So often people call us and voice their frustration about an attempt to plant, grow and cultivate new grass for their lawn that just did not work out. Usually, despite one’s best efforts, the project was doomed before it started because the basic physics of growing grass were not properly addressed. Below are a few key issues to keep in mind when taking on a new turf project. These points relate to the science of growing grass, (as in basic Turfgrass 101 stuff)! If you have attempted to grow grass in an area that just seems not to be able to grow grass, addressing some of these items below may help you greatly!
1. Sun Direction and Angle
The ability to receive direct sunlight from the East and South are key to growing optimum turfgrass. The Sun spends most of the year slightly tilted to the Southern sky (very low in the Southern sky during the winter). If there is a tree line casting shade on the south side or east side of the property, the ability to grow healthy turf is reduced. Look for shade hearty grass varieties to plant in these areas.
2. Time of day grass grows and how that is important in Sun vs. Shade
Tree lines or buildings casting shade from the east are a bigger problem than tree lines or building casting shade from the west. In the morning, as the sun rises in the east, the grass literally wakes up and most of the photosynthesis takes place in the first half of the day. This is when the plant produces carbohydrates and sugars that convert into energy that produces a strong and healthy plant. The less sunlight and more shade there is, the less photosynthesis takes place, thus producing a weaker plant. Tree lines to the west that cast late afternoon shade are much more forgiving because as the sun begins to set in mid-afternoon, the plant begins to shut down for the day, having produced most of its carbohydrates and sugars in the morning. So, if you have full sunlight from the east in the morning, afternoon shade will not cause many turfgrass growth issues.
3. Time of year to plant grass – agronomic cycle
The best time to plant grass for optimum health is in early Fall. Here in Central Indiana, that window is from August 21 to September 21. By planting in this window, the plant has enough time to germinate, develop some roots and leaf tissue before going into dormancy for the winter. As the Spring begins, the newly established plant has optimum temperatures to develop more root mass and leaf tissue before the stress of summer heat and drought take place. A stronger, healthier stand of grass is developed because the plant had two growing cycles to mature before summer heat that can greatly injure or kill the plant. When a grass plant is germinated in the Spring, it only has one growing cycle, resulting in a far less mature plant that is more susceptible to summer stresses.
4. Soil pH
The perfect pH level for turfgrass is 6.5. A pH range between 6.3 and 6.9 shouldn’t inhibit the ability to grow turf well. One sign of poor soil pH is the presence of moss in sunny areas. Soil tests are simple to gather and can be tested quickly and easily at a local county extension service. They will provide you with information on how much lime to apply to correct your soil pH.
5. Mowing Height
This may be the single most common issue that inhibits the ability to grow thick, lush turfgrass. The taller you mow your grass, the taller it will tiller and healthier it will be. I often hear; “I don’t want to mow the grass at a taller height because then I would have to mow it more often”. NOT TRUE! The grass on your lawn is like the hair on your head. If you have a short haircut, the hair outgrows its cut at the same rate a longer haircut outgrows its cut. The shorter your hair, the more scalp one sees…. The longer the hair the lusher and thicker it appears… see the parallel? The one additional difference here is the increased tissue of the taller grass plant provides a stronger and healthier turf to stand up to summer stresses. While many publications say a mowing height of 3-inches or above for bluegrass or fescue, my rule of thumb is a minimum mowing height of 4-inches. I mow my lawn at 4 ¼-inches. It looks great and my lawn is the envy of the neighborhood!