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February 11, 2012

Wait until the appropriate time for lawn planting in your area.

Yard and Garden
February 11, 2012

Q.

Is it reasonable to plant lawn grass seeds now in Albuquerque? I want to get started as soon as possible.

Matthew S.
Albuquerque

A.

In northern New Mexico and higher elevation locations, February is too early to plant lawn grasses. You can plant cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and Texas bluegrass in March. The cool season grasses will germinate as the temperatures warm, but that is also the season when our winds begin. You stated you wanted to plant seeds, but for an early start and more successful establishment in the wind, you should consider sod. Sod is more expensive, but may be easier to establish under dry, windy conditions. If you prefer a warm season grass, such as buffalograss, blue grama, Bermudagrass, or zoysia grass, you need to wait until May to plant. These grasses need considerably warmer conditions for germination. In some years, the winds may subside somewhat by May, making establishment of the lawn somewhat easier. As you plant the grass seeds, remember that proper seed bed preparation is very important. This is described in NMSU Extension publication Lawn Care for Disease Control, http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/h-507.html. It is available online or at your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office. In addition to temperature, moisture is also important during seed germination. In the early stages of seed germination and seedling development, any drying will kill the young plant. That is the reason our spring winds cause such problems. Some gardeners use a layer of straw mulch over the newly planted seeds to reduce drying, but the winds often blow the straw from the site, exposing the soil, seeds, and seedlings to drying. If the straw is pressed into moist soil with a roller or by placing sheets of plywood on them and walking on the plywood before removing the plywood, the straw may stay in place more readily. Gardeners also plant a "nurse crop" of a more quickly germinating type grass to provide living mulch and wind protection for more slowly germinating grass seeds, such as seed of buffalograss. There are also some perforated plastic mulch materials that may be spread over the soil and pinned to the ground. These preserve moisture while allowing air and some precipitation or irrigation to penetrate to the soil below. Such mulch materials also help warm the soil and speed seedling germination and emergence of the grass seedlings. The plastic mulch must be removed once the grass seed have emerged and provided cover over the lawn area. Once the grass seedlings have developed good root systems, irrigation can be gradually changed to the irrigation frequency and soil moisture depth appropriate for the mature lawn. The grass may be mowed when it is high enough to cut.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to :

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd.
SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist emeritus with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.