By REBECCA SLOAN
If you are a homeowner who's been dreaming of a lush, green lawn, now's the time to get in gear and make that dream a reality.
In this neck of the woods, late summer and early fall are the best seasons for planting grass seed. If you get your act together now, by the time spring arrives, your lawn will be the richest, most verdigris patch of sod on the block.
First, choose the type of grass you want to plant.
Residents of northern climates can choose from cool-season grasses that include bent grass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and rye grass.
Bent grass is a fine textured perennial that forms a tightly-knit turf after seeds sprout.
Because it is thick and low-growing, bent grass looks smooth, neat and manicured and is the type of thatch often used on golf courses.
But although bent grass scores high in the looks department, it requires a lot of care and is subject to many diseases. This is because the thick, low-growing sod creates a tight barrier between soil and the open air, making it difficult for water and nutrients to reach to the root of the plant. The barrier also creates a cozy haven for destructive insects.
Thus, bent grass requires frequent aerating, its shallow roots need moisture constantly, and it must be mowed with a low, 1/4 -inch blade.
If you think you can give a lawn planted with bent grass the attention it requires, plan to plant about 1/2 to one pound of seed per square 1,000 feet. Seeds will germinate in six to 14 days, and the lawn will need four to six pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet per year and regular watering.
Less work: For those who want a lawn that requires less maintenance, there are about 200 varieties of easy-care Kentucky bluegrass.
Kentucky bluegrass is a rich, blue-green color and is medium to fine in texture with pointed tips. It has a shallow root system, a high tolerance to cold, it resists disease and mixes well with other types of grasses.
What Kentucky bluegrass does not like is hot, dry weather, and when northern summers heat up, it goes dormant and becomes dry and brown.
To sow Kentucky bluegrass seeds, use one to two pounds per 1,000 square feet. It will take seeds 14 to 21 days to germinate, and grass should be fertilized once a year with four to six pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.
Fescue is a very fine type of grass with a deep root system.
There are many varieties of fescue, but they are seldom grown alone and do well when mixed with Kentucky bluegrass. Fescue doesn't like to be over-watered, and although it is very fine, it is also very hardy and resists wear and tear well.
So, if you have five growing boys who regularly rip up the turf during backyard football and soccer matches, fescue might be a good candidate for your lawn.
Four to five pounds of fescue seed should be planted for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. The seeds will germinate in seven to 14 days, and the grass will require two to three pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet per year.
Combining seeds: Although some people opt to plant just one kind of grass, planting a seed mix is often a better idea.
Seed blends result in stronger, more versatile lawns that resist disease and harsh weather conditions better than lawns planted with just one type of grass.
Although late summer and early fall might seem like a strange time to plant anything because of the inevitable onset of winter, cool-climate grass seed actually grows best in moderate, wet autumn weather.
Of course, don't wait too long to plant. If the Thanksgiving turkey is on the table, and you still haven't sowed any seeds, better wait until spring -- the next best time to plant grass seed.
Once you have chosen your type of seed, you will need to prepare your yard.
Soil should be loose and the ground should still be fairly warm.
Grass seed will germinate the best when the temperature is about 65 degrees.
Use a handheld or drop spreader to spread the seed. These are relatively inexpensive and are sold at most hardware stores.
Put half of the seed in the spreader and then spread it by walking in one direction.
Next, add the second portion of seed and spread it by walking in the opposite direction. This method ensures even coverage.
Next, sprinkle on a starter fertilizer. Starter fertilizers are high in phosphorous, a nutrient essential to the proper germination of seedlings. You can buy them at most hardware stores.
Once the starter fertilizer has been applied, use a cage roller to cover the seed with a thin coating (about 1/4 inch) of organic topdressing such as peat moss, compost, weed-free straw, shredded bark or aged sawdust.
This topdressing will protect the tender seeds and shoots from hungry birds, strong winds and harsh temperatures. If you are pinching pennies, you can skip the topdressing and just use a rake to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
Once seeds are protected with topdressing or soil, roll the entire lawn with a roller to ensure proper contact between soil and seeds.
Finally, water the entire area with a hose until it is drenched. Use a hose setting that provides a gentle, even sprinkling.
To keep kids, wandering pets and other curious passer-bys off of a newly planted lawn, encircle the area with bright-colored string attached to small stakes or roll-out metal fencing.
Watering: During the germination period -- anywhere from five to 21 days depending on the weather and the type of seed planted -- water the newly-planted lawn once a day, unless Mother Nature sends in some rain and does the job for you.
Don't water so much that things get soggy and big puddles form, but keep seedlings nice and moist or they won't sprout.
Once seeds germinate and tender green shoots poke through, you can ease up on the watering, but don't neglect the new growth.
If grass fades from bright green to dull grayish-green or brown, this is a sign that it needs water and it needs it fast.
That said and done, all you need to do next is buy a lawnmower and resign yourself to many years of grass mowing.