Soil testing is a good way to assess the health of your soil and make any necessary improvements to soil fertility for more productive plants. Soil testing provides a snapshot of your soil’s current nutritional and material composition.
A big factor in your test will be the pH (acidity/alkalinity) level of your soil, which affects whether or not nutrients already present in your soil are available to your plants. Search the web for “soil pH and nutrient availability” images, which illustrate how pH corrections can improve what your plants access.
There are basic self-test kits available in garden centers and home improvement stores that can be helpful in measuring pH and for identifying nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium (NPK) deficiencies. Or, you can submit a sample to an independent laboratory for a more detailed report that can including other micro- and macronutrients, as well as cation exchange capacity (CEC), organic matter content, and soil structure. Here are the basic soil sampling steps to get your soil analyzed.
Collect a representative sample
From the area you wish to sample, like a planter bed, vegetable garden, lawn, or even a single pot, create a composite sample of the area’s soil. Use a professional soil probe or dig down 6-8 inches into the root zone to collect several small soil samples. Deeper samples are useful for measuring salt buildup. Collect the samples when the soil is the driest and mix them together. Then, per your specific lab’s instructions, use a clean, dry bag or container to package up the consolidated sample, minus any plant roots or rocks.
Submit your consolidated sample for analysis
There are many choices for soil testing: home test kits from garden centers, test-by-mail services, cooperative extension services, or independent laboratories, which cater to agronomy industry professionals and whose reports can seem highly technical.
The lab you choose will give you specific instructions for submitting your sample for analysis. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure the accuracy of your results.
Understand your results
For many homeowners, this is sometimes the most intimidating step in the soil testing process. For most self-test kits, a color chart will help you read whether your pH and NPK levels are over, under or within range. Mail-order services generally include results together with written reports that help to explain the nutrient levels and advice for why and how to correct. Testing laboratories catering to industry often test for a broader range of micro- and macronutrients, but the reports may list numeric results with little interpretation. A good beginners’ resource for understanding soil test results is at https://extension.psu.edu/soil-test-results-whats-next-guide-for-homeowners.
Amend your soil
There are so many possible variations for what your soil remediation may involve that we cannot cover them here. Still, no matter your soil test results, adding organic matter to your soil is the best remedy for poor soil. The process may take several years to improve your soil, so start now by adding compost or top-layering with various organic matter like mulch, manure, grass clippings and leaf debris to decompose into your soil. You can even start making your own compost from kitchen peelings and plant debris. A good sign your soil is improving is an increase in earthworms and beneficial funghi, microbes and nematodes.
For immediate corrections to macronutrient NPK deficiencies, look to common fertilizers to correct for the levels you need. You will find the amendments you need at local garden centers. Follow package instructions carefully for proportions and mixing.
Everything is coming up roses. Here in the Valley, January is the ideal month for pruning roses. It’s also time to get your bare-root roses into the ground and to relocate any established roses planted in an unfavorable location.
Rose pruning season begins once the danger of frost has passed, when daytime temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and while roses have ceased blooming. Prune roses before Valentine’s Day, when temperatures rise and bud eyes swell with new growth.
Know your rose
The purpose of pruning roses is to stimulate new spring growth and to achieve the greatest number of quality blooms. Most roses respond best to drastic pruning, so don’t be nervous. It’s always best to first confirm the types of roses you have—hybrid tea, floribunda, miniature, climbing, rambling, groundcover, etc.—so you can prune your rose to its best potential shape and size. This article focuses on pruning bush roses like hybrid teas and floribundas.
Cut for shape
Begin by using sharp, clean loppers and pruning shears/secateurs sterilized with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to prevent spreading plant pathogens. For bush roses, the objective is to achieve a vase-shaped plant (open in the center) and to have 5-12 remaining canes that are roughly knee height, 18-24 inches tall; more vigorous, established plants may have more canes.
While you are cutting, take note of discolored or diseased leaves or insects present to properly address any problems. Seal cuts with commercial cut sealant or school glue. Lastly, clear all clippings from underneath the rose to prevent mildew and disease.
What to prune in winter
Here are general rules of thumb for what to remove in the pruning process:
At least one quarter to one third, but no more than one half, of the previous year’s growth
Dead or diseased canes
Crossing, rubbing canes
Limbs less than the thickness of a pencil
Old, unproductive canes
Suckers below the graft union (on hybrid teas)
What to prune in other seasons
At other times of the year, keep your roses in shape by snipping off spent blooms just above the next lowest leaflet of five leaves (i.e., deadheading) and by removing any dead or diseased canes.
Love trees but hate the mess they make? In this month’s post, we are featuring desert-adapted evergreen trees you can enjoy in your Arizona landscape, with minimal maintenance. Although it’s rare for trees to produce zero litter, you can count on non-deciduous trees to produce minimal debris.
As always, match the right tree to the right location to maximize your enjoyment of the trees you select.
To help you select the most suitable trees for your landscape, we have listed the main characteristics of some of our favorite low-litter species, followed by more detailed descriptions.
Willow acacia (Acaciasalicina): 30’ high, 20’ wide; shade tree for narrow spaces
Detailed Descriptions of Low-Litter Trees for Arizona Landscapes
The African sumac (Rhus lancea) is an evergreen tree with a wide, rounded canopy that spreads to 20-30 feet high and wide. It features dark brown, cracked bark and 4-inch-long leaves that are dark green on top and silver underneath. On female trees, its yellow spring flowers produce green berries that many bird species enjoy. It tolerates heat and poor, dry, salty soil.
Arizona rosewood (Vauquelinia californica) trees are slow-growing shrubby evergreens that grow to about 10 feet tall. They feature dull, dark green serrated leaves and clusters of short-blooming white flowers between late April and early May. Performing best above 2,500 feet in elevation, Arizona rosewood grows in partial or full sun but yellows in the hottest Valley temperatures.
The Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) is a dense shrub that can be pruned into a small tree that can reach 30-40 feet high and 20-30 feet wide. The Brazilian pepper features clusters of flowers 2-3 inches long in a long flowering season, September to November, with glossy fruits that ripen to red clusters of peppery edible berries.
Blue Arizona cypress (Hesperocyparis arizonica, formerly Cupressus arizonica) trees are native to the southwestern U.S. but do not always perform well below 6,000 feet in elevation. They are fast-growing, reaching 40 feet in height and 30 feet in width. Planted together, they can form a windbreak or a privacy screen along fence lines.
Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) trees require direct sunlight and are drought-tolerant. Their vertical, conical shape makes a strong, vertical focal point, reaching 30-50 feet high and 5-8 feet wide. Cypress trees shed small amounts when the old, interior growth ages. They can be planted in a row to provide an imposing wind break or natural barrier.
The carob or locust bean tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is an evergreen native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Reaching 30-40 feet tall and 30-40 feet at maturity after 20-50 years, it features a broad, hemispherical crown, sturdy branches, and a deep taproot. Female and some bisexual varieties produce summer flowers and 6-inch-long edible seed pods that taste like chocolate.
Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco) or Mexican bushbird is a native Mexican evergreen tree that likes full sun and grows in a vase-shaped form to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It grows in full sun in well-drained soil and has bright green leaves and seed pods. It attracts hummingbirds with its very showy yellow flower spikes, winter through spring.
Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is an evergreen shrub or small tree is useful as a privacy screen. It attracts butterflies and bees with its fragrant, cream-colored flowers, followed by red berries that attract many bird species. It grows 20-25 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide but can be trained into any shape. The cherry laurel tolerates full sun and full shade but performs best in part shade.
Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is a large tree with showy orange and red leaves in late fall which it drops all at once, once a year. Chinese pistache is dioecious, which means each tree is either a male that produces pollen that has little or no allergenic qualities, or a female that produces inedible berries that are attractive to birds. It is fast-growing and enjoys full sun and fast-draining soil. At maturity, it reaches 30-35 feet in height and 20-30 feet in width and is very drought-, wind-, and heat-tolerant.
Indian laurel fig
Indian laurel fig (Ficus nitida), also called Chinese banyan, is a fast-growing, medium-sized evergreen, native to Asia and Hawaii. It features tropical-looking foliage that is glossy and dense. Its spring flowers are inconspicuous. It tolerates air pollution and grows 20-30 feet high and wide.
Desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) is native Sonoran Desert evergreens. The oldest know specimen is over 2,000 years old. It features green leaves and lavender flowers in late spring that mature into bright red berries. Ironwood can reach 15-30 feet tall, 15-20 feet wide, and can grow in rocky, infertile soil, but it requires full sun and 6 inches or more of annual rainfall. Its wood contains compounds known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Leather leaf acacia
Leather leaf acacia (Acacia craspedocarpa) is a dense evergreen shrub that can be pruned to a small tree that grows slowly to 10-13 feet. Its rounded leaf petioles are silver and leathery. Native to Australia, it grows in full or reflected sun and blooms with yellow puffy flowers, spring to summer. It tolerates poor, dry, rocky soil and is frost resistant to 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
The live oak (Quercus virginiana) tree is a broad, evergreen shade tree. It differs from typical oaks in that it is a medium-fast grower that is drought tolerant once established. It grows in full sun, 40-80 feet tall, spreading 60-100 feet wide. It features large, dense foliage for deep shade. It has subtle green flowers in spring.
The mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus) grows as a large shrub or small tree that is 15-20 feet high and 20-30 feet wide. It can be pruned into topiary shapes, and its resin can be chewed to clean teeth. It tolerates poor soil and hot, dry growing conditions. Spring flowers develop into small, red berries that ripen to black.
The mulga acacia tree (Acacia aneura) is native to Africa, Asia, Australia and North America. With silver, needle-like foliage and gold flowers in mid- to late summer, the mulga is great for color contrast. Mulgas are slow growers but reach 15-30 feet in height and 15-20 feet in width and have roots that grow to 35 feet. Mulgas lose their leaves only in extreme drought conditions.
Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is an evergreen tree native to the Indian subcontinent. It is widely used for medicinal properties and in cosmetics, producing white or yellow flowers in spring that develop into vibrant yellow fruit that attract birds and insects. It grows 30-40 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide. A neem tree is sensitive to frost and needs frost protection.
Red cap gum
Red cap gum (Eucalyptus erythrocorys) is a fast-growing Australian-native evergreen that likes full sun. It has 4-inch-long silver-blue leaves and grows to 30 feet high and 25 feet wide, serving as an effective screen. It features red buds followed by yellow clusters in the summer.
Silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa) is a lush, dense tree, native to Brazil and Argentina. It likes full sun and grows to 30-60 feet in height and 20-30 feet in width. It features an eye-catching spiny trunk and deep green 5-inch-wide leaves. In the fall, the tree drops its leaves and produces showy, pink, lily-like flowers, and then produces seeds and cotton-like fibers in the seed capsules.
Texas mountain laurel
Texas mountain laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum, formerly Sophora secundiflora) is a small, shrubby evergreen native to the Chihuahuan Desert. It features dark green leaves and beautiful hanging clusters of purple flowers in spring. It is frost-tolerant and grows in full sun to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
The Texas olive (Cordia boisseri) is a medium-sized evergreen that features multiple trunks and a growing size of 40 feet high and 25 feet wide. It has narrow green leaves and produces white blossoms from February to April that attract hummingbirds. Its fruits are edible, but the seeds have been known to cause serious illness in humans. It prefers moderate summer temperatures but can withstand freezing winter temperatures.
The weeping myall (Acacia pendula) is an Australian native evergreen that resembles a weeping willow, with graceful, draping grey-green foliage. It creates dense shade and features pale yellow balls in spring and winter. Frost- and drought-tolerant, the weeping myall needs full sun and is slow-growing, reaching 15-30 feet in height and 15-25 feet in width at maturity.
The willow acacia (Acaciasalicina), an evergreen native to Australia, is an excellent shade tree for narrow spaces. It likes full sun and grows to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide. Its spring blossoms are puffy and cream-colored.
With a little knowledge and planning, you can protect your landscape plants—and your investment—from frost damage. In Arizona, we can get frosts from about Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.
As a rule of thumb, it’s important to know that younger, dehydrated and actively growing or flowering plants are most at risk for frost damage.
As the weather cools, plants naturally “harden off” by slowing their new growth and ceasing blooms. Therefore, it’s important to protect landscape plants both from frost and from budding or blooming too soon before the danger of frost has passed. Still, the faster the drop in temperature, the lower the temperature and the longer the exposure, the more at risk any plant is to frost damage.
Select frost-tolerant plants. Native plants will fare the best in all temperatures, whereas tropical plants may suffer in the cold. To find a plant’s temperature hardiness, search https://www.amwua.org/plants, AMWUA’s Plants for the Arizona Desert
Keep soil appropriately moist. Although water requirements for different plant species vary year-round, it’s important to know that frost damage can be more severe in dehydrated plants. And, although it seems counterintuitive, it’s beneficial to water plants before a predicted frost because water releases energy in the form of heat when it cools, thereby warming the foliage above ground.
Cover at night. Each night a frost is predicted, drape over sensitive plants a cloth that touches the ground, allowing warmth from the ground to fill the resulting dome structure. Remove the cover in the morning so the ground warms up again the next day. If you need to keep plants covered for multiple days, look for purpose-designed frost cloths or frost blankets. Do not use plastic because it freezes.
Choose warm locations. Frost-sensitive plants will be better protected when they are sheltered, when they are exposed to full daytime sun (south and west sun are best) or when they are located near rocks, walls or benches, which radiate daytime warmth.
Resist pruning. Pruning stimulates new plant growth, which can be even more susceptible to frost. Do not prune frost-damaged plants until spring, after the danger of frost has passed.
Wrap tree trunks. For young citrus and other frost-sensitive trees, loosely wrap the trunk from the lowest foliage down to the ground using multiple layers. Leave wrapped for the winter.
Add heat. Add incandescent lights or string lights below the foliage because their heat radiates upward. LED lights do not generate sufficient heat for this purpose.
If the weather forecast shows low nighttime temperatures, refer back to these 7 tips to prevent frost damage to your sensitive plants. You’ll be protecting their shape and giving them a head start on budding and blooming when spring comes.
Plant beautiful new rose plants this winter from among the many varieties that thrive in the Arizona sun. Visit some of the lovely rose gardens in our state, like the Encanto Rose Garden in Phoenix, or Mesa Community College to see which blooms catch your eye.
Because they are the most affordable, this article focuses on buying and planting bare root roses. Bare root roses arrive in commercial nurseries in December, but you will want to buy your selections early, because they sell out quickly. Sun exposure can cause your bare root rose plants to begin leafing out, so keep them in a cool dark place, wrapped in their packaging, until planting time.
Prepare the Planting Locations
Planting time in the Arizona low desert is January to mid-February, when the danger of hard frost has passed. The day before you plant your new rose, carefully unwrap it and remove all the packing material from the roots. Submerge the bare plant roots overnight in a bucket of clean water and plant the next day.
Choose a location where your new rose will get at least 6 hours of full sun per day and is 3-5 feet apart from other plants to allow for air circulation to avoid diseases. Dig a hole no less than 18 inches wide and deep, which will break up native soil and allow room for new roots to spread.
Amend the native soil you dug out of the hole by mixing 1:1 equal parts native soil and mulch, or 1:1:1 equal parts native soil, compost, and sand or perlite. At the bottom of the hole, sprinkle around 1 cup sulfur, and then pour 1 cup triple superphosphate (0-45-0) into a pile. Over the superphosphate, start adding the amended soil mixture back into the hole to form a cone-shaped mound.
Planting and Caring for Your New Roses
Place the bare root rose on top of the cone, watching carefully that the plant’s bud union stays 2 inches above the soil line. Cover with the remaining soil and press to make firm. Spread a layer of mulch around the top of the new hole, leaving the soil surface bare in a ring directly under the plant to serve as a water well.
Water in the new rose by saturating the surrounding soil to remove pockets of trapped air. Water deeply and generously once per day for the next week, and then once per week into spring. Follow package directions when fertilizing your roses throughout the blooming season and watch for common pests that can damage your blooms or plants.
As the summer grass fades and we wait for the winter grass to grow in, you may notice our maintenance crews sprinkling grass clippings from our mowers across the grass. Some mowers are even made to spit out grass clippings. Why do we do this? In short, grass clippings are a great mulch that provides the next batch of grass with good nutrients to give it a head start!
When mowers cut lawns, the blades of grass cut off contain lots of nutrients. This is great for the existing grass and for the seedlings of future grass. The reason for this? Grass cuttings are a perfect fertilizer for grass, since they are made of… well, grass! If the lawn was healthy, chances are that using its own lawn clippings as fertilizer will make for a healthy next batch of grass.
The only thing to really look out for is the quantity of grass. While small, well-spread clumps or a thin even coating are great for fomenting future grass growth, if there’s a spot covered with way too much of the lawn clippings, then that may inhibit the development of seedlings or new grass.
Overall, there’s no need for concern when you see lawn clippings gradually decomposing over the existing lawn. It’s there to help the grass of the future!
If you’re looking for community maintenance from ELS, call 602-243-1106 or visit elslandscapeaz.com.
By Northeastern U.S. standards, fall tree color comes to Arizona late in the season. Here in the Sonoran Desert, we might see our deciduous trees change to the iconic reds, oranges and yellows of autumn between October and sometimes January. Think of it this way—Arizonans get to enjoy an even longer leaf peeping season.
The Science Behind the Colors
Getting a little scientific for a moment, leaves change color on deciduous trees, trees that shed their leaves in the winter, as opposed to evergreen trees, which tend to keep their leaves on their branches throughout the year. In the warm months, trees are busy producing food to grow. That process is called photosynthesis and produces chlorophyll, which creates the green color in leaves. When seasonal temperatures cool and the amount of daylight shortens, most trees slow down their growth and photosynthesize less. As chlorophyll production declines, other pigments that are always present in leaves gradually dominate over the green. In trees where the leaves turn yellow and orange in the fall, carotenoids are the pigments you see showing through in the leaves. In leaves that turn red to purple in the fall, you see the anthocyanin pigments come through.
Leaf Peeping in Arizona
To leaf peep in Arizona, look along our many waterways and riparian areas. You’ll spot fall color dotting our lower elevation cities, but the most showy fall tree varieties tend to be very large and generally aren’t suitable for urban landscapes. So head for the hills, where you are likely to see a preponderance of native trees that change color in autumn.
Easy to spot where there’s flowing water, Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii) trees turn a gorgeous yellow in fall. Deep red leaves characterize tall Texas red oak (Quercus texana or Quercus buckleyi), the oak variety that is more common in urban landscapes and at lower elevations, while the shorter Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) grows at higher elevations and shows in bright yellow and orange. At higher elevations, look along streams for the orange fall leaves of Arizona sycamore (Plantanus racemosa var. wrightii), for gold on quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and for light yellow on the Arizona walnut (Juglans rupestris var. major).
Add Showy Trees at Home
Want to add some fall color to your home landscape? This author is partial to the shape and color of the non-native Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) tree, whose red and orange anthocyanins and carotenoids burst through in fall. Another tree for urban landscapes is the Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina), and cultivar ‘Modesto’ is known for particularly splendid yellows. The boxelder (Acer negundo) ‘Sensation’ cultivar turns light pink in fall. In smaller spaces like patios, Pomegranates (Punica granatum) are excellent choices, with stunning reds and oranges, plus edible fruit in autumn. (Note, however, that dwarf varieties of pomegranate will give you a colorful autumn show but produce inedible fruits.)
This is by no means a comprehensive list of native or desert-adapted plants that change colors in autumn in Arizona, but now you have a little bit of the science behind the transformation in leaf color and a lot of pointers on what to look for on your leaf peeping escapades between now and January.
After a summer full of storms that brought heavy rains and even flash flooding, the granite that covers much of Phoenix’s landscapes is likely ready for replenishment.
Why Granite Shifts
Rain isn’t the only factor that can lead to the displacement of landscape granite. Human, vehicle and animal traffic can cause gravel to shift. The ground itself can also rise or sink due to movement of groundwater changes through the seasons.
One of the main benefits of granite topdressing is the fact that it slows down soil erosion by a significant factor. Even if it’s slowed down doesn’t mean that it is permanently stopped, so eventually erosion beneath the granite can lead to some unwanted granite displacement. Put all this together, and your community’s landscape could probably use anywhere from a little bit to quite a bit of granite re-dressing by this time of year.
How ELS Can Help
Adding fresh matching granite is a common practice during the fall and winter that ELS Maintenance & Construction takes care to provide whenever necessary. We’re officially past the monsoon season, and the fall and winter tend to be dry in comparison. That makes now the perfect time of year to get your granite looking as good as it was on Day One.
If you’re looking for help with your community and its granite, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a proposal.
Is the neighborhood landscaping still eye-catching? HOAs—and homeowners—can get excellent bang for the buck with landscape investments, which can save on maintenance and repairs in the long-run and can keep homeowners happier about the value they receive from their association dues.
Here are our suggestions for different ways you can invest in your landscape and add value to your home and neighborhood:
Make Simple Design Improvements
Some of the showiest landscape upgrades are the simplest and cheapest.
Add accent lighting, like uplighting a tree, downlighting a path, or shadow lighting an architectural element.
Install a water feature, which can attract nature and also calm road noise.
Refresh an outdated landscape design with topdressing and new plantings.
Invest in Plants
Appealing landscapes have healthy, thoughtfully placed, and properly maintained plant material.
Replace missing trees and plants for an instant boost to visual appeal.
Fix wrong plant, wrong place problems, which may have resulted in lack of vigor, undersized/oversized scale issues, or misshapen forms.
Prune and shape trees to restore their form and enhance their value.
Create plant focal points, a common problem in older or overgrown landscapes.
Deep-root fertilize non-native trees to keep them vigorous and healthy.
Hardscape upgrades can make a big difference because they draw the eye, create architectural design elements, and delineate spaces.
Repair uneven curbing or replace missing sections to restore continuity to a landscape area.
Add hardscape elements like low walls to create new planting beds or to divide big spaces into smaller, more defined areas.
Consider where new sidewalk or pathway surfaces may be needed to contain foot traffic and prevent further landscape damage and erosion.
Landscape Investments for Homeowners Associations
A one-year boost to your HOA’s landscape budget, or a one-time allocation of reserve funds, may be all your neighborhood needs to complete a landscape facelift. Replacing missing plants and trees, refreshing decomposed granite topdressing, and revitalizing planting beds are the quickest and most impressive investments in neighborhood home values. Go further by power-washing and painting common area structures, installing landscape lighting, or refacing entrance monuments and marquees.
Have ELS assist with your landscape projects. For a quote, talk to your ELS area manager or complete the online request form.
Overseeding in Arizona, you might hear people talk about throwing down perennial ryegrass seed after scalping. The term ‘throwing seed’ is a terrible misnomer because ryegrass seed thrown by hand would result in far too much randomness for a pretty lawn.
Like in the photo below, you’d have uneven patterns in the new grass. Instead, let’s call the process ‘spreading seed.’ Seed spreading is more art than science because it requires finesse.
Uneven patterns from hand-thrown perennial ryegrass seed.
In this post, we have set out for you here the basic steps in the seed spreading process to give you a few tips of the trade and to explain where the finesse lies for a showy winter lawn.
Let’s begin with what to buy. There are different grades of perennial ryegrass on the market. Buy the best you can afford, because ‘premium’ seed is certified (in writing on the back of the bag) for a guaranteed maximum percentage of weed seeds mixed in. Cheap seed means more weeds.
Next, how much seed to buy is math. Start by estimating the size of your lawn area in square feet. For example, if your lawn is 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, for example, you have 10 x 20 = 200 square feet. If your lawn has rounded edges, pretend they are square corners to make for an easier calculation. Now, round up your final number because it’s better to have seed left over than to run out.
Next, multiply that number by a common ryegrass seed application rate of 8-10 pounds per 1,000 square feet for a typical front or back residential lawn:
200 sq ft x (8 lbs / 1,000 sq ft) = 1,600 / 1,000 = 1.6 pounds of perennial ryegrass seed
Here’s the first bit of finesse. Before you head off to buy 1.6 pounds of seed, know that it’s always a good idea to buy about 10% more seed than you need to fill in any bare spots that don’t germinate well. In this example with 200 square feet to cover, you’d round up your 1.6 pounds an extra 10% and go buy 1.76 pounds (more easily rounded to 1-3/4 or 2 lbs) of perennial ryegrass seed. When you get ready to start spreading, take out the overpurchased 10% (about ¼ of a pound in our example) and reserve it until after you can see how well the new grass plants are filling in. Divide your target 2 pounds of seed into two equal halves.
Here’s the goal: for the most even coverage when we overseed, we want to spread half the seed in one direction (think east-west) and then the other half of the seed in the perpendicular direction (think north-south). That’s why we divide the target amount of seed into two equal halves.
The next step is to calibrate your spreader. This is the second bit of finesse. It doesn’t matter if you are using a hand-held spreader or a walk-behind spreader. And your spreader can be a whirlybird/rotary spreader or a drop spreader. But every spreader has a scale (e.g. 1-10 or 1-20) indicating how open it is. Start with 20%-25% open, like setting 2 on a 1-10 scale or setting 4 on a 1-20 scale.
Remember…we said seed spreading is an art. In this example on a 200 square-foot lawn area, you are walking in the east and west directions to spread half of your 1.76 pounds (half is 0.88 pounds). The finesse here is to watch how fast the seed is leaving the hopper. If it’s spreading too slowly or too quickly, adjust your spreader’s opening. Slower is better because you can make as many passes as you need in the east-west directions to use up all of that first half of your seed. The key is to spread that half of the seed as evenly as possible in that direction over the entire 200 square-foot lawn area until it’s gone. And stay within the boundaries…keep seeds off surrounding rocks and concrete, or they will grow wherever water reaches them.
Now, in this example of seeding 200 square feet of lawn, you spread the second half of your perennial ryegrass seed (the remaining 0.88 pounds) by walking in the perpendicular north and south directions. Keep your spreader at the setting that spread most evenly when you were going east and west. By the time you are finished going north and south, you will have used up the second half (0.88 pounds) of the seed. At this point, you have spread all 1.76 pounds of seed evenly across your entire 200 square-foot lawn area, and you still have in reserve the 10% you overpurchased.
THE ART OF SEED SPREADING TEST: Mark off 1 square inch anywhere in your turf area. Count the seeds laying within that 1 square inch patch of soil. Are there 13-14 seeds? More than 13-14 and your turf will grow in more densely. Fewer than 13 or 14 and your winter lawn will be more sparse. (This seed count assumes you used a typical residential application rate of 8 pounds of perennial ryegrass seed per 1,000 square feet.)
Water in your newly spread perennial ryegrass seed, keeping it moist throughout the day until it germinates and new ryegrass plants grow. Watch the growth patterns carefully and adjust your sprinklers for completely even coverage. Patches where ryegrass doesn’t grow indicates water coverage problems. Fix sprinkler problems to achieve even water coverage, and then spread some (13-4 seeds per square inch is your goal!) of the 10% of the reserve seed you overpurchased to correct coverage problems.
You’re done. Step back to admire your artistry and your lush winter lawn.