HOMEOWNER'S GUIDE TO CHEATGRASS (UNR Cooperative Extension)

ESTABLISHMENT, CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF TURF

PROCEDURES FOR GERMINATING SEED

ESTABLISHMENT IRRIGATION

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

 

 

ESTABLISHMENT, CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF TURF
 
PREPARING THE EARTH

Clear and rough grade the site.
Determine if control of broad leafs or grassy species would be appropriate.
Till the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches.
If needed, incorporate organics and nutrients into the prepared soil. Soil testing will help determine what is needed if you are unsure.
Smooth grade the site.
The seedbed should be firm.
Select the proper species in accordance with site conditions i.e. soil type, amount of sunlight, and desired use.
Seed the area by hand, hydroseeding, or mechanical means.
Seed/Soil contact is crucial. If hand seeding, lightly rake in the seed or roller pack the area.

EARLY GROWTH

Water is critical during this stage. Irrigate at short intervals multiple times per day. The exact timing is variable and site specific, so there is a need to gauge watering so that the surface remains continually moist during germination, but not so much water to cause erosion or runoff.
Gradually decrease watering as the plants become more established and develops root structure.
Mowing can occur when the grass reaches 150% of the desired mowing height.
If weeds are persistent, many annuals will mow out. If desired, other weeds can be controlled with herbicides. Herbicides may be applied after turf is established, approximately after three or four mowings.

APPROPRIATE SEEDING SEASONS

Cool season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescues, Bentgrasses, and Ryegrasses should be seeded at the appropriate rates when soil temps are 55-80 degrees Farenheight.
Spring seeding in Northern latitudes and high elevations is successful provided the growing season is allowed for establishment.
Late summer and fall seeding are good for those species susceptible to heat stress.
Summer seeding is acceptable as long as seedlings receive extensive watering.
Warm season grasses, such as Bermuda grass, Zoysiagrass and others should be seeded in the spring at the proper seeding rate. Seed only after all danger of frost has passed (soil temps should be 70-90 degrees Farenheight).
Be careful to not seed too late in the season, as at least eight weeks of establishment before the first frost is needed to ensure healthy grass stands.

MAINTENANCE

Appropriate moisture.
Mowing at appropriate height for the species.
Aerating-allows the nutrients and moisture to enter the soil more freely when compaction becomes a problem.
Removing thatch, as thatch inhibits nutrient and water penetration into the soil.
Overseeding-thickens an inadequate turf stand.

If the homeowner wishes to fertilize, 3-4 lbs of Nitrogen and Phosphorus per 1000 square feet is the recommended application rate.

 

PROCEDURES FOR GERMINATING SEED

Due to the increased use of our seed by homeowners for establishing yard landscapes, we drew up the five step procedure below for improving their chances at germinating a flower bed, grass cover, or a meadow containing both.
Unlike native seed, common vegetable and crop seeds have been genetically "constructed" to provide a uniform, relatively easy germination, which produces plants all similar in nature, such as our row crops. This homogeneity has made farm production and harvesting so successful over the years. Native seed however, has genetically evolved to create a diverse crop of plants. Even though plants of any one species are similar, upon closer examination you will find any or all of the following differences:

1) Germination timing of individual seeds spread out over a variable period of time, even years.
2) Flowering, seeding, dormancy timing of individual plants.
3) Structural variation between plants. e.g. height, leaf vs. stem, and color variation.

These and many more such characteristics protect the survival of the species. Indeed, genetic diversity is the basis of our evolution and survival as well. This partly explains the dynamics of an established meadow. Your meadow is always changing as plants are coming and going in a constant state of flux. These changes are typically subtle and only noticed by observation over time. Part of the advantage of this dynamics is the stability that is created by such a garden to survive through drought, infestation, fire, flood, etc.
These steps therefore, do not insure that all seeds will come up. Instead, they insure that you will be giving all the seeds the best chance to come up when they are ready.
SPECIES SELECTION

Decide whether you want a grass or flower meadow, or mixed meadow. Typically, sod forming grasses are too aggressive and will crowd out flowers. However, small quantities of the less aggressive bunch grasses will coexist with flowers. In our area, these grasses typically come up in the spring, flower and seed in early to mid summer. After a summer dormant period, they generally resume growth for a period in the fall. In contrast, annual weedy grasses generally die by summer, creating the flash fire hazard, which we experience along the Sierra front. The native bunch grasses provide some protection from this hazard. The important decisions regarding flowers include, color preference, timing of flowering period, and height. Our flower mixes generally have a broad flowering period. In fact, we tend to create mixes that maximize that period.

PREPARE THE GROUND

First, identify the plants already on your site and decide whether you want them. If you have a weed problem, it is much easier to deal with them prior to planting your garden. Most annual weeds can be killed simply by mowing them before they produce seed. Unfortunately, this can take time, possibly a whole year. Some recommend that you go through several tilling-watering cycles to stimulate further weed growth which you continue killing prior to seed production. Alternatively, use chemicals as recommended or with advice from professionals such as the Cooperative Extension. If you choose not to remove existing plant material, clear small areas where the seed can be planted free from close competition.

SEEDING METHODS

The most important rule of seeding is close seed-soil contact. This contact is essential to get the seed to absorb moisture to stimulate germination. Generally, a uniform sandy-loamy soil with good drainage is most favorable. On a clean site, disturb the top inch or two of soil. We recommend mixing the seed mix with dry sand, three parts sand to one part seed. Mix the seed well before this process because the mix will settle between the time you receive it and planting. Once mixed, uniformly broadcast half of the seed over the planting bed and repeat the process in reverse with the other half. This will insure that your entire area is covered without running out of seed. Hand broadcast tends to work best because mechanical devices allow the seed to settle and concentrate by density in the bin. This effect might be favorable if you want to create a meadow with concentrated areas of color, height, etc... Once broadcast, the surface needs to be lightly raked in to about 1/16 inch in depth for flower and at least 1/2 inch for grass seed; some seed will show on the surface but don't worry. Burying seed too deep will prevent germination.
For larger areas, planting may require dragging a device behind a truck or ATV. The device can range from a harrow on a tractor to a piece of chain link fence attached to a 2x4. Last and most important, good seed-soil contact must be achieved by packing the surface down. Rollers can be rented cheaply or for larger areas you can drive over them. Use your imagination but get the seedbed well firmed.

TIMING and WATERING

We recommend late fall sowing. Natives tend to germinate better after being in the ground through the winter. This process is called cold stratification and in effect, wakes the dormant seed and prepares it for the spring precipitation and germination. Don’t sow too early in fall. If fall rains germinate the seed, many will die off from the cold winter. If planting in the spring, plant as early as possible to take maximum advantage of soil moisture prior to summer.
The seeds will not germinate without water. Seed can remain in the ground for many years waiting for water or other environmental conditions necessary for germination. Whether spring rain, ground precipitation or your watering stimulates germination, it is very important to keep the seed bed uniformly moist until their roots have developed. This may require light watering two or three times a day at first, slowly cutting back as the plants develops. The drought resistant advantage of a native plant really begins after the plants reach maturity. Know the water requirements of whatever you plant. You may choose not to water at all in the following years if you find some blooming and seeding each year. On the other hand, once a week watering can significantly extend the flowering throughout the summer.

MANAGEMENT

Annuals in your mix will germinate earliest in the spring. They are programmed to flower and seed by early summer and die off before the summer heat. They also provide the initial color because most perennials tend to produce more vegetation the first year and flower in subsequent years. Likewise, perennial grasses develop their vegetation first while flowering and seeding the second and subsequent years. Once established into a healthy cycle, all these species will reseed themselves over many years. In the early years, the annual weeds may still be common but over time, the perennials will establish themselves and out compete the weeds. You are free to combat weeds manually or with the assistance of mulches or chemicals.
In the end, patience is a virtue!
Good luck!

 

ESTABLISHMENT IRRIGATION
Even the most drought tolerant natives require favorable precipitation for germination.
Late spring seedings aren’t recommended unless irrigation is available. The irrigation system should be put on a programmed timer that can be set to run for five minutes hourly from 9:30am to 4:30pm for a minimum of two weeks to get sufficient germination. The exact timing is variable and site specific. The goal is adequate continual surface dampness. With finder soils or cooler temperatures, the interval or frequency may be reduced. On the other hand, too much water may cause splashing, pooling, or runoff that will bring seed to the surface and wash away.
Too little moisture will allow the surface to dry between intervals. Either condition may cause failure. The contractor must stay on top of this two-week period. This intense regime must be maintained until sufficient germination is obtained and then the intervals and/or duration can be slowly reduced as their roots extend down to safe depths. As the plants mature, their drought tolerant characteristics will make them able to survive with little or no water. However, flowering duration may be extended with supplemental irrigation on an annual basis. Many of the natives do go dormant during dry winters and springs.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

Why isn't my seed growing?

 

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