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How To Start Lawns From Seed

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Photo of grass. Starting a lawn from seed is cheap but time-consuming.

You can grow a beautiful lawn like this one from seed (at little expense), but it's a lot more work than installing sod.

David Beaulieu
To start new lawns, many people wonder which is better: laying sod or seeding lawns. While laying sod is fast and produces high-quality new lawns, seeding lawns is cheaper and offers a wider variety of grass types. Check with your county extension to learn which grass types are best for your region.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1 hr./10 square feet (doesn't include every step in preparation)

Here's How:

  1. Remove the old lawn and/or weeds, if any exist. One way to accomplish this is by digging them out with a flat-bladed shovel (make sure you get the roots). Another method is to apply an herbicide, then rent a sod-cutter to remove roots and all. Before proceeding further, have your soil pH tested. Most lawn grasses prefer a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. If the test reveals that you need to adjust the pH, do so in conjunction with Step #2.
  2. Break up the compacted soil with a tiller. Tillers (also called rototillers) can be rented from your local rental center.
  3. Spread a starter fertilizer over the now-loosened soil. This type of fertilizer is high in phosphorus, the middle number in the NPK sequence on a fertilizer bag.
  4. Also spread a soil conditioner over the soil. "Soil conditioner" is often what it's called at the store, but if you have a good supply of compost at home, it will serve just as well as a soil amendment.
  5. Again using the tiller, till the starter fertilizer and soil conditioner (or equivalent) into the soil. I know this seems like a lot of work, but good soil preparation is one key in seeding lawns successfully.
  6. Now rake the soil to begin to level it out, removing any rocks and debris that you find. To avoid problems with excess water-runoff, make sure that any site grading you do allows water to flow away from your house.
  7. This step requires a roller. Rollers, like tillers, can be rented from your local rental center. Fill the roller's drum with water, then use the roller to finish leveling the soil. Water the soil lightly.
  8. For this step you'll need a seed spreader. Following the recommended seeding rate, spread 1/4 of the seed over the entire lawn area. Then repeat times, each time using 1/4 of the seed. However, each of the 4 times you distribute a load of seed, push the spreader in a different direction, to encourage even dispersal.
  9. Rake lightly, so as to cover the seed with a thin layer of soil.
  10. For this step you'll use the roller again. But first you'll empty out the water from the drum, because you want it lighter this time. Now roll the lawn surface.
  11. You're done seeding the lawn, but you're not done working! The seeds must be watered properly, in order to germinate. Use just a fine spray, as you don't want to create a flood! The soil should be kept evenly moist, which may mean several waterings per day (depending on the weather).
  12. After the grass blades sprout, you'll still need to water a couple of times per day. If you know your schedule won't permit this, now's the time to look into automatic irrigation systems, before starting a new lawn.

Tips:

  1. What's the best time for seeding lawns? Your supplier will know, being an expert on the grass type you'll be purchasing. Ask about the best time for starting lawns in your area. Obviously, Step #2 can be executed only during those months when the ground is not frozen. At the other extreme, mid-summer hardly ideal for starting new lawns, since hot weather dries soil quickly.
  2. Early fall is the best time for seeding with cool-season grasses. Since crabgrass is dead by then, you'll have fewer weed problems. Early spring is best for warm-season grasses.
  3. If, instead of seeding lawns, you prefer the sodding method, see my tips for laying sod. The first 7 steps (soil preparation) are the same as for seeding lawns.

What You Need

  • Spreader
  • Tiller (Rototiller)
  • Roller
  • Grass Seed
  • Starter Fertilizer
  • Soil Conditioner
  • Rake
  • (Depending on option selected in Step #1) Either a flat-bladed shovel...
  • ...or herbicide and a sod-cutter.

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