Green Scene: Grass-planting failure

SUBMITTED PHOTO The grass planted on a west-facing slope died without proper soil treatment and insufficient watering.

Over the years, I have heard too often, "I know—‘The shoemaker's children have no shoes . . . '"

I don't like that to be true for me, but I also know that a clean garage might mean a mechanic with no business. Excuses or not, the short story is that we had to replace our sewer line last winter, and I failed at replanting the grass. I know why I failed, and you can learn from my failure.

The first problem was that I did not use lime to condition the soil. I did not have any readily on hand, so I thought that I could always go back and add it later. I was feeling rushed and did not want to let an errand derail the project. For customers, I always use lime, both on the existing soil and on any soil I add. I do this because not only is it a safe assumption that our local soil tends toward clay, but also that clay requires an enormous amount of lime to be balanced. In normal soils, moving the soil 1 point on the pH scale requires 50 lbs. of lime per 1,000 sq. ft. For clay, more is required. So it's hard to add too much.

The second problem was that I did not install a temporary watering system. And, I was planting a west-facing slope. This is a recipe for burning new grass. To achieve germination, the seed must be kept moist. Once the seed germinates, the seedlings must be kept moist until their roots are mature. Regardless of rain or morning dew, even an established lawn will be quick to go dormant on a west-facing slope. And it almost never rains enough to grow grass in late spring or summer. And no one ever waters as much as a timer — every six hours on the dot.

The third problem was that the watering we did was interrupted by some scheduled travel just at the time of summer's heat. So even though when we left, our slope was so well-grown that we received compliments, it was brown when we returned, and it only had crabgrass and rye grass growing. A seed mix is important to use because a disease won't kill it all. But if you stop watering after only the rye grass germinates (as soon as five days) and don't wait until the fescues and bluegrass germinate, you will have rye grass, and not a mixed grass lawn. And the quick-growing rye might be an annual type, so you won't even have that next spring.

So this fall I am going to have to aerate, over-seed and hope for the best. I should have installed and left a temporary watering system in place for months. In other words, practice what I preach.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit's municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at


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