A fall weekend is a fine time to start a new lawn from seed, and last week's wet weather is all the proof one needs. I started a lawn from seed four weeks ago and last week I watched the rain water it for free while the bright green grass became a deeper carpet over my yard just as the wild grasses are doing on our hillsides. The grasses that can be grown from seed at this time of the year are the fescues, ryes and bluegrass.
To plant my lawn, I let the soil lie fallow long enough to make sure no more weeds will grow there (watering frequently to encourage their growth), and then tilled in (with a power tiller in moist soil) a 3-inch layer of redwood soil amendment to improve the soil's structure. I watered and waited for the soil to settle and then constructed a homemade wooden rake, just a narrow board about 3-feet wide on a handle, and used it to level the hills and gullies.
I rented a lawn roller--a big drum you fill with water--and compacted the soil, raked it smooth again, leveled it again, roughed it up a little with the rake then sowed seed, barely covering the seed with a soil amendment made just for that purpose.
I rolled it again so the seed was pushed into the soil and watered, watered, watered. Every time the seed looked the least bit dry, I watered--sometimes seven or eight times a day--not for long, just enough to keep the seed moist constantly. Watering for long would have made puddles and the seed would have floated away.
This lawn is different than the last. It is much smaller in size and it is a new kind of grass, a "turf-type tall fescue." This grass is wide-bladed, deep-rooted and reportedly drought resistant. My new, smaller, tougher lawn will not need much water once established.
Six days after sowing, six days of hollering at cats and kids to stay off the new lawn, it sprouted and an emerald carpet appeared in the morning where black earth had been the night before. Four weeks later, it is about 4 inches tall and ready for its first mowing, though I will have to step gingerly since it is not tough enough to really walk on yet. After last week's rain, it was as pretty as a prairie or a High Sierra meadow. In the low light of late fall, it glows and I have probably spent as much time admiring my handiwork as I did doing it.
If this seems too big a project for a weekend and you just want to make your lawn look a little better, you can still sow seed on a weekend--right over an existing lawn of Bermuda grass, the commonest lawn grass in Southern California (if you have a lawn and don't know what the grass is, this is it).
Annual rye sprouts in the fall, grows all winter, then dies out in late spring, but in the meantime it covers the semi-dormant brown Bermuda grass. To sow the seed, you must first rake the lawn with a vengeance, ripping up runners and dead grass. Then mow it as close to the ground as you can, sow the seed, and barely cover it with some organic material. Steer manure is commonly used, but stinky.
To get the seed to germinate, keep it constantly wet. Annual rye needs to grow taller than the Bermuda, so set the mower so it cuts the grass at about two inches tall.
Do it today and by next Saturday, your lawn will be reborn and emerald green until early summer when the Bermuda will be ready to stand on its own feet again.