Whether you are just now starting to build your backyard garden or want to fill out empty patches in your lawn, knowing how to plant grass seeds is essential to their germination. From the preparation process all the way to the actual seeding, choosing a cover material for the seeds, and taking care of them in the first few weeks, this process is full of details. Most of them depend on the type of grass you’re using and the climate of your region.
There are a number of steps that we will go through in this article, all of which cover the process from start to finish! These steps are:
- Preparing your lawn
- Choosing your grass seed mix
- Planting the seeds
- Covering the seeds
- Initial maintenance
- Long-term maintenance
If you’re interested in getting some of the best grass seeds for 2021, make sure you check out my dedicated Buyer’s Guide on the topic! Now, let’s get into the first steps needed towards planting the perfect grass lawn…
Table of Contents
Preparing your lawn
When it comes to preparing your lawn, you need to think about four main things:
- Weeds and other debris
- Level and Drainage
- Soil properties and testing
Weeds and other debris
The first thing you have to do in order to properly prepare your seedbed is to make sure there are no weeds and debris there. Removing them in a small area is generally easy and won’t require more than a few hours and some instruments. Larger yards, however, will be much harder to work on, especially if there is debris from a building process on top as well as plenty of weeds. In these instances, it is better to remove the weeds with a broad-spectrum herbicide. It will kill pretty much everything there. After it has done its job, you can move onto the cleaning of the soil.
Remove any large debris and rocks and make sure the soil isn’t very compacted. Clay and sand are both good for grass lawn fundaments but might still need some prep work. If you aren’t happy with the quality and consistency of your soil, you can add a topsoil layer that will take care of most issues. It will also help you level the ground better.
Level & Drainage
Leveling your lawn has a few advantages that you don’t want to miss out on. First and foremost, it will distribute water much better across the whole area. Secondly, it will improve vertical drainage instead of having most of the water and moisture accumulate at different low spots. Lastly and most importantly, a level lawn is much easier to mow since you won’t scalp the higher regions and will provide an even cut for all of your grass. This will result in an even growth and even coloring across your yard.
Testing your soil
A major part of lawn preparation is actually testing the soil for its pH levels, whether it is acidic or alkaline, and how rich in nutrients it is. Based on the results, you can act adequately and choose different types of fertilizers. Moreover, you can select specific grass species that can thrive in similar conditions. There are quite a lot of soil testing kits out there that allow you to test all of the soil’s characteristics. Most of them won’t set you back too much and will give you a ton of useful information. For the best results, perform the test at multiple locations on your lawn.
Choosing your grass seed mix
Different grass species thrive in different climate regions. This is why one of the most important parts of seeding a brand new lawn (or reseeding an old one) is to know exactly what seed to choose. One of the major determining factors when it comes to choosing a seed mix is how much sunlight exposure your yard gets. Grass seeds are often divided into full-sun, partial sun, partial shade, full/dense shade types. These will all thrive under different conditions with little tolerance towards more sun or shade. For example, perennial ryegrass can tolerate full sun, partial sun, and partial shade, as long as it gets a few hours of sunlight per day it will be happy. Some Fescues, on the other hand, can live and thrive under full-shade conditions, making them ideal for lawns that are positioned North of your house and/or are covered by large dense trees.
Another thing you have to consider when choosing a specific seed mix is its maintenance levels. These include watering, frequency of mowing, and mowing levels (in terms of grass height). In this regard, seeds are divided into low and high-maintenance. As their name suggests, low-maintenance seeds will require less watering and less mowing. Some types of grass can go without water or with watering once per week/month after they’ve fully germinated. Mowing-wise, some low-maintenance grasses might just need a mow once or twice a month. On the contrary to all that, high-maintenance grasses will need watering almost daily and at least one mowing per week.
Lastly, consider looking for drought-tolerant species if you live in the southern regions of the USA. Also, look for disease-resistant species if you live in the Northern regions of the country.
Pro Tip: You can use special climate maps made to help you select the best grass species or a mix of seeds based on which climate zone you live in.
Planting the seeds
When it comes to planting the seeds, we have to consider two scenarios:
- Planting seeds for a new lawn
- Overseeding an existing lawn
Planting seeds for a new lawn
When you’re planting seeds on a new lawn, you want to rake the area first. Rake until you think the ground is leveled and ready for the seeds. Then, spread the seeds according to the seed mix you’ve gotten. Typically, I recommend using a rate of 2 oz per 15 square feet. There are seed spreaders out there that can be adjusted according to the rate you want to use. If you don’t have that at hand, simply use your hands and add seeds based on the package and your best judgment. It is always better to slightly overdo it than to underseed the lawn.
After sowing the seeds, rake them again so that they’re covered by around 1/4-inch of topsoil. You can also use other things to cover the seeds such as mulch or compost.
Once the seeds are slightly buried, you can firm down the soil either by using your feet or by using a roller to improve the seed’s contact with the soil.
Overseeding an existing lawn
Existing lawns are a bit trickier to work on as they might have all sorts of issues. First and foremost, make sure you deal with all the weeds that are there. These established weeds can grow fast and hinder the germination process of new seeds. Use specific herbicides that won’t target your grass and only kill the weeds. Then, look for low spots that accumulate too much water. Add some topsoil to these regions so that the lawn gets more leveled.
After you’ve done all that, mow the grass as short as you can. Then, loosen up the top 1 inch of the soil in the spots you want to re-seed. Plant plenty of new grass seeds in these areas and add a starter fertilizer to help them grow. Typically, most seed mixes that are meant for patching will come with a starter fertilizer mixed into them, so make sure you check that to avoid buying additional fertilizer. Water these seeds as you would water new seeds on a new lawn (twice a day until they fully germinate). Also, avoid stepping in the places where you’ve re-seeded. If you’ve overseeded your whole lawn, try minimizing traffic over it as much as possible and water it daily.
One major aspect of planting your grass seeds is when to actually do it. Let’s talk more about that now…
When to plant grass seeds?
While there are countless grass species, all of which prefer a different time of the year to be planted, you can follow a few basic rules. For cool-season grass types, you can choose either early Spring or the Fall. This is because these seeds prefer cool air and warm soil.
Warm-season grass types, on the other hand, can be planted later in the year up until the middle of the Summer. They love warm soil and warm air and need plenty of water to germinate properly!
Covering the seeds
Covering the seeds will protect them from birds, keep the moisture levels high, and prevent the seeds from being washed away in heavy rain or blown away in windy conditions. There are plenty of things you can use to cover seeds but the general rule is to not cover them with more than 1/4 of an inch of soil or large quantities of over covering materials. One of the things that work best for a seed cover is mulch. Compost and mushroom soil is also ideal for the occasion. A lot of people use hay but try avoiding hay as it is often full of other weed seeds that will pretty much ruin your whole lawn.
For cool-season lawns, use screened compost or mushroom soil. The darker colors of these covering materials absorb more sunlight and keep the seeds warm in this colder part of the year.
Another good reason to cover your seeds is to prevent ants and birds from getting easily to them. While some insects and smarter birds will still eat a few, covered seeds will generally be much better protected against that. If you want to learn more on how to keep birds from eating your grass seeds, click here!
Initially, there isn’t a ton of work that you will have to do on your lawn. One of the most important things you have to keep in mind is that new seeds will need plenty of water to germinate well. The bigger brands have figured out ways to coat their seeds so that they are a bit more resilient and can do fine without a ton of watering. Still, if you want to see high germination percentages (above 90%), make sure you water the new grass twice per day.
Ideally, you want to keep the lawn constantly wet. Don’t overdo it, though. One major mistake beginners do is to have their lawn look like a rice field. If the lawn is constantly covered underwater, the newly sprouted seeds won’t have a lot of access to sunlight. Some grass species might even dislike the huge amounts of water and never germinate properly. This is why it is important to read the label on your seed mix and see exactly how much watering these specific seeds need according to their manufacturer.
One of the most common questions people have in the beginning is when to fertilize new grass and how to do it. Let’s discuss that now.
A common mistake is for people to add fertilizer to their newly planted weed. One of the reasons this is a mistake is because most seed mixes nowadays have seed coatings that act as a fertilizer to the seed. Moreover, some mixes even have fertilizer for the soil, so that they strengthen its nutritional qualities.
Another reason adding a fertilizer early on is a mistake is because most salt-based lawn fertilizers can harm newer roots that are more vulnerable. If you’re absolutely set on fertilizing the newly seeded lawn, you can use compost or organic lawn fertilizer. Other than that, you can use any type of fertilizer after at least 5 mowing cycles. Overall, you want to fertilize your grass lawn up to 5-6 times per year. Use more fertilizer at shorter periods when the grass is growing the fastest. This is typically in the Spring season.
Long-term maintenance is really only associated with the seed type. As I mentioned earlier, high-maintenance seeds will require frequent mowing and even more frequent watering. These typically prefer warmer climates and are planted in the early Spring months. If you don’t have the time and energy to take care of your lawn on a weekly basis, I suggest getting a low-maintenance mix. These will require less water, less mowing, and are usually much tougher when it comes to disease and drought resistance. Some of the low-maintenance species are excellent for parks, alleys, and places that generally don’t get a lot of frequent watering. They are also better at handling high traffic.
Even though most seed mixes will clearly specify the long-term maintenance their seeds require, I suggest sticking to the fundamentals if you aren’t sure. These are:
- Water your grass at least once a week; more often if the weather is extremely hot and dry
- Mow the grass when it gets above 3-5 inches
- Mow according to the grass type, but generally down to 2 and a half inches (each mowing should take no more than 1/3 of the grass blade)
- Clean any leftover grass after each mowing so that new grass blades have plenty of sunlight and moisture
If you also want to learn how to plant and maintain a gorgeous green hedge in your yard, make sure you read this detailed article on the topic!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it usually take for new grass to grow?
There are quite a lot of grass species that all take different times to fully germinate. Some fast-growing mixes can grow in as little as 5 days, while other species like Fescues can germinate for more than 10 days. Bluegrass mixes take even longer than that, germinating for up to 3-4 weeks. Lastly, all the warm-season grasses such as Bermuda, centipede grass, and others can easily take more than a month. Bear in mind that if you’ve got a mix of different seeds, they won’t germinate at the same time. No matter the results, however, it is important to keep watering them until the grass is ready for its first mowing.
Will grass seeds grow if I just throw them down?
Most modern seeds are coated with multiple protective layers that will give them nutrition and protection against diseases and insects. And while they will most likely sprout even if you just throw them over the ground, it will be much harder for them to do so. The reason for that is that over the ground they might be left exposed to the sun. This can burn them or dry them entirely. There are also other negative factors but, as a whole, if you’re set on just throwing the seeds over the ground, at least prepare the ground first by raking it and water the seeds at least twice a day.
Which month is the best for planting grass seeds?
Depending on the type of grass species, there are different months that will all benefit the grass differently. A major way in which grass types are divided is into cool-season and warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses benefit a lot from being planted during the Fall. That way, they slowly germinate through the Spring. Warm-season grass seeds, on the other hand, prefer being planted in the early Spring. They are typically faster growing but won’t endure late Fall and Winter conditions, which is why they become yellow during that period.
Should you seed before it rains?
There are a few very good reasons you should plant your seeds before it starts raining. For instance, the ground will be much easier to work on (rake) when it is dry. Additionally, the seeds will get plenty of evenly distributed water during the rain which will give them the much-needed first boost in their germination process.
How long do seeds take to grow in May?
Since May is already quite the warm month, warm-season and cool-season seeds will both take a while longer to germinate. This is why gardeners recommend planting your seeds in early April or even March, depending on the weather conditions in your state. This also depends on the type of grass you’ve purchased, as some have the ability to grow fast even under less-than-ideal conditions.
Can you walk over young grass?
Walking over your seeds or young grass that is under 3 inches tall is a very bad thing to do. Not only has the grass not fully developed its root system but it is also far more vulnerable to stomping and high traffic. This is why it is recommended for the first mowing to be when the grass reaches around 3 inches or more. At that time, the roots will be stable enough to withstand you walking over it without uprooting or killing the young grass strokes.
Can you use too little or too many grass seeds on your lawn?
Yes, you can both overseed and underseed your lawn. When you plant too many seeds, the young grass seeds will struggle for resources such as water, light, and nutrients in the soil. This will leave them weak and thin, resulting in a disease-prone lawn that won’t withstand high traffic. On the contrary, planting too few seeds will result in a bare lawn. However, some “crawling” grass types are experts at developing long root systems and taking care of any empty patches on your lawn themselves. These typically cover larger surfaces with fewer seeds.
Can you use old grass seeds?
Typically, older seeds don’t germinate. This is the main reason most brands out there give a date of expiry of around 1 year to their products. While it is possible to have some germination out of older seed packs, the germination percentage will be low and the grass might be weaker than usual.
Knowing how to plant grass seeds is something that will transform your home for years to come! Doing the right prep work on your yard’s soil and choosing the right seed mix for your climate region are the first two things you have to do. Then, the actual planting, raking, and covering are going to be much easier. Simply put, if you prepare the ground well and choose the right seed, the rest is extremely easy and you will have a lush green lawn in a month or two! It is important to remember not to walk over the young grass and mow it only after it reaches at least 3 inches.