Starting a new lawn from scratch

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Topic: Starting a new lawn from scratch

Home and Garden April 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

Starting a new lawn from scratch

Does anyone have success stories about starting a new lawn from scratch?  My backyard, located in NW DC by Rock Creek Park, is pretty bare.  Its a sun filled area with the compact, clay-type soil typical to the area.  
I’m not looking for the standard tips already available on the internet (till, seed, water, repeat), but more for tips specific to growing a lawn in the district starting this time of year – a specific brand of grass seed or fertilizer that took really well would be greatly appreciated.

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I’ve started/rehabbed a few lawns in this area pretty successfully (once I rehabbed my own the in-laws/friends suddently felt the need to enlist my help).  To be very honest, starting a new lawn this time of year is an uphill battle.  If temperatures get high in late May/early June like they did last year, your new seedlings will not have time to establish roots and will get fried.  I would suggest taking the next few months to get your soil in shape — till and compost heavily to break it down, get rid of any weeds that may be populating your current soil, and see if you can get to a good pH for lawn growth — internet has plenty of info.
If you do want to start a lawn now and can afford it, laying sod may be your best bet.  If you want to seed, a blend of ryegrass with fescue and/or bluegrass is good.  The ryegrass is a bit heartier and less succeptable to heat.  Most of the commerical brands (Scott, Vigoro, Pennington, etc) are hit-or-miss in my experience.  Best bet is a local garden center if you want to avoid the commerical brands.
For your first feeding, you want a quick-release fertilizer with a high phosphorus number to promote root growth.  Most fertilizers are labeled with a three-number label (e.g. 24-8-24), the middle number is phosphorus.  Look for something around 14-18-14 for the first feeding.  It’s a bit of a drive, but Merrifield Garden in Fairfax has an in-house 14-18-14 I’ve used with success before.
  Four weeks later, use a slow-release fertilizer

For places that just will not grow grass – where trees rob nutrients/cast too much shade, consider something else.  I tried and tried (store seed mix, sprinkle fertilizer) and in the end shade perennials were much more enjoyable.


Turf type tall fescue.  Go get seed at a reputable place, such as a garden store.
But it’s tough – you might be as well off getting sod and putting your energy into having that grow well.

A great first step if you have a bunch of weeds to deal with is to lay down a layer of newspaper or newsprint and top it with top soil/mulch. The newspaper kills the weeds before breaking down and decomposing with the now dead plants. Makes for pretty fertile soil that’s a great start for any lawn or garden. 

If you want to go the sod route (i.e. instant gratification…it’s pretty thriling to have dirt one day and a beautiful lawn the next) I bought two pallets of grass from grass4sale dot com – one for the front yard, one for the back yard and had some extra left over.  We live in a typical Petworth rowhouse.  It’s tall fescue, and great for part/full sun yards.  Honestly, my grass is green year round (even in the summer/winter) at the prices are very reasonable. 

We sodded last year (small yard) – look amazing until the sun fryed it.  Grass looks great this year, but I would recommend waiting until fall or next spring, for more time before it gets super hot.  We also had (and still have) a lot of problems with weeds, so make sure you’ve treated the soil well before doing anything.  We used Kentucky Blue Grass sod from a place around here, don’t remember exactly…

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