A brown, patchy, crusty lawn doesn’t make a good impression on anyone (well, maybe it does on pests). The secret to getting a thick, green lawn that turns your neighbors’ heads is learning how to plant grass seed –– the right way.
Whether you want a brand new lawn or need to spruce up some existing grass, seeding the yard is an easy and affordable DIY project. All it takes is prepping the soil, spreading the seeds, and applying mulch. If you want to make it even easier, you can hire a lawn care professional to do the job for you.
The number one tool you’ll need for seeding your lawn? Patience. Traditional seeding is the slowest grass growing method –– but it’s also the most affordable. Follow these 10 simple steps on how to plant grass seed, and your fresh green lawn will soon be worth the wait and the savings.
Step 1. Select the best grass seed for your lawn
Zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, bermudagrass –– finding the right grass seed for your lawn can feel overwhelming. And since you’re growing natural grass seed, you have even more types of grass to choose from compared to hydroseeding or sod.
But don’t let all the different grass types discourage you. The good news is that narrowing down your choices isn’t as difficult as it may seem.
Warm-season vs. cool-season grass
There are two main grass type categories: warm-season and cool-season grasses. The best type for your lawn will depend on where you live. Warm-season grasses grow best where temperatures are warm throughout the year, while cool seasons grasses grow best where temperatures are colder.
If you live up north –– where summers are mild, and winters are frigid –– you’ll do better with a cool-season grass. If you live down South –– where summers are scorching, and winters are short –– you should consider a warm-season grass.
Common warm-season grass types include:
- Buffalo grass
Common cool-season grass types include:
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Perennial ryegrass
- Tall fescue
- Fine fescue
- Creeping fescue
But what about homeowners living in the Transition Zone? Growing lawn grass in the Transition Zone can be difficult because it has boiling summers and freezing winters. Warm-season grass will do well in the summer but struggle to survive in the winter, and cool-season grasses will flourish in winter but fry in summer.
So what’s the solution? Choose grass with a good temperature tolerance. If you’re opting for cool-season turf, pick a cultivar that has a high heat tolerance. If you want warm-season grass, find one that will tolerate the cold better than other warm-season grasses.
Common warm- and cool-season lawn grasses that grow well in the Transition Zone include:
- Tall fescue
- Perennial ryegrass
- Kentucky bluegrass
Fun Fact: St. Augustinegrass, a warm-season turf, is not commercially available as grass seed. It must grow from sod or plugs.
Your specific needs
Different grasses have varying tolerance and maintenance levels. To decide on a grass type, consider what your turf needs are.
Do you use your lawn for cookouts and family badminton tournaments? Then you’ll likely want grass with a high foot-traffic tolerance. Live in an area where water is scarce? Consider a grass type that can withstand drought or doesn’t need lots of water to survive. Other factors to consider include pests, diseases, shade, heat, and cold tolerance.
Maintenance levels also vary across the board. Some grass types require rigorous care, while others don’t need quite as much attention. Bermudagrass is a tough turf to maintain, but it produces a high-performing lawn. Consider whether you have the time, energy, and money for a high-maintenance lawn. If not, you may prefer a low-maintenance turfgrass, like tall fescue.
Not all grass types cost the same. Some grasses are more expensive than others, depending on their quality, maintenance levels, cultivar type, and tolerances. If you’re buying from a quality grass seed brand, prices may be higher.
On average, a bag of grass seed costs between $1.35 and $7.04 per pound. A 20-pound bag of grass seed ranges between $27 and $141, depending on the grass type.
Seed blends vs. seed mixes
When shopping for your grass seed, you’ll notice that some bags contain seed blends and seed mixes. But what’s the difference?
- A seed blend is a combination of two or more cultivars of the same grass species.
- A seed mix is a combination of different grass species.
Why are seed blends and mixes beneficial? Planting two or more grass types helps make up for any low tolerances one grass type might have.
For example, suppose you plant grass that has excellent drought resistance but low foot traffic tolerance. In that case, it can prove beneficial to pair it with a second species or cultivar that has high foot traffic tolerance.
Seed and fertilizer combo
Some grass seed bags contain a mix of seed and starter fertilizer. The fertilizer gives your grass an extra boost, helping it grow faster. Keep in mind that buying a combination of seed and starter fertilizer will typically cost more than grass seed alone.
If you buy the seed and starter fertilizer separately, remember to follow the fertilizer’s instructions on when and how to fertilize.
Pro Tip: Do not apply pre-emergent weed control during planting, as it will harm grass seed germination.
Step 2. Test your soil
Testing your soil isn’t required for planting grass, but it’s a good idea if you want your seeds to grow into a healthy lawn. When nutrients, soil pH, and salt levels are imbalanced, your grass will have difficulty thriving.
Conducting a soil test helps you:
- Identify your soil’s deficiencies.
- Identify how you can amend the topsoil to achieve optimal growth for your lawn. For example, according to the PennState Extension, adding organic matter can be a beneficial amendment to soils with high levels of sand or clay.
It’s easy to skip out on soil testing and apply basic lawn fertilizer, but sometimes a general fertilizer treatment isn’t what your turf needs to be at its best. A soil test helps you determine a successful fertilizer treatment that targets your lawn’s specific nutrient, pH, and salt needs.
Step 3. Prepare to plant at the right time of year
While you may be eager to seed your lawn, it must be the right time of year. Spring is the best time of year to plant warm-season grasses, and fall is the best time to plant cool-season grasses. You should always plant grass seed during your grass’s peak growing season.
Step 4. Prepare the soil
Before planting grass seed, you’ll need to loosen up the soil. Here are three reasons why preparing the ground is an essential step to growing grass.
- Throwing grass seeds on hard, unworked soil puts the seeds at risk of the rain washing them away.
- Hard soil has a difficult time absorbing water. A lack of moisture in the soil will hinder the seeds’ ability to germinate.
- Existing turf can obstruct the grass seeds from coming in contact with the soil, limiting the chance for any new growth. Loosening and working the ground ensures the seeds have a place to grow between the other grass blades.
Preparing the soil for a new lawn
Remove all debris from the lawn, including leaves, sticks, rocks, and old grass –– yes, even old grass! Then, once you’ve removed all the debris and grass, you’ll need to till the soil about 3 inches deep.
There are three common ways to kill and remove old grass:
- Rent or buy a sod cutter. A sod cutter is similar to a lawn mower, only it cuts the grass all the way down to its roots and completely removes the turf.
- The Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California recommends applying a non-selective herbicide to kill grass and weeds. Non-selective means the herbicide will kill any vegetation it comes in contact with, so be careful where you spray.
You’ll want to apply the herbicide at least two weeks before planting the new grass; otherwise, any remaining herbicide in the soil will harm the seeds.
- Laying plastic or newspaper over the lawn is another effective way to kill the grass. The lack of sunlight and the buildup of heat will eventually destroy the turf.
Preparing the soil of an existing lawn
If you have an existing lawn that needs some overseeding to clear up bare spots, there’s no need to remove the turf.
Spread some grass seed over the yard to promote new growth. Targeting small areas is also an effective way to enhance the greenery rather than overseeding the whole lawn.
Pro Tip: Check to see if a pest or disease is attacking your lawn before you overseed. Otherwise, you might be prolonging a severe issue.
The best way to prepare an existing turf’s soil is to mow the grass shorter than its usual trim (but don’t scalp it) and then dethatch and aerate the lawn. Remember to remove all the debris and grass clippings before you start to work the soil.
- Dethatching involves removing thatch from the lawn. Thatch is a layer of living and dead plant material that forms at the grass’s base. Over time, thatch grows thicker and becomes a nuisance for your lawn.
A thatch layer that’s less than a ½ inch can be a healthy mulch. But a layer over ¾ inches can block water and nutrients from reaching the soil. Dethatching the lawn will remove the layer of thatch and expose more soil for your new grass seed.
- Soil aeration helps relieve soil compaction. As the soil becomes more compacted, less oxygen can reach the roots and vital organisms living in the ground.
The process involves a soil aerator pulling up cylindrical plugs of soil. The small holes then allow more water and oxygen to pass through the ground, encouraging the root system to spread. It also exposes more soil for your grass seed.
Step 5. Plant the grass seed
Once your soil is ready, it’s time to spread the grass seed over the yard.
For best results, spread the grass seed in two different directions. If you go east to west for the first layer, go north to south for the second layer. Spreading the grass seed in both directions ensures you cover the entire area.
There are four standard methods to spreading grass seed:
- Spread the grass by hand
- Push a wheeled seed spreader
- Hand-crank a handheld seed spreader
- Mount a seed spreader to your chest
Pro Tip: Using a spreader can make the job go by a little faster, especially when seeding over large areas. It also ensures you spread the seed evenly and don’t miss any spots.
Step 6. Rake the grass seed
Lightly rake the lawn with a garden rake to cover the seeds with a bit of soil.
Step 7. Apply mulch
Apply a thin layer of straw over your grass seed to protect it from wind and rain. Keep in mind that straw may contain some weed seeds.
Step 8. Water the lawn
The seeds might be tucked away in their cozy seedbeds, but that doesn’t mean your job is over. Your grass seedlings need a lot of attention if they’re going to grow to be big, green, and strong.
Their biggest demand? Water.
Once you’ve planted your seeds, you’ll need to sprinkle them with water one to three times a day. The number of times you water them per day will vary depending on your soil type, how hot it is outside, and the weather.
Don’t let the top ½ inch of soil go dry. The key is to keep the soil moist but not soggy. You don’t want to see puddles forming on your lawn. Too much water might wash away or drown your seeds. But too little water also could kill them. Once they go dry, they die.
When your new grass reaches 1 inch tall, it’s safe to shift your watering schedule to every other day. As your grass begins to grow, you can slowly start to water the lawn less and less.
When the grass is fully established, you’ll want to water your grass infrequently but for long periods. This watering schedule encourages root growth by forcing the roots to expand and search for more water. If you water too frequently for short periods, the roots will have little reason to scout for nearby water.
Pro Tip: Not every grass type has the same water demands. Some grass species need more water than others to survive. Before planting your grass seed, it’s a good idea to research the grass type and discover its water needs.
Step 9. The first mow
You’ll need to be patient before mowing the grass. New grass takes time to grow. Depending on your grass type, the turf needs to reach a minimum height before you can cut it. This minimum height varies among grass species, but it’s safe to cut most grasses when they reach 2 to 3 inches tall.
According to the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California, it can take up to two months before a seeded lawn is ready to be mowed.
Step 10. Enjoy your new lawn
Remember not to let the seeded area get too dry, and do your best to avoid walking on the grass for at least 30 days.
In a few short weeks, tiny sprouts will shoot up from the soil. And if you did everything else right, your new green lawn should give your home the curb appeal boost it deserves.
Seeding is easy and affordable –– the hard part is patience
Compared to sod and hydroseeding, broadcast seeding is the most affordable and DIY-friendly grass-growing method. Traditional seeding may not have the same speedy results, but your wallet will certainly be thicker.
And when you spend time sowing the seed yourself, chances are you’ll take even better care of your lawn to protect all your hard work. Those invasive pests will learn to stay away –– because your healthy new grass is here to stay.
If you want to make sure the job is done right, you can always hire a local lawn care pro to plant your grass seed and then mow your new, lush lawn after it all grows in. We have experts to handle all your lawn care needs.
Main Photo Credit: Scott Robinson | Flickr | CC BY 2.0