The Bay Gardener’s Steps to a Healthy, Bay-Friendly Lawn

     Warm days and cool nights combined with shorter daylight hours are what the doctor ordered for the favorite grasses of Chesapeake Country: bluegrass and fescues. They’re called cool-season grasses because they germinate, produce roots and lap up nutrients once summer’s heat shuts down. So now’s the time to get to work on next year’s perfect lawn.

Step 1. Test your soil

     A good lawn grows from well-prepared soil. 

     Lawn grasses grow best when soil pH is between 6.3 and 6.8, with medium to high levels of nutrients. You’ll know where your soil stands if you send it to a reputable soil testing laboratory.

     Send soil samples for testing to Waypoint Analytical in Richmond. Full soil testing instructions:

     Add my email address — [email protected] — to your soil test request, and I’ll tell you what to do to help get your soil in shape for cool-season grasses. 

Step 2. Feed your soil

     The best lawns also grow on soils with a minimum of three percent organic matter. When grass roots penetrate deep into the soil, grasses become more drought-tolerant and recover more quickly from heavy use. 

     Begin by spreading a minimum of four cubic yards of compost per 1,000 square feet over the existing lawn.

     If your soil test indicates low limestone, nutrients or organic matter, then incorporate lime, fertilizers and compost into the soil by rototilling or spading. Do this a week or two before seeding, so that the land has time to level and settle smoothly.

Step 3. Sow grass seed

     The best bet for Chesapeake Country are the improved fescue grasses that develop deep roots and become more drought-tolerant than bluegrasses. Seed following package directions.

Step 4. Water your seed

     Improve germination by keeping the soil surface moist with two to three light waterings each day for the first week. To retain moisture, spread a thin layer of straw sufficient to form 20 percent shade cover over the soil.

     As seeds germinate, reduce the number of daily waterings. Once space between the grass blades begins to fill in, limit watering to two- or three-day intervals with more water each time. Each week at this point, apply one inch of water per acre. That’s about the amount of water needed to fill a tuna can placed under a sprinkler. By allowing the soil to dry between waterings, you encourage deeper rooting. Keeping the soil moist at all times will promote shallow rooting, which can be detrimental as the cold season progresses.