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BUSEK - Overseeding a lawn: Easy to explain, harder to do

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 1, 2012 at 1:26 PM

It sounded so easy when the guy on the radio explained it.

And the caller he was talking to seemed to have exactly my situation: The summer drought left our lawns (the caller’s and mine) all patchy — 80 percent green, 20 percent dead.

What we needed to do, the radio expert said, was to overseed the lawn.

Then he gave the simple steps: Mow the lawn really short. Rent a de-thatcher and run it over the lawn. Rake up the dead grass and thatch. Spread some starter fertilizer. Spread some grass seed. Run the de-thatcher over it again to lightly cover the grass seed with dirt and a grassy mulch. Water each day until the new grass fills in the dead spots and thickens the rest of your lawn.

It took the guy less than a minute to explain.

And it resulted in about a month of work for me.

Mowing the lawn really short was easy. You do that so you can wait at least two weeks or more until you mow again. I waited three.

Renting the de-thatcher was easy, too. Using it was a lot harder. (I should probably say here that everything I am about to tell you would be a lot easier with a small lawn. I overseeded about half an acre, which made several of the steps more like farming than landscaping.)

At any rate, the de-thatcher rips up the surface of the lawn down to a depth of 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch. Up comes the dead grass. Up comes the thatch (spongy decayed material that forms after years of mowing). And up comes a bodacious amount of healthy grass.

Ten minutes after I started dethatching, I wondered if I was hopelessly damaging my lawn. An hour later my front lawn looked like a first cutting hay field ready to be raked and baled.

I borrowed my neighbor’s garden tractor with a bagger attachment to pick up the mess. It was so dusty I wore goggles and a breathing mask. But 21⁄2 hours later I had removed 3 cubic yards — half a small dump truck load — of material.

Next I put down 100 pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer. No problem.

Finally I spread 50 pounds — $120 worth, thank you — of grass seed.

And then, as directed, I ran the de-thatcher over it again to cover the seed.

In all, it was about a 10-hour process. And if I had not borrowed my neighbor’s bagger, I would have spent another four hours raking.

I waited for it to rain and two days later we got a perfect light sprinkle; just enough to start the germination process.

That represented both good news and bad news. The good part is obvious. The bad part is once the seed starts to germinate, it must never be allowed to dry out again; one long, dry day can kill many or all of the newly-sprouted seedlings.

Forty percent of the grass seed I spread was bluegrass. Bluegrass takes about three weeks to germinate. That meant three weeks of watering.

Oh, it rained a few times in those three weeks. But in general, I was dragging hoses and positioning sprinklers for two hours every morning. And I will say that it gets pretty old after a couple of weeks.

The worst part is the first week when none of the grass seed is visibly sprouted. You are out there lugging hoses and pouring expensive city water onto your ugly, patchy lawn with no apparent improvement.

But after a week or so it was more satisfying. Wispy green shoots started popping up. And by late in week two if you squinted just right, the lawn looked like a solid green plane.

It is not perfect. But I know there are a few thousand more seedlings now than there were at the end of August. As each of them matures next spring property values on our street should start moving up again.

And by May I am pretty sure I will be complaining about how often I have to mow.

Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@hotmail.com.

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