How to Plant Grass Seed

How to Plant Grass Seed

Seeding your lawn is an economical and satisfying way to introduce healthy turf to your yard. In order to enjoy successful lawn establishment and a yard full of lush, inviting green grass, follow these eight steps:

  1. Choose the Right Time of Year
  2. Prepare the Site
  3. Prepare the Soil
  4. Choose the Best Seed
  5. Plant the Seed
  6. Water Appropriately
  7. Inspect Seed Establishment
  8. Mow and Maintain

The time of year you plant grass seed has a direct effect on seeding success. Proper timing ensures that the grass effectively germinates, grows quickly and remains healthy while establishing.

Early fall is the ideal time to plant grass seed, according to the University of Massachusetts Extension Turf Program.1 At this point, the ground is still warm enough to hasten germination, while the days are cool and sometimes rainy, helping to ensure that the seeds don't dry out. In early fall there is also still sufficient sunlight to allow new grass to thrive and become established before winter arrives.

Spring seeding is your second best option. Aim to seed early in the season, before the weather warms up substantially. Spring also tends to bring periods of sunshine and rain, both of which contribute to strong growth.

Rake

A healthy, attractive lawn starts with proper site preparation. Grading of the site prior to planting is important, as it will help ensure water retention and allow for easy mowing. The University of Maryland Extension advises sloping the lawn area away from buildings at a rate of 1 to 2 percent.2 Avoid steep slopes, as they tend to dry out, and make sure the area is level. Depressions create wet spots that are hard to mow and prone to disease.

If you intend to replace the entire lawn, it's important to do a thorough job of removing the old turf. Use a sod cutter to take out the old grass at the roots. Another option for ridding the area of old turf is to spray the lawn with an herbicide, such as a product containing glyphosate. Apply according to product directions, wait 10 days and then re-spray any areas that are still green. Wait another 10 days to make sure that all of the turf is dead. Mow off the dead grass and rake it up. If the dead layer is too thick for raking, remove it with a sod cutter. After the area is clear of dead grass and you've graded the site, you can seed the lawn.

Optimum soil conditions result in successful seed germination and healthy turf growth. In order to prepare your soil for planting, do the following:

  • Test the soil. The correct soil pH is critical to a thriving lawn. The pH measures acidity and alkalinity on a scale from 0 to 14. According to the University of Missouri Extension, a soil pH from 6.0 to 7.5 is best for turfgrass.3

Your County Cooperative Extension office can provide you with soil testing kits and results or will refer you to a soil testing laboratory. When completing a soil test, make sure to collect soil from several areas of the yard. The soil test results will give you an accurate picture of the state of your soil's pH and nutrient levels.

  • Amend to alter pH. If your soil test shows that the pH is too high, which is common in the west, amend with elemental/soil sulfur. If your pH is too low, which is common in the northwest, northeast and southeastamend with lime. Follow package directions carefully when amending.
  • Amend to add nutrients. Based on the recommendations outlined in your soil test, choose from one of Pennington's high-quality turf fertilizers. If your soil test indicates a deficiency in macronutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, till in lawn starter fertilizer as recommended on the product packaging at a depth of 4 to 6 inches, according to the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.Also add micronutrients that the soil test indicates are deficient. For instance, for iron deficiency apply Ironite® Plus Lawn & Plant Food.
  • Amend to alter structure. If your soil is heavy and compacted or sandy, those conditions will affect seed germination, growth and the overall health of your lawn. It's important that your soil have sufficient air space in order to grow healthy grass, yet be bulky enough to retain and distribute to the grass nutrients and moisture. Prepare the soil for good air circulation and water penetration by removing rocks and roots, and tilling in organic matter, such as compost, at a depth of 2 to 4 inches. To break up the soil and mix in ingredients, rent a tiller from your local hardware or garden store; to aerate existing lawns by pulling out plugs or making holes, rent an aerator.

To have success growing a healthy lawn, it's vital that you choose seed that is well-suited to your climate and yard and that you opt for high-quality seed developed to thrive and resist drought, such as from the Pennington® Smart Seed® line of products.

First decide between warm-season and cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses grow during the warm months of the year and go dormant in the winter. These grasses grow best in climates that range from 80 to 95 degrees during the spring and summer. Such grasses include Bermudagrass and Zoysia. Cool-season grasses remain green all year and grow best in temperatures between 60 to 75 degrees. Such grasses include Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass.

In many areas of the country you can opt for seed specific to your region, such as Smart Seed® MidwestNortheastPacific Northwest and Pennsylvania State mixes. If you have a shady spot, make sure to opt for a grass designed to grow in low light conditions, such as the Smart Seed® Dense Shade Mix. If the spot has both shade and sun, choose Smart Seed® Sun & Shade Mix.

Once amending is complete, rake the soil surface smooth and then broadcast the seed evenly, according to recommended seeding rates and using a drop or broadcast spreader. Remember to carefully review the seed package label instructions, as misapplication of seed can lead to unsatisfactory results.

The type of spreader you use depends on your turf situation. A drop spreader features two wheels and a bucket for seed. As you push the spreader, it drops seed in a straight path. This type of spreader is ideal if you have a small (less than 5,000 sq. ft.) lawn or want to get seed to a specific area. It's also fairly easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

A broadcast/rotary spreader comes in walk-behind and hand-held types. It spreads seed by fanning it out in all directions, providing more uniform coverage. These spreaders are ideal for large lawns, but make reaching edges difficult.

Once you finish spreading the seed, use a rake to lightly work it into the soil at a depth of about 1/4 inch. Don't bury the seeds any deeper, as they require adequate light to germinate quickly. Follow raking by passing over the area with a roller, which will ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

Overseeding — planting grass seed into existing turf — provides the opportunity to improve your lawn's overall look and health, thicken the turf to minimize weeds, fill in bare or damaged areas and/or convert to another type of lawn. Broadcast the seed over the lawn and water it well. Follow the same watering instructions as for new lawns.

Keeping grass seeds and seedlings constantly moist but not soggy is critical to the success of your lawn-growing efforts. Water two to three times a day with a light spray to keep the seeds moist. Stop watering when puddles begin to appear on the soil surface. Once the seeds germinate and the seedlings begin to grow, gradually transition to watering less frequently but more heavily. Taper off watering as the grass becomes taller and more mature.

Grass Hoots

It will take 4 to 10 weeks for the grass to become established, but a full season before it is mature and able to withstand heavy foot traffic. If after 3-4 weeks, the grass has reached one inch, but there are still bare spots, reseed the bare areas. Keep repeating this process until the lawn is thick and you're satisfied with the results.

Once the grass reaches three inches high, mow off one inch. If you seed in the fall, and depending on your climate, your first mowing might not be until the following spring.

During the first season of establishment, the grass is still tender, so avoid as much foot traffic as possible until the next season, when the grass is well established. Keep the grass growing strong by maintaining a regular watering schedule. Begin fertilizing cool-season lawns 4 to 8 weeks after seed germination, providing it is no later than November. If you planted warm-season turf, wait until the following spring to feed your new lawn. After that, fertilize three times a year in the spring and fall.

Conclusion

Providing that you plant the ideal grass for your region, seeding your lawn is a straightforward procedure that produces transformational results for your yard. You can be proud to know that you are responsible for growing lush, green turf that provides friends and family with a comfortable and attractive lawn area for enjoying outdoor activities.

Total Time Required to Transform Your Lawn: 6-12 weeks, depending on the region, weather and grass type.

How hard you'll have to work on a scale of 1-4: 3 (a little work goes a long way especially during the prep phase)

Time breakdown:

  • Prep time: 3-8 hours, depending on lawn size and if you are replacing the lawn or overseeding (one weekend)
  • Seeding: 2-4 hours, depending on lawn size and if you are replacing or overseeding
  • Watering: 10 minutes a day {or more depending on sprinkler outputs} for 10-14 days; then tapering off until you are watering twice a week in the spring and summer
  • Fertilizing: 1 hour three times a year{for cool season grasses} in the spring and fall, {up to four times a year for warm season grasses} depending on the grass variety {species}.

Pennington and Smart Seed are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.

Resources:

1. "Lawn Renovation & Overseeding," University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension Turf Program

2. "Lawn Establishment, Renovation and Overseeding," The University of Maryland Extension

3. Manjula Nathan and Brad Fresenburg, "Soil Testing for Lawns," University of Missouri Extension, June 2008.

4. John Grande, "Seeding Your Lawn," Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, February 2004.

Grass 101