The Lawn Coach: Men Can Be So Stubborn

The Lawn Coach
Men Can Be So Stubborn

Q: Please help me before I strangle my husband.
He keeps planting grass seed without aerating and covering it with a thick layer of straw which he insists has to stay there after the grass starts growing. Then he doesn't understand why the grass does not grow in spots and it grows sparsely since he keeps adding grass seed and fertilizer to the top of it.
He will not listen to me when I tell him he first needs to aerate, then when the grass has taken root, he needs to remove the straw so the rest of the grass seed can grow and the grass that is there can get sufficient water and sunlight. Also the grass seed and fertilizer he adds is just sitting on top of the straw, which is now thatch, and it is just blowing away in the wind. (I am but just a stupid woman you know - HA!) Please tell us what to do. -Liz
A: I've been accused of many things in my life but impersonating a marriage counselor is not one of them. Perhaps that will now change. First, PUT DOWN THAT BOX OF RAT POISON.
Okay? Alright then. Here goes.
For grass seed to grow effectively, it needs good contact with soil. The IDEAL method of seeding is to mix all the seed into the top half inch of soil, then roll over the area with a drum type roller in order to press the soil and seed together. In fact, you'll often notice in bare areas that the best seed growth comes in the shape of footprints where you stepped on the soil after mixing the seed in. Putting the seed on top of the straw is a waste of seed, time, and money.
Straw mulch is one of those things that I list as "nice but not necessary." If done correctly, it'll help. It basically shields the new seedings from direct raindrops and irrigation spray so that the well intended water doesn't knock the seed around and prevent it from getting established. Instead, the water hits the straw, then gently drips through onto the seed. The straw also helps the soil stay moist by reducing evaporation.
If you are going to use straw, you need to put down enough so that at least 40% of the soil is still visible from above. The straw can then naturally break down over time and will not add to any thatch layer. If you decide to pile on a thick layer, you are doing two things wrong. First, you are preventing the new seedlings from getting sunlight once they pop through the surface. Not good. Second, you are putting down too much to allow for natural degradation. This means....., you guessed it, you'll have to remove it once the seed gets growing. This can be a delicate procedure and the underlying seed is often disturbed in the process.
Tell your hubby that seed growth requires good soil contact, consistent moisture, and ample sunlight once the little green fuzzies start poking out of the soil. That's it. Seed on hay won't work. Thick layers of hay will be counterproductive. Fertilizer on top of hay is just confusing.
Whether or not he chooses to rent a core aerator, the seed needs to be mixed down into the surface of the soil and gently pressed for maximum effect. Good luck Liz. If your husband asks, let him know my real name is Marco Benvenito and I live in Fiji.

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