for the cool-season grasses.

June: Follow the schedule outlined in May.

July: Warm-season grasses can be established from sprigs and sod at this time. Don't forget to irrigate.

August: Sod can be laid in August provided there is adequate irrigation.

September: Most cool-season grasses are established in September. The rainfall and cooler temperatures are optimum for cool-season grasses to begin their growth. Warm-season grasses may be started but understand that winter is approaching and some freeze damage may occur if establishment is delayed too late in the fall.

October: Cool season grasses can be started with the knowledge that it is getting late.

November: Sod can be laid with the understanding that it is getting late and some freeze damage may occur.

December: Soil temperatures begin to decrease and grass growth slows down as well. Do not forget to irrigate turf during periods of prolonged drought.

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