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Turfgrass Establishment

This fact sheet describes the general steps in turfgrass establishment.

General steps in turfgrass establishment

  1. Secure a soil test
  2. Rough-grade
  3. Lime if needed
  4. Apply basic fertilizer
  5. Apply soil physical amendments if needed
  6. Till above materials into 4- to 6-inch soil depth
  7. Finish-grade
  8. Apply starter fertilizer and work into top inch of soil
  9. Apply seed
  10. Rake or drag to cover seed lightly
  11. Roll lightly
  12. Mulch

1. Soil testing

A soil test to determine lime and ferilizer requirements provides the best guide for proper turfgrass establishment. Laboratory results of the test will provide the pH and lime requirement of the soil and the amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and organic matter present in the soil. Recommendations for liming, soil physical amendments, basic fertilizer, and starter fertilizer will be returned to you along with the laboratory results. Soil test mailing kits may be obtained from your county Extension office at a nominal fee. These kits provide all necessary information on how to take a soil sample as well as a mailing container for forwarding the sample to the University Soil Testing Laboratory.

2. Rough-grading

  1. Remove all debris, including large stones, left by construction work.
  2. Till soil and bring area to rough-grade prior to liming or fertilization.
  3. Where topsoil is to be replaced or brought in, first rough-grade the area to the contour of the finished grade to facilitate uniform distribution of topsoil.

3. Liming

  1. Proper liming is essential to derive maximum benefits from fertilizer applications.
  2. Where a lime requirement test has been made, broadcast and work into a 4- to 6-inch soil depth enough ground limestone to meet fully the requirement shown by the test.
  3. Where lime requirement exceeds 200 lbs. per 1,000 square feet, apply one half the total requirement, till, apply the remaining one half, and retill.
  4. Where a lime requirement test is not available, broadcast and work into a 4- to 6-inch soil depth a minimum of 100 lbs. of ground limestone per 1,000 square feet.

4. Basic Fertilization

  1. Where a soil test has been made, broadcast the required amountof recommended fertilizer and work into the soil to a 4- to 6-inch depth.
  2. Where a soil test has not been made, broadcast and work into the soil to a 4- to 6-inch depth 25 to 35 lbs. of 0-46-0 fertilizer or equivalent per 1,000 square feet.

5. Soil Amendments

  1. Where a soil test indicates the soil has a low organic matter content, work the recommended amounts of organic matter into the soil to a 2- to 4-inch depth before applying the starter fertilizer.
  2. Reed sedge peat, moss peat, or a combination of the two materials is recommended as a source of organic matter. Well-rotted sawdust or well-rotted manure may be used as a source of organic matter although these materials decompose quite rapidly and maintain desirable soil physical conditions for a shorter period of time than do reed sedge or moss peats.

6. Tillage

Till seedbed to a 4- to 6-inch depth making sure the limestone (if required), physical amendments (if required) and the basic fertilizer are uniformly mixed throughout the soil profile. Pockets of limestone, physical amendments or basic fertilizer must be avoided.

7. Finish-grading

Rake area to finish-grade just prior to seeding. Light rolling will indicate any low spots or other irregularities of the area.

8. Starter Fertilization

  1. Immediately prior to seeding, broadcast and work into the top inch of soil 40 lbs. of a 10-5-5, 10-6-4 or 25 lbs. of a 16-8-8 fertilizer or the equivalent per 1,000 square feet. The fertilizer must be turf grade, having an approximate 2-1-1 ratio and containing 35 percent or more of the total nitrogen as water insoluble or controlled release nitrogen. Application at the recommended rate should provide adequate fertilization for a full growing season.
  2. As an alternative, immediately prior to seeding, broadcast and work into the top inch of soil 20 to 25 lbs. of a 5-10-10 or 10 to 12 lbs. of a 10-10-10 farm grade (soluble nitrogen) fertilizer or equivalent per 1,000 square feet. The use of a ferilizer containing soluble nitrogen will necessitate refertilization after 6 to 8 weeks of growing weather.

9. Seeding

  1. Late summer to early fall is the best time for seeding permanent turfgrass. Recommended time of seeding for Pennsylvania conditions is as follows:

    Southeastern Pennsylvania — September 1 to October 15
    Northern tier and high-altitude counties — August 10 to September 10
    Other Pennsylvania areas — August 20 to October 1


    Where spring seedings are necessary, for best results, seed no later than indicated date.

    Southeastern Pennsylvania — April 1
    Northern tier and high-altitude counties — May 20
    Other Pennsylvania areas — May 7
  2. Sow recommended seed mixture adapted to use and climatic conditions of the area.
  3. Divide total seed quantity into two equal lots, sowing one lot in one direction and the second lot at right angles to the first with a mechanical seeder or spreader.

10. Cover seed

Rake lightly or drag area to cover seed no deeper than ¼ inch.

11. Seed-soil contact

Roll lightly to firm soil around seed.

12. Mulching

Mulch seeded area with clean straw or marsh hay. Light mulches (some soil showing through mulch) may be left on the area to decompose. Heavy mulches (complete soil coverage) should be removed from the area within a few days after seed germination.

Prepared by Peter J. Landschoot, Professor of Turfgrass Science.

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Turfgrass Establishment

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