how to prepare soil for grass seed

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  #1  
Old 12-26-16, 09:56 AM
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how to prepare soil for grass seed

I have decided to replace my St Augustine Flortam lawn in Central Florida with Argentine Bahia grass seed. I have already applied two applications of Round-Up to kill the existing grasses and weeds but now need to prep the area for the seed application.

I would like to know if core aerating is sufficient of should the soil be tilled?? If so, to what minimum depth?? Lime?? Fertilized?? Etc....????
 
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Old 12-26-16, 10:39 AM
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Whatever else you decide to do, check the current pH of your soil before adding any lime.
 
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Old 12-26-16, 11:31 AM
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x2 on a soil test. Take to a lab. Probably the soil should be tilled, raked, graded and rolled lightly. Are you going to hire this out or do it yourself ?
 
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Old 12-27-16, 05:03 AM
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I have already had the soil tested and lime is required. I would like to hire someone to till it but haven't been ably to find any one to do it. Any suggestions where I should inquire for this type of work? I plan to do the rest of the work myself.
 
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Old 12-27-16, 05:33 AM
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How many acres or square feet are involved ?

Often, the people with the equipment can't afford to transport it to a location that is too small to warrant those fixed costs.

Are there any small vegetable farmers in your area who might have a commercial tiller that could be utilized during a slow part of the season, despite their not being in that business ?

Does your site lend itself to maneuvering and easy access from the road ?
Can you make it easier ?

I recently had 16 truckloads of free soil (muck) delivered to a low spot on my lawn and I was left trying to flatten it out (before any thought about seeding. I wound up endlessly dragging an old cast iron sewer grate behind a lawn tractor to take the high spots down and raise the low spots. Two years later, I can say it was worth the effort; something that I couldn't imagine saying at the beginning of the project.
 
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Old 12-28-16, 06:37 AM
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Equipment

Check your local equipment rental companies for tilling equipment for rent.

We could give better advice if you would tell us the size of the area to be reseeded and whether or not the area is accessible by motorized equipment.
 
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Old 12-30-16, 09:49 PM
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But if you don't want to till. I would do this, which I usually recommend. Spray it all dead again after watering to see if more weeds come up. Scalp mow it on the lowest setting and bag. Side note: back when I said to scalp mow and bag in prep to tilling, you can sort of skip this. The dead weeds will just decompose in the dirt. If you till to a decent depth, you will mix up enough soil that the dead weeds that are mixed in aren't making up too much of a portion of the seed bed. In other words, yes, you do want seed to soil contact to germinate seeds, and if there's a lot of dead weeds etc all mixed in, you won't get as good of a seed to soil contact but if you till a good foot or so you'll end up with good seed to soil contact even though the dead weeds were mixed in. Sometimes the whole lawn doesn't even need to be sprayed dead first, especially if the grass seeds have a faster germination time than the weeds that were there because the grass will crowd out the weeds before they get a chance, plus you'll be doing an application of selective herbicide in about 6 weeks also to kill weeds that come up with the grass, and another thing is if you have the seed safe preemergent starter fertilizer, it may allow the grass to sprout but not the weed seeds, and lastly the weeds won't sprout again unless they are mature enough that they have gone to seed and are producing seeds.


Ok so anyway, back to if you want to not till it, then yes you should scalp mow and bag the lawn (but might not have needed to spray it dead either depending on the type of weeds because the newly planted grass might overtake the previous weeds unless they are perennial weeds that have taproots and strong root systems). Ok so scalp mow and bag, but what's even better than that is to use a flail dethatcher going really slow and deep. A flail dethatcher is a bunch of metal plates that spin and dig into the surface of the lawn. Then it makes a big mess of clippings you rake or bag with the mower. Dethatching like this scalps it down even further than mowing on the lowest setting and also helps kill the crown/root systems of the weeds and gets you a better seed to soil contact. If thatch is an actual issue with the type of grass you had, then also dethatching will remove that thatch so you're planting in actual soil and not a thatch layer.



Then, core aerate the heck out of it since you're doing a complete renovation and not saving any of the existing lawn. Coring will loosen the soil. You can make like 10 passes. If the aerator has a drum, fill it with water, the deeper the better. If the ground is hard, water if first a day before really well or wait for a rain day. Add weights to the aerator may get it deeper. Max is about 3.5" cores with a new set of tines. Then, if you spike seed the type of seed you're using, get a spike seeder or a slice seeder if that's what you need. Alice/spike right over the aeration cores left on the surface. You can broadcast the seed before or after slicing/spiking. Then roll it to embed the seeds is sort of optional but should help get good seed to soil contact. Then possibly put straw over and then the lime and fertilizer and hoses as mentioned above if doing the tilling.



Another thing to do without renting anything (except I would suggest the aeration if it's hard soil), is to scalp mow and bag it on the lowest setting and then just rake it out hard and thoroughly with a metal leaf rake or a manual dethatcher rake. And then put the materials down and water it. They also sell a universal 21" (and smaller) dethatcher blade by Arnold brand that goes in place of a push mower blade. They are about $20. They don't do nearly a job as a flail dethatcher but it will scalp the bad weed lawn down to the surface and make for a better seed bed then just scalp mowing on the lowest setting. I have even added washers to the mower shaft and then installed the Arnold blade and it really scalps it down to the soil but can beat up the mower and make sure you don't hit anything like a tree stump or root when mowing so low because it will break the flywheel key deep in the mower which is a safety feature that won't allow it to start after you hit a stump or something because the shear key breaks instead of the more expensive crankshaft being bent.


One thing I want to note is there are tine dethatcher and flail ones. Flails are heavy metal plates that spin and really rip out the thatch. Tine ones are thinner metal wires that aren't as aggressive. For northern lawns, the tine ones are good to power rake the lawn out before seeding. If the lawn is not a runner type, you can overseed an existing lawn that is in decent shape by mowing it short and bagging and then using the tine dethatcher to get the dead grass out from the base of the grass and then bag that and you will get good seed to soil contact instead of manually raking the whole lawn out. They sell ~$200 electric tine dethatchers can use for this. I read they trip the power all the time because they are underpowered but you shouldn't need to set the depth really deep to just power rake the lawn and thus might not trip the power vs trying to rip the actual thatch out from the subsurface by setting the height on the machine lower. And then after you clean the thatching clipings, you can core aerate and then put the materials down.


You can usually get someone to aerate a quarter acre for ~$100, some charge $250, it just depends. Remember to rent one is about $125 plus you do the work, so anything under $125 is a bargain. Slice seeding or spike seeding is usually a bit more, and dethatching is even more because of the clean up but shouldn't be more than maybe $350 for a quarter acre to dethatch. Keep I mind also down south things tend to cost less overall vs up north, so prices down there might be ~%15 less than what I'm estimating.

the end. I hope that wasn't too confusing, and I hope you can use most of this info for the type of grass you are planting. Oh, one other thing, if you do till, a great thing to do is till some areas deep and plant perennial ground covers that never need mowing or watering etc once they are established if they have those things down there like they do here (vinca minor, pachysandra, English ivy etc). I know it's too hot for these down there but there may be some things you can plant like these. They are low growing and flowering and they are like a natural mulch layer that prevent weeds. And you can make till new garden areas with bigger plants, shrubs, mango trees, lemons tres etc etc etc, and the groundcover around the bottoms. And then do grass in other areas. Some towns require at least a certain amount of the lawn is to remain grass though so don't go tilling the whole front yard and planting a mango farm in front lol, although I would.
 
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Old 12-30-16, 09:54 PM
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PART 1 OF 2 I don't know about warm season southern grasses, only cool season grasses like tall fescue, rye, Kentucky bluegrass etc. I have done many successful renovations of cool season grasses so I'll give some advice so you can hopefully get it right the first time and not have to keep applying chemicals all over the lawn.

First, make sure it's the right time to plant that type of grass. Google when the perfect time is and wait 'till next year if needed. Timing is also important for weed killer spray. Weeds need to be actively growing (spring time for cool season grasses), and weeds shouldn't be mowed about a week before spraying. The spray is absorbed through the weed's leaves, so if you just mowed weeds, they won't have as much leaves.

Watering is key to start seeds for cool season grasses. Most likely warm season grasses also but it probably rains there every other day. Again , I'm not sure about warm season grasses but if needed just go buy a $50 timer and a bunch of cheap hoses and rotary sprinklers just to get it started if need be. I see highway medians in Florida sometimes pure nice lawn grass so maybe watering is only needed to get it started since it rains so often there (and maybe these medians were planted during the wet season and possibly with straw over it to hold in moisture [and keep birds away somewhat]).

I know some warm season grasses are much better off planted as plugs from sod and they spread out vs starting from seed, so check on that for the species of grass you want.

If it needs plugs, then yes till the ground. Make sure you don't hit any water lines etc in the ground.

If you can use seeds, get the highest quality, don't be fooled by the lowest price, they may sprout well and all but the first cold/heat wave may damage them.

Tilling is a mess and they will charge you maybe 5X the price to till and then have to regrade the lawn vs just something like a slit seeding or spike seeding. I think maybe spike seeders are more popular down south because of the types of grasses they spread via surface runners and a slice seeder would chop those and kill areas vs a spiek seeder wouldn't as much. But that would probably be for an overseeding where you just want to add more grass to an existing lawn without killing the whole thing and starting from scratch.

However, it depends on how flat you want the lawn. Some people want it like a pool table, and if you mow with a regular mower with small wheels, the ruts could be bothersome if not graded very smoothly. But you can get away with just a bow rake and mowing some dirt here and there after tilling. To get it perfect, you need to basically screed the whole lawn with a 2x4 as if you're screeding a wet concrete pad, or use a 10K$ skid steer to smooth it out.


Here's the thing about tilling. Even if you spray all the weeds dead, when you till, you bring up dormant seeds from under the soil and they will sprout along with the grass seeds Unless they make a seed safe preemergent product for southern lawns that allows the grass to grow but acts as a preemergent for most types of weeds. For cool season grasses, this is called tupersan and only works for about 6 weeks and then you would use a regular preemergent after 6 weeks to let the lawn fill in before weeds take over again.

Most weed seeds are quite close to the surface though, so if you sprayed them dead, keep watering and some more may pop up and then do a second round a few weeks from the first one. In other words, if you plan to just core aerate, still some weed seeds may come up with your grass but doing a second round of glyphosate after watering to bring up more weeds should help. There's always going to be some weeds that come up with the seeds though, that's why people spend like 20X the price for sod vs mechanical seeding methods.


You usually do want to at least core aerate if not completely tilling it. Aerating before seeding will loosen the soil and allow for the roots to get deeper easier. Tilling does an even better job at this but the regrading afterwards is the harder part. If your grading is good as it is and not bumpy etc, and if the ground isn't too compact, then I would not till, I would just aerate. Leave the aeration cores on the ground.


Basically if you decide to till, you can rent a nice rear tine tiller from most home depots for like $125 for the day after tax and the ware and tare fee. that's about how much rental for dethatchers or slice seeders or aerators cost also. But you would need to have a pick up to transport it and either some good safe ramps or possibly a few guys could pick the tiller up. Home Depot also rents pick up trucks and ramps for ~$20 an hour plus the ramps are maybe $50 for the day. Do NOT use anything besides a rear tine horse tiller such as a mantis tiller. If the ground is tough, the mantis will be a nightmare to use and bounce all over the place. The rear tine tillers work like a charm.

depth to till: in theory you would want to till down as deep as the species of grass can root. Turf Type Tall fescue can root up to 36" deep (in perfect conditions), so in theory you would want to till 3' to allow the roots to more easily reach those depths. But 3' tilling is way overkill and basically impossible with a walk behind tiller. Kentucky bluegrass roots about 1 foot deep. The average I till is about a foot deep regardless of species.

The deeper you till, the more muddy it will be. A foot deep tilling will be a sinking muddy mess afterwards. You should lawn roll it after to greatly reduce this. They rent lawn rollers for about $40 for the day. You don't want such a heavy roller that it recompacts the soil, but manual lawn rollers aren't big enough that they hold that much water to re compact the ground after tilling it.

So basically, if you wish to till it, I would water after the first round of glyphosate, and spray a second time. Then scalp mow and bag it on the lowest setting, and then till it, then grade it, then lay the seed and the lime you said your soil test indicated was needed, add starter fertilizer (if they have that seed safe preemergent starter fertilizer for southern grasses use that for the first 6 weeks), and then roll the seeds to embed them and to make the yard less of a sinking mess, possibly put straw over it, and water it if need be however that species likes to be watered to sprout but take into account the rain amounts you are getting. Then you will still probably see some weeds as the lawn fills in. Wait until the new lawn is mature enough (about 6 weeks usually for northern lawns says the label) and then you can use a selective herbicide that will kill the weeds but not the lawn. Make sure though the lawn isn't entering a dormancy of heat/cold though because the spray could harm the lawn even though it says it's safe for lawns.

I dunno if the species you are planting spreads via surface runners or via underground rhizomes or if it's just a clumping grass like fescue that doesn't spread and fill in bare areas a few inches from the mother plant. But, if it has spreading capabilities, after you did the selective herbicide that kills weeds but not grass, the lawn may fill in those areas where the weeds were and you'll end up with a nice thick lawn. Fertilize preferably with organic and water properly if needed and mow and mulch the clippings instead of bagging them to produce organic fertilizer and the lawn should be good for a while. I know with northern grasses mowing them high keeps them healthy and more drought tolerant that mowing short and mowing it high also helps shade out the dirt are so weed seeds are less likely to get sun to sprout.

If your grass type never really needs watering after it's established, even if there's a drought or something, then you can basically return the $50 hose timer (trust me you want to spend the $50 to automate this instead of having to constantly water a few times every day for a few weeks to sprout the seeds) and you may be able to sell the hoses and sprinklers used on craigslist or something.

If you want to hire this all out, I would check craigslist and ask to see some before and after photos of their work or some references. To till a quarter acre and regrade it and roll it and spread the seed and starter and possibly straw and set up hoses would be maybe $500 plus the seeds and fertilizer and lime cost. It would be less if you set up the hoses and do some of the other things. However, some people might charge $1,000 for this. Some might charge $250. It could also depend how perfectly you want it graded.
 
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Old 01-02-17, 10:43 AM
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What is the square foot area involved ?
 
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Old 01-02-17, 11:53 AM
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Geebus, gunner - do you really think people are going to read these diatribes you've been posting?
 
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Old 01-02-17, 01:24 PM
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Gunner.... I not only read it all but was quite impressed by your detail. If I can't figure out which way to do it with all the options you listed, I must be dumber than a stump!

The area is about 12000 sq ft

I suppose some people prefer less detail but I'm not one of them. Thanks.....buzcar
 
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