Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Seeding Considerations

     It is mid September and seeding season in upon us.  That means that it is the prime time of the year to be putting down fall germinating seed.  This is seed for things that grow primarily in the cooler seasons of the year or seed that fair well on the ground for an early spring germination.
     The first fall seed choices that come to mind to most homeowners are the cool season grasses.  People in this area of the country look to plant fescue, bluegrass and rye grass (both annual and perennial) in the fall.  They are looking for a nice green lawn throughout the winter.  Even people who have warm season grasses like zoysia often choose to over-seed them with an annual ryegrass in the fall.  This gives them a nice green lawn throughout the winter.
     A chance conversation earlier today has me once again asking the question.  Why?
     Why do you need or want to have large areas of grass that requires a great deal of water and maintenance?  Are you using that grass for sports?  Do you do a lot of entertaining on your lawn?  Or is it like the majority of lawns in the country merely a green foreground.
     Why does all of that grass have to be green - regardless of the season.  Does green grass in January really look great or does it actually look kind of out of place?  Would that natural wheat color of a dormant warm season grass be just as pretty?  It most certainly would be a lot less work!  Do you really enjoy mowing that green grass in January?
     For the majority of homeowners, a green grass lawn is something that they feel they must have.  It has been drilled into their brains for several generations.  The idea of a green grass lawn actually traces back to the idea of a manor house.  Large estates had green pastures in front of the grouping of buildings that made up the estate with maintained gardens placed between the buildings and the pasture.  These large expanses of grass were kept short by the presence of sheep and cattle and were actually a working part of the estate.  Suburbia does not have these large expansive estates, but we still have the vestige of their imprint in the grass lawns that seem to be a prerequisite to every acceptable home.
     Very few people who live in suburbia actually raise sheep or cattle and very few use their grass lawns for sports or entertaining.  So, again I ask why?  If that area out of your property is going to take some but not a great deal of foot traffic, do you really want or need grass?  Some people like to mow and fuss with grass; so for them grass is therapeutic.  For the rest of us, there are other choices.
     Fall is a wonderful time for planting clover.  It can be seeded alone or in with a grass mix.  By planting it in the fall, you get a stronger and healthier stand of clover in the spring.  White clove can take some foot traffic, and some mowing, but should not be fertilized.  It is a legume and fixes nitrogen from the air.  Adding fertilizer will often kill it.  The advantage in having a white clover "lawn " is that it typically only grows a couple of inches (4-8" so if you do not plan to walk in it much you could simply not mow) and does not need to be mowed often, it blooms in the spring and summer providing pretty flowers and a nice scent and it does not need to be fertilized.  It does attract bees and this does need to be considered when thinking of planting it.  Clover will be dormant when the temperatures fall below freezing, but so will your grass.
     Another possibility is to replace that grass lawn with wildflowers.  If your current lawn is mostly dead, or in the case of my friend from earlier today mostly gone due to erosion, you might want to consider wildflowers.  There are innumerable mixes available to you - some with plant varieties selected that do not get taller than 8 - 12 inches if you still want that manicured look.  These can readily be sown in the fall and will germinate in the spring.  If this option is what you decide upon, I recommend that you plant rye grain and your wildflower seed mix so that you get an immediate green soil cover.  In the spring the rye will die off and the flowers will take over.  Make sure that your mix has annuals and perennials unless you plan to re-seed every fall.  Once your wildflowers are established, plan to mow them once a year in the fall after the seed heads are ripe to keep the tree seedlings down.
     Fall is a great time to think about your yard and what you might want to plant in it that requires seeding.  If grass is not something that you need to have, consider other options.  You might just find that you like your yard better when you are enjoying flowers blooming there or are no longer a slave to it.

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