Sowing Lawn Seed - A great alternative to turf

Author: Stefan Palm   Date Posted: 19 September 2018 

When it comes to repairing or replacing a lawn, seeding is an excellent alternative to turf however there are some things you should know to make sure you get it right.

We often hear from customers who have unsuccessfully tried to sow with packet blend lawn seeds that they have purchased from their local hardware store. We hear comments like, “it started out all right then died” or “it’s gone all clumpy” or” it didn’t germinate properly”. In any case, there seems to be a high failure rate when it comes to sowing lawn seed

There are many reasons for this but I’m certain that it doesn’t have to be that way so let me run through some things  to help you get a better understanding how sowing seed could work for you. Two very common problems include the following;

Failure to germinate

Most of the lawn seed that you can buy here in Australia wasn’t produced here. The largest lawn seed producing country is the USA and when importing seed into Australia, it passes through the Dept of Agriculture and Water Resources where they test it for a whole lot of things including purity and germination. Unless it meets Australia’s strict standards, it can’t be sold here. This means that the seed you buy is good, will germinate and is weed free. If you find that it doesn’t germinate, or dies shortly after, it isn’t because it was poor quality seed.  In most instances, seed fails to germinate because it either wasn’t watered enough during germination or was sown in the wrong season. Along with this, if you get weeds sprouting up in your freshly sown lawn, it wasn’t because the lawn seed box had weed seeds in it. When setting out on your seed sowing project its handy to know this so that you don’t get frustrated.

Choosing the wrong variety

Most lawn seed blends that you buy are predominantly cool season varieties such as fescues, and ryes and blue grasses.   If you look on the information panel on the side or back of the packet you’ll see that these types of grasses make up around 90-95% of the seed in the box. On the up side, these types germinate quickly, are suited for shade and sunny positions,  can be sown most of the year and are evergreen. On the down side, they are thirsty, are not very hard wearing and cannot self-repair because they do not have any runners or rhizomes. If they are not watered enough in the summer months, they thin out. As lawn plants die off due to lack of water, there is less competition for soil space resulting in the remaining plants spreading out. This is where you start to notice a clumping type effect. This makes them high maintenance, requiring regular over sowing and high amounts of water which isn’t everyones bag.

Getting it right

If you choose to go down the seed rout, you’ll definitely save yourself a bunch of money when comparing the cost to instant turf. Seed is also easier to install, especially if your oversowing an existing lawn. My advice is choose a more hardwearing, single variety like couch or kikuyu if your sowing in full sun. They are harder to find in stores but they are much more suitable to our hot dry summers. For areas in shade, it’s best to use the rye/fescue blends but keep in mind that regardless of what it says on the box, they are thirsty, are not hardwearing  and will need watering around 3 times per week during summer otherwise they will thin out and become clumpy.

For best results, sow in early to mid Spring when the days are mild and when there is still some rain around. To ensure proper germination, invest in an automatic tap timer. They cost less than $100 and  will turn your sprinkler or irrigation system on at regular intervals during the day as seed will need to be watered at least three times per day for the first 3-4 weeks. On warm days, its essential that the seed gets a drink in the middle of the day when most people are not home. Failure to do this can lead to failure in germination. Fertilise your seed with an organic fertiliser when sowing and then again after 4 and 8 weeks.  This will help mature the new lawn faster and will provide better pest and disease resistance. Prior to the introduction of turf around 35 years ago, all lawns were seeded so it does work. It just takes a bit more work and patience.

If you want some more info on how to sow a lawn, click here


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