Soil type and seed vs. sod
I'm in the process of renovating a former rental property in Albany, which I'll be moving into in June. The backyard is completely torn up and overgrown. I'd like to start from scratch, but am unsure of what I need to do. How can I determine what type of soil I have and, therefore, the prep treatment I should apply? Should I just till and reseed? Will it have enough time to grow in before my kids need to play on it?
Assuming the ground is relatively smooth, spray out what is there with glyphosate (i.e. Roundup). Ensuring that the soil is not too wet (i.e. spongy soft) or too dry (i.e. hard), wait at least a week, and then rent a dethatcher and remove all the debris by going over it in multiple directions followed by raking - dethatch, rake, dethatch, rake, etc. It may take as many as 6 passes across the area to remove the debris. Towards the end, it may help to use a backpack blower to clean up the debris as it will be heavier. Once you can see the soil to seed into, you can stop.
Seed perennial ryegrass at 10 lbs of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. Rent a water filled roller and roll the area after seeding. Next, apply a fertilizer at 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. with a slow release fertilizer. Divide 1 by the first number (percentage nitrogen) on the fertilizer bag to give you the amount of fertilizer to apply. So if your fertilizer has a number of 25-5-10, divide 1 by 0.25 to give you 4 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 sq. ft.
Keep the surface moist with irrigation or rain for the first 7 - 10 days until the seed germinates. If possible, water it lightly in the afternoons a couple times. You want the surface to be moist but the water should not pool on the surface when watering.
After the grass germinates, water the lawn once a day in the afternoon if it doesn't rain. 2.5 - 3 weeks after germination, mow your lawn for the first time (1.5 - 2"). Before mowing, do not irrigate for a couple of days to let the soil firm up. You do not want to rut up your new lawn by the first mowing. Regular mowing will help it fill in more quickly, so mow it at least weekly for a month. If there are any spots that did not germinate, put more seed into those spots and put a light layer (1/4") of mulch (peat moss, sawdust, horse compost, or even soil, etc.) on top.
Four weeks after germination, fertilize it once more at 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft.
You should wait at least 8 weeks for your kids to play heavily on it.
One final note, if the soil is uneven, or you need to regrade it for some reason (i.e. to slope it away from the house), then you would need to till it after spraying it with glyphosate. After tilling, you would need to move the soil around to smooth the surface and create the correct grade. This is A LOT more work than what I described above. The problem with tilling is that you still have the sod to deal with even if you have killed the grass on top. So you either have to till it multiple times to break up the sod chunks or remove the sod by digging it out or sod cutting.