As much as you may enjoy watching the wild birds come to your bird feeder to eat, you may begin to regard those same birds as pests when it comes time to start a lawn from seed. Hungry birds will not discriminate between the birdseed that you put in your feeder for them and the grass seed that you have just so carefully sown in hopes of growing a beautiful new lawn. In fact, other than having to remember that your grass seed must not be allowed to dry out, the biggest challenge in starting a lawn from seed is keeping the birds from eating it.
To be sure, if you are not landscaping on a budget and money is no object, there are some easy ways around this problem. For example, you can:
- Lay sod to start a new lawn, instead of spreading seed
- Hire a pro to create a new lawn for you through hydroseeding, which is that green-dyed slurry of mulch and seed that you often see on construction sites (birds tend to steer clear of this odd-looking mixture)
Two other options exist that are not quite as expensive but that are imprecise and inefficient:
- Sow a lot of extra seed, so that, even if the birds eat some of it, there will be plenty left over to sprout and form your new lawn
- Set up any of the deterrents that people commonly use. These range from pinwheels to scarecrows but do not always work that well, in spite of their popularity. A better deterrent is the Scarecrow Sprinkler, which is a motion-activated device that shoots a jet of water at the pest once it detects it.
If none of these methods appeal to you, there are some other options that are effective and relatively inexpensive. All involve using a covering that will generally keep the birds from eating your grass seed:
Mulch can be used to keep birds from eating grass seeds, but you must select the right kind of mulch. Look for a straw mulch that is certified to be free of weed seeds. Landscaping novices may think that hay and straw are the same thing, but they are not: Most importantly, hay is more likely to contain weed seeds.
The layer of straw mulch that you apply needs to be very thin, though: just enough to hide most of the grass seeds from the birds. A layer too thick will suppress the grass just as it suppresses weeds (which is a primary function of mulch). After the grass sprouts, rake the straw mulch away very carefully so as not to disturb the young grass plants.
Burlap is a fabric with numerous uses in landscaping, including hiding grass seed from birds. This fabric comes with little openings in it, which is perfect for this project because they allow sunlight and water in while still providing coverage against birds. Apply just one layer of burlap. Secure the edges with landscape fabric staples. After germination, remove the staples and lift off the burlap.
Bird netting, like burlap, is a product that you can roll out to cover grass seeds. Unlike with burlap, though, coverage is not such that the birds won't see the grass seeds. But birds are leery of landing on it (for fear of getting tangled up) and will stay away. Again, secure the product with staples (or else use garden stakes) and remove it once the grass is up. Some people like to suspend the netting slightly from garden stakes so that it hovers about two inches off the ground (which makes for easier removal afterward).
Erosion Control Blankets
A third product that you roll out is called an "erosion control blanket." It not only prevents erosion but also keeps birds from eating your grass seed. It is composed of weed-free mulch fibers and held together by a biodegradable net. The whole blanket breaks down afterward, so there is no need to remove it.
Perhaps the most intuitive method is to cover the grass seed with a layer of topsoil, as you would for most other seeds that you plant in the ground. As with straw, though, it is critical that the layer be just a very thin one.