Submitted by Chris Hicks – UT Extension: 

It has been said the best time to sow grass is September, and the second best time is next September.

I’m not sure that’s true in all cases, but if you’re looking to seed cool season grasses like fescue or Kentucky bluegrass in a yard, or orchardgrass or tall fescue in a pasture or hayfield, September is certainly a great time to do it. 

Unfortunately, not every planting adventure is a home run. Weather is a big factor and if it turns off scorching hot and exceptionally dry, your planting probably won’t go too well. That’s a factor we obviously can’t control, but let’s look at some other reasons new plantings sometimes fail that we do have some control over. 

  1. Poor Soil Fertility. New seedlings need a good balance of N, P, & K, as well as micronutrients to get a good start. A shortage of these nutrients will lead to lower germination rates, decreased root development, and poor plant health. Soil that is too acidic will tie up nutrients so correcting pH problems before planting is a must. Soil test boxes are available at the UT Extension office, and for only $15 you can have your soil tested to find out what nutrients are lacking before you plant.
  1. Poor Seedbed Preparation. If you are planting using conventional tillage, a firm seedbed is one that leaves no deeper than a ¼ inch deep boot print when you walk on it. If using a no-till drill, make sure it is calibrated and adjusted properly. 
  1. Planting the Wrong Amount of Seed. The “Forage & Field Crop Seeding Guide for Tennessee” is our go to resource for seeding rates on forages. We also have a number of free publications with recommendations on seeding rates for lawns. Again, making sure your equipment is adjusted correctly so that you are putting out the correct rate of seed is time well spent. 
  1. Planting at the Wrong Depth. Cool season grasses should be planted at about ¼ to no more than ½ inch deep. Be careful if you are using a drill to plant in wet ground as the coulters can easily cut the ground too deeply. Planting too deep is a major cause of establishment failure. 
  1. Failure to control weeds. Drilling into a sod that has been terminated will relieve competition from grassy weeds that compete with new seedlings. Many times it will pay off to apply a broadleaf herbicide to control cool-season weeds such as buttercup which, if left uncontrolled, will outcompete young grasses. 

While there are some factors like the weather that we can’t control, there are a number of others which we can. Hopefully you avoid these pitfalls and have a successful grass planting experience!