My mom lives in southeast Texas and has 7-acres of land with most of it being heavily wooded and unusable. The front lawn, however, is divided by her driveway with 1/5 of the lawn on one side of the driveway and 4/5 on the other side. Our project was on the larger side or the 4/5 side.
It has always been my mom’s desire to have a green lawn, but my dad loved the trees. The heavy shade and soil conditions didn’t allow for grass. About 80% of their 40,000 sq. ft. front yard was dirt with heavy sand/clay soil. They call this gumbo clay in that part of the country. The part we were going to work on measured just about 30,000 sq. ft.
To make matters worse, the day before we began working on the yard a herd of feral hogs came through and turned up part of the lawn looking for grubs and anything else they could find. The damage was mostly in the shaded part and what we thought was a bad thing actually turned out to be beneficial. With the soil turned up, it was more acceptable for planting seed. We just hoped those feral hogs wouldn’t come back!
The Challenge of Choosing the Right Seed
I was faced with the challenge of choosing the best grass to plant in a place where no grass has ever grown. Being in southeast Texas, Newton County, which is about 80-miles north of the Gulf and 20-miles west of the Louisiana border, most all the grasses that are grown there are warm-season grasses. In fact, the only cool-season grass we were able to find in any store was annual ryegrass, which is overseeded in Bermudagrass, adding some green in winter. We would not plant an annual grass so I made sure I brought the grass seed with me.
The most shade tolerant of all warm-season grasses is St. Augustine, which my mom has in part of the front lawn. However, she also had more than 50 trees – both pines, and hardwoods and these are just in the section we seeded. She had a total of about 60 trees total in her front lawn. Almost half of those trees are in 1/3 of the yard on the east side where the heaviest shade is located. No grass has ever grown there, only a few patches of moss.
Fortunately, as far as shade goes, a hurricane came through just before we started and damaged six trees, which were soon afterward taken out. This allowed for slightly more light to filter through. But there was quite a bit of debris left behind after the hurricane. We had to remove the limbs and leaves before we could begin.
How We Considered Light and Heat Levels
Before we started, I took light readings at noon to see how much light was reaching the soil in the most shaded part compared to the full sun sections. What I discovered was that the shaded areas were receiving half the sunlight compared to the full sun, which was great because we had expected it to be much less. The sun was coming in only in patches through the canopy for most of the day, but in one part of the day between 4 – 6 p.m., most of the shaded area did receive almost full sun (except for the shade cast by the tree trunks). The shade also lowered the temperature by about 20-degrees. I determined this was enough light to work with using the more shade-tolerant varieties of Turf Type Tall Fescue (TTTF). Many cool-season grasses are more shade tolerant than the most shade tolerant warm-season grass.
The second consideration was if the more heat-sensitive grass of the mix, the fine fescues, could survive the southern summer heat. This has yet to be seen in this project, but we will keep watch over it. Fine fescues are the most shade tolerant, but also the most heat-sensitive of all cool-season grasses.
In the U.S. fine fescues are relegated strictly as shade grass. Most fine fescues cannot take full sun and this is especially so in southern locations. Yet they can still fail in the shade if the heat gets too high.
For this reason, I made sure there were not just fine fescues in the shade mix. There are about eight different varieties altogether, three varieties of fine fescue and five varieties of TTTF including Nightcrawler TTTF and Cross 4 TTTF. Both are very shade tolerant and crossfire 4 performs well in the deep south while nightcrawler is one of the few fescues that put out rhizomes. The idea for all the varieties is if one variety fails in a specific location then the others will take over.
How We Started This Project
Our job was not an easy one. At just under 30,000 sq. ft., it was large enough that we had to be careful about the equipment we chose. We needed to break the surface of the soil but didn’t want to rent a walk-behind dethatcher since most are quite small. So I made a 36″ wide dethatcher from materials my mom had in the shop.
Here is how we began…
Using 2×4’s and plywood, along with 6″ nails, I made a dethatcher I could pull behind the mower. The only part of the dethatcher that was touching the soil was the end with the nails sticking out about 2.5 inches. I lined the 2 X 4’s up on either side of the 36″ wide plywood, clamped them in place, and drove nails down the length of the wood.
Note: The nails I used are labeled as “Pole Barn Nails” and are pretty strong.
I also went to the tire store and got a damaged car tire tube they were going to throw away. I used this to weigh down the dethatcher. I cut the tube in two sections to handle it better and when I was finished, the nails on the dethatcher had about 60 lbs pushing down on them. I use car tires filled with sand because the tubes do not bounce and stay in place. If I used cinder blocks they would have bounced out quickly without tying them down. Since I had to lift up the dethatcher often to clean out the pine needles and leaves caught in the nails, the tire tubes worked much better. In fact, it worked perfectly and for the first few hours, I ran the dethatcher over the lawn in different directions. This broke up the surface and also removed some moss in one location as well as smoothed the damaged soil by hogs.
I then spread the seed. I went over the yard twice. First with a shade grass mix that included five different varieties of seed. This was used primarily in the most shaded part of the lawn. Then again with turf-type tall fescue with five varieties. Afterward I used the backside of a rake and covered the seed with a thin layer of soil. A total of eight varieties of seed were used because there were two varieties that were the same in each bag. I spread each variety, shade grass and TTTF separately so I knew exactly how much of each type was being applied. In the bare ground sections, I spread 10 lbs total per 1,000 sq. ft. In the full sun sections, I only spread the TTTF.
Since there was no soil test performed at that time, the following day I applied a starter fertilizer to ensure there was enough Phosphorus for the new seeds. Phosphorus (P) in the soil is relatively immobile. It doesn’t flow or move with rainwater or irrigation once it enters the soil. There may be plenty of P for mature grass but since the young roots of the germinated seed are short they may not be able to reach it. Therefore, starter fertilizer is often recommended.
Then we began watering the seed to keep it moist, watering at least twice a day and sometimes three times. The seeds must take in water until they germinate. It took eight days to begin to see grass blades emerging from the seed. The photos showing a green lawn were taken 30 days after planting the seed. Next spring I will get an update on the grass.
Turf Formula® mixed with Super-Cal® is being used. Together they increase the soil microorganisms tremendously as well as increase seed germination. In studies, starting with 5,500,000 CFU (Colony Forming Units) of viable microbes, the studies showed within 72-hours the numbers increased to 187,000,000. This increase in beneficial microbial numbers and activity breakdown soil elements faster into nutrients the plants can use. While fertilizers usually contain just three elements, Turf Formula works on the full spectrum of elements that are broken down by microbes and can be used by plants.
Turf Formula® can also increase nutrient uptake, make photosynthesis more efficient and create healthier plants with increased root numbers and depth. Plus, soil pathogens are decreased helping plants to better withstand stress and drought.