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You've probably heard lots of advice from your neighbors about starting a new lawn. They might say that it’s hard work best left to professionals or that you should bite the bullet and pay for sod. The fact is, you can save money and be successful starting a new lawn from seed, no matter what the neighbors say! All it takes is a little preparation, some quality grass seed matched to your growing conditions, well-prepared soil, and a bit of patience.
Here’s how to plant grass seed for a beautiful lawn.
1. Time It Right
2. Choose the Correct Grass Seed
3. Test Your Soil
4. Prepare Your Soil
5. Even Out the Surface
6. Seed and Feed on the Same Day
7. Cover Up
8. Keep on Watering
9. Maintain Your Lawn
Make sure you wait for the right time of year to plant new grass seed. If you’re planting cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, or tall fescue, the best time to plant is in spring or early fall. If you plant cool-season grasses in the summer or winter, there is a good chance the seeds won’t establish or the new grass won’t survive the extreme heat and cold. If you’re planting warm-season grasses like zoysia, centipede, or bermudagrass, early summer is the best time to plant. Warm-season grass seed needs the soil to be warm before it will germinate.
Choose a grass that is right for your lifestyle, budget, and location. Start by thinking about the type of lawn you want and the growing conditions in your area. Will the lawn get full sun or partial? Will it get a lot of foot traffic or be used by pets? If you’re unsure what type of grass you should grow, check out our Grass Seed Identifier article, which will help you find a grass type that matches your growing conditions.
Fortunately, you can get beautiful results without a soil test as long as you prepare the soil correctly before planting and follow up with proper maintenance after planting. However, if you’d prefer to know exactly what’s going on in your soil, you can have your soil analyzed by your county’s cooperative extension service. The results will tell you which nutrients and amendments (and how much of each) to add to your soil to improve it.
You can even do some basic soil testing yourself with a soil test kit. The ideal soil pH for most grass types is between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic (pH under 6.0), add ground limestone to the soil. If your soil is too alkaline (pH over 7.0), add compost, composted manure, or sulfur to the soil. No matter what you add, be sure to follow all product instructions.
Once you've chosen the area for your future lawn, you’ll want to prepare the soil before seeding. First, use a sharp shovel to remove any existing grass, or, if it is a large area, rent a sod cutter to get the job done faster. Then, take a walk around and inspect the area. Remove large rocks and debris, fill in low spots, and if your soil is compacted, work it over with a tiller. Your goal is to break the soil down to pea- or marble-sized particles, which will serve as a welcome mat for the grass seed.
You don't want peaks and valleys in your new lawn. Use a bow rake (also called a garden rake) to make the surface as even as possible. As you rake, remove any rocks or debris you come across. At this point, you might be tempted to bring in new topsoil. That's not a good idea, since it may contain weed seeds that are tough to control. Instead, to improve soil quality, rake in several bags of Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Soil™, which contains a blend of rich, composted materials to create an excellent seed-growing environment.
Once your soil is prepped, it’s time to seed your new lawn. At the same time, it’s important to give your new grass seedlings a head start by feeding them. With a granular lawn food specially formulated for new grass, like Scotts® Starter® Lawn Food for New Grass, you can feed your new lawn the same day you seed it. (Be sure to read the directions on the package since not all lawn foods are meant to be applied at seeding time.) Which goes on first, the grass seed or the fertilizer? It's up to you.
Have issues with weeds? Scotts® Turf Builder® Triple Action Built For Seeding will feed your new grass while preventing annoying weeds like dandelions and crabgrass for up to 6 weeks. It also gives new grass a jumpstart so it can grow fast and thick.
Another option is to save yourself some time and combine the feeding and seeding with Scotts® Turf Builder Rapid Grass Sun & Shade Mix®. Thanks to its unique combination of seed and fertilizer, your grass will grow twice as fast as it would if you were using seed alone, giving you a thick, green lawn in just weeks.
Different types of grass seed and fertilizer require different spreader settings for optimal coverage. Check the bag to make sure you’re choosing the right setting for your individual spreader. (Don't have a spreader? Find the right one for your lawn right here.) Apply the product to the perimeter first, which allows you to fill in the rest of the lawn without worrying about missing any of the edges. Similar to a mowing pattern, seed and feed your lawn with slightly overlapping passes. Avoid getting grass seed or fertilizer in your garden beds or on your sidewalk or driveway.
After you finish laying down the grass seed and lawn food, cover both with a thin layer of soil to help keep the grass seed from drying out and washing away. You can do this by laying down a small layer (less than 1/4 inch) of Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Soil™ over the seeded area and gently dragging the back of a rake over it. On hills, mulch with a thin layer of straw to keep seeds from washing away; just be sure you can plainly see the seedbed beneath the straw. You can also mulch the rest of your new lawn with straw to help cut back on water use.
When watering a newly seeded lawn, the key is to keep the top inch of soil consistently moist, but not soggy. You will likely need to mist the seeded area once a day, possibly more if it’s hot and dry outside. Once the seeds start to germinate, aim to keep the top 2 inches of soil moist until the new grass reaches a mowing height of around 3 inches. After that, reduce watering to about twice per week, soaking the soil more deeply (about 6 to 8 inches) each time to encourage grass roots to grow down deep in the soil.
Once your new lawn reaches a mowing height of at least 3 inches, you’ll want to cut it. Make sure you only remove the top 1/3 of the grass blades when you mow. Adjust your mower to a high setting to keep the lawn nice and thick; when you cut it too short, it weakens the grass, allowing weeds to sneak in. While the grass is still new and developing, avoid as much foot traffic on the lawn as possible. After 6 to 8 weeks, you can start a regular lawn fertilizer program to help keep your new grass thick and lush.
For more tips on caring for your new grass, check out our Best Ways to Grow Newly Planted Grass article. You may also enjoy all of the information found in The Questions People Ask Most About Grass Seed. The more you know about grass, the easier time you'll have growing it.