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N.C. lawns may benefit from spring seeding

February 21, 2008

Media Contacts:
Dr. Fred Yelverton, professor of Crop Science and North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist, 919.515.5639 or fred_yelverton@ncsu.edu;
Dr. Grady Miller, professor of Crop Science. 919.515.5656 or grady_miller@ncsu.edu

North Carolina homeowners who watched their lawns fry in the drought conditions of the summer and fall of 2007 may want to take the unusual step of spring seeding in an effort to renovate turf, say turfgrass experts at North Carolina State University.

Normally, the best time for lawn renovation - tasks such as seeding and aerating - is the fall, said Dr. Fred Yelverton, crop science professor and North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State. And normally, Yelverton would not recommend spring seeding.

But these are not normal times, as drought continues to grip North Carolina and much of the Southeast.

While lawns across North Carolina were damaged by the drought during the summer and fall of 2007, Yelverton said most lawns appear to be "salvageable." And while many people consider turfgrasses as plants used only for aesthetic purposes, Yelverton said turfgrasses have a positive effect on the environment.

"Turfgrasses help keep soil in place and act as a natural filter for water and air," Yelverton said. "This helps prevent soil erosion, which causes siltation in streams. Turfgrasses help keep both our air and groundwater clean."

Among the steps he recommends to salvage and renovate lawns is a process called "slit seeding."

Because of the drought and outdoor irrigation restrictions in many parts of the state, Yelverton added, many homeowners did not seed their lawns last fall. Even though irrigation restrictions remain in place throughout the state, many lawns will benefit from seeding this spring, he said.

Yelverton recommends slit seeding, a process that employs a machine that opens the soil so that seeds will be in contact with the soil. Irrigation is normally recommended following seeding, but Yelverton said homeowners don't need to irrigate to benefit from seeding. As long as the seeds are in contact with soil, they'll germinate when it rains, even if there's a gap between the time seed is sown and rainfall.

Spring is also the time for fertilizing lawns, particularly tall fescue lawns, and Yelverton said homeowners should follow a normal fertilization schedule. He cautioned homeowners who seed their lawns to be careful if they also apply herbicide this spring.

"People need to be careful with spring pre-emergence herbicide applications," Yelverton said. "Seed can be damaged by certain herbicides. It is important that the correct herbicide is used once the fescue reaches a certain growth stage."

He suggested checking the N.C. State University Turffiles Web site for herbicide recommendations for spring-seeded lawns. Turffiles (http://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/) is a Web site developed by N.C. State turfgrass experts with information for homeowners and landscape professionals on growing and caring for turfgrass in North Carolina.

Homeowners who watched their tall fescue lawns suffer through last year's dry conditions may also be considering converting their lawns to more drought-tolerant types of turfgrass, but now is not the time for such a conversion, said Dr. Grady Miller, professor of crop science at N.C. State.

North Carolina is considered part of the transition zone for growing turfgrasses. Both warm-season and cool-season grasses can be grown, but specific conditions may favor one grass over another.

Tall fescue, which is the predominate turf found in North Carolina, is a cool-season grass. Warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass and centipede, are more tolerant of hot, dry summers than tall fescue. Warm-season grasses go dormant and turn brown over the winter, then green up in the spring.

Miller said late spring is normally the best time to establish a warm-season grass lawn, but establishing a new lawn requires irrigation, and that's not possible in many parts of North Carolina due to local water-use restrictions.

Besides, Miller added, while it's true warm-season grasses generally require less water than cool-season grasses, the amount of water used by the plant depends on the specific cultivar, or type, of warm- or cool-season grass.

And warm-season grasses are not as tolerant of shade, so they may not be appropriate for many North Carolina landscapes.

The Turffiles Web site contains information on different types of grass and which are best suited for different applications and parts of North Carolina, along with other information designed to help homeowners and landscape professionals weather the drought.

Written by: Dave Caldwell, 919.513.3127 or dave_caldwell@ncsu.edu

Posted by Dave at February 21, 2008 08:00 AM