If you want a lawn that’s worthy of your neighbors’ envy, it’s no question you need to put in the time and effort to cultivate it. A thick, lush lawn doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it requires some careful planning and attention to see results.
Grass grows the best when your regional climate matches the specific type of grass you are planting. For example, warm-season grasses (like bermudagrass and zoysiagrass) grow best in the late spring and early summer, while cool-season grasses (think tall fescue and perennial ryegrass) grow best in the late summer and early fall. You’ll want to time your plantings accordingly.
Knowing how to plant grass seed comes down to understanding some very simple and actionable (but very important) steps. Here’s exactly what you need to know and how to do it.
How to Plant Grass Seed: Step by Step
1. Test Your Soil
A few websites might tell you that testing your soil before planting is optional. We never recommend skipping this step! You wouldn’t expect a car to operate at maximum efficiency without the proper fuel – so why would you expect your grass to do the same?
You need to make sure you understand what’s going on in your soil by conducting a thorough soil test before you start planting. This will help you discover which kinds of nutrients and amendments are necessary to get the ground into tip-top shape.
Most grass types need to be grown in soil pH that is between 6.0 and 7.0. If it’s too acidic, meaning the pH is lower than 6.0, you will need to add some ground limestone. If it’s too alkaline, or has a pH over 7.0, adding compost or sulfur will be best.
The vast majority of soil tests will tell you not just what your soil pH is, but also what nutrients need to be added. At a bare minimum, healthy soil needs to contain adequate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (or NPK, as you’ll see on many fertilizer labels). You may also want to test for micronutrients that are essential for good grass growth, like copper, boron, iron, and manganese.
Getting your soil tested can also tell you whether your soil is well-draining or not. This can indicate whether you need to take additional steps, like aerating compacted soil, later on.
When it comes to testing your soil, you have a few options. You can take a sample to your local cooperative extension. Sometimes, they’ll conduct these tests for free, but it can take quite a long time. If you’re in a hurry, you’d be better off purchasing a cheap, easy-to-use soil test kit.
A soil test like this will test for pH along with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It’s a digital kit so all you have to do is test and read!
If you want a more detailed breakdown of the nutrients in your soil, you can take a sample of your soil and mail it out in a test kit to companies like MySoil. When you buy this kind of test kit, you don’t have to worry about misinterpreting the results. Instead, you’ll get a thorough breakdown of what nutrients your soil is missing and what kind of amendments you should add to get things up to snuff.
- KNOW BEFORE YOU GROW | Grow the healthiest, sustainable lawn and garden with the most accurate and easy to use soil test kit on...
- ROOTED RESULTS | Unlike at home pH meters and test strips, our professional lab analysis measures 13 plant available nutrient...
- FOR ANY GROWING SCENARIO | Tests any soil type and gardening condition - lawn & turf, vegetable gardening, flowers, compost,...
If you’ve never tested your soil before, I highly recommend going with both options; the mail-in kit will give the full breakdown for a great starting point of understanding the health of your soil, and then digital tester is quick and easy for later in the season.
2. Prepare the Site
Once you’ve tested your soil and figured out what it needs to be healthy, you can go ahead and add any fertilizer or amendments. You’ll also need to prepare for planting.
Contrary to popular belief, planting grass seed isn’t as simple as scattering seeds willy-nilly and letting nature take its course. You need to put some time into preparing your site.
Begin by using a sharp shovel to remove any existing sod. Have an existing lawn that you’re simply trying to overseed in order to fill in bald spots? Just mow the grass that’s already there as short as possible.
If you’re planting a large plot of land, it may make more sense to rent a sod cutter, which will make quick work of the task. After turning up the old grass or weeds, do a thorough walk-through.
If there are any large rocks or bits of debris (like branches or limbs) in your way, clear them out so you have room to work. Make sure the area is relatively level. It’s easy to see which spots aren’t quite flat because you’ll see puddles where water tends to collect.
It might be tempting to bring in fresh topsoil to fill in low spots, but that’s not a great idea. It could contain weed seeds that will be tough to kill once they emerge.
Instead, add a bit of compost. This will not only fertilize your lawn but will also help balance out uneven spots. You can also take out existing high spots to fill in your low lying dips.
If your soil is compacted, you may need to work it with a tiller or an aerator. You can buy one of these machines, but often, it makes more sense to rent them for a quick one-time use from your local home and garden store.
3. Plant the Seed
Depending on how much grass you need to plant, you can either plant your seed by hand or use a lawn spreader or mechanical seeder. Again, if you need to use heavy equipment, it often makes more sense to rent these items than to purchase them outright. You won’t use them enough to get your money’s worth out of them.
When you seed, try to broadcast the seeds as evenly as possible. Apply about 16 seeds per square inch, as applying more densely than this can cause your seedlings to compete for nutrients and space. As a result, the seedlings that do emerge can be thin or weak.
After broadcasting your seeds, lightly cover them with soil. Make sure no more than a quarter-inch of soil covers the seed. Grass seeds don’t need to be buried very deep, since the seeds are so small, but it’s important that you provide some form of covering.
A light cover of soil will prevent the seeds from blowing or washing away – it will also reduce the temptation for opportunistic birds in search of snacks!
You can fertilize at the same time as planting or you can do this immediately before or after planting. No matter which timeline you prefer, make sure you use a granular lawn food that is designed specifically for fresh grass. This will allow you to fertilize your lawn close to when you seed it (sometimes, on the very same day) without worrying about overloading the soil.
Make sure you check the bag of fertilizer to figure out the spreader setting you should use for optimal coverage. You’ll want to use a spreader when applying fertilizer to make sure you don’t over- or under-apply fertilizer in one specific area. Fertilize in slight overlapping passes and try not to spill any on your sidewalk!
There are plenty of organic fertilizers you can choose for your lawn, too, if chemicals are a concern.
Water your newly planted lawn religiously. You’ll want to keep the lawn consistently moist to enhance germination, but not so soggy that it causes the seed to rot before it germinates. Water about once a day and do so lightly. You’ll need to water at this rate until the grass is about two inches high. Water at a depth of two inches.
Once your seedlings have emerged and are growing well, you won’t need to water quite as often. Twice a week will suffice at this point, and you’ll water more deeply, providing a soaking of about seven inches deep.
7. Know When to Mow
One of the trickiest aspects of learning how to plant grass seed is figuring out the best time to mow. Usually, you’ll want to wait until your lawn reaches a mowing height of three inches – but this can vary depending on your climate and the type of grass you are growing. Try to only remove the top third of the grass blades when you mow.
Cut too short, and the grass will be weak, allowing weeds to encroach. Don’t cut enough, and the too-tall blades will overshadow the fresh growth underneath.
While your lawn is first getting established, try to avoid as much foot traffic as possible. You can get on a regular fertilizing and mowing schedule once your lawn is about six weeks old.
When You’ll See Results
Waiting for your lawn to grow is a lot like watching a pot of water – just like a watched pot will never boil, a watched lawn won’t seem to grow, either!
But grow it will, provided that you give it time and plenty of attention. You’ll want to make sure you planted your grass seed in the best window for its type and for your climate. This will help your grass hit its stride before natural stressors, like heat or cold, hit.
Grass types vary in their germination rates. A Kentucky bluegrass lawn can take two to three times as long to germinate as tall fescue, while bermudagrass will germinate three times as fast as zoysiagrass.
To complicate things further, some seed products contain a mixture of seed types – all of which may germinate at different speeds!
However, as an average, you can expect your lawn to start growing within one to three weeks. Don’t break out the mower just yet, though. You need to make sure you’ve let the grass grow a few inches tall before you mow to prevent scalping your lawn and causing lasting damage. That generally means waiting an additional three to four weeks after the first glimpses of green growth emerge.
Remember, just because you can’t see anything happening doesn’t mean your lawn isn’t growing. Most of the initial growth of grass seedlings occurs underground, where you won’t be able to see it. This is the most important time for your grass, though, as it’s developing strong roots and preparing itself for the pearl growing season.
Make sure you do your research about your specific grass type and what it needs to thrive in your area. It doesn’t matter whether this is the first lawn you’ve grown or you’ve been doing it forever – a bit of research can never hurt. By caring for your lawn properly from start to finish, you’ll be able to plant grass seed that ultimately grows tall, healthy, and green.