How To Weed And Seed Your Lawn

FS584, With just a little know-how, you can bring to life a beautiful expanse of inviting green grass. We break down how to grow a lawn from grass seed into six simple steps

Seeding Your Lawn

An attractive lawn with minimum maintenance problems begins with proper site preparation. The initial investment should be considered over the many years that a correctly established and maintained lawn will provide enjoyment. For example, improper grading can increase mowing time and reduce turf quality. Drainage problems will encourage weed encroachment and wetter areas are difficult to mow. Research studies have demonstrated that the rapid germination and growth of turfgrass is critical for a successful lawn establishment.

Listed below are the major points to consider when planting a new lawn:

Grading

Establish a sloping grade, free of depressions, away from buildings. Naturally wet areas, due to internal drainage problems, should be corrected by the installation of a subsurface drainage system such as perforated pipe and stone. Remove all rough debris including large stones. The grade around established trees should not be altered to avoid damaging the existing root system.

Soil Preparation

It is important to properly prepare the soil. The following steps should be accomplished prior to seeding:

  1. Soil Testing: Make every effort to have the soil tested. Test results will provide an accurate recommendation of the specific lime and nutrient requirements for that soil. County Cooperative Extension Offices can assist in obtaining the soil testing kits and in the interpretation of the results.
  2. Liming: Proper liming is essential for maximum utilization of the applied fertilizer and other soil nutrients by the germinating turfgrass.
    1. Apply the recommended amount of lime and fertilizer and incorporate uniformly into the soil 4 to 6 inches deep.
    2. If the amount of lime required exceeds 200 pounds per 1000 square feet, apply one-half of the recommended amount, work it into the soil, then apply the remainder and incorporate into the soil.

    Fertilization

    1. Preplant Incorporated Fertilizer: Evenly broadcast fertilizer or other nutrient source as recommended by soil testing and till into the soil 3 to 4 inches deep. (Can be done with liming).
    2. Post Plant (“Topdress”) Fertilizer: Following your incorporated application, a fertilizer should also be applied 2 to 4 weeks after turfgrass emergence. Apply 3 to 5 pounds of 20-10-10 fertilizer per 1000 square feet or the equivalent amount of 2-1-1 ratio fertilizer. Applying nitrogen containing fertilizer to young turfgrass seedlings promotes rapid lawn development. Consider watering in fertilizer if rain is not imminent. Do not apply fertilizer to “wet” grass seedlings as some types may cause plant “burn”.

    Seeding

    1. Timing: Late summer and early fall provide the most ideal conditions for turfgrass establishment. Generally, this timing will allow adequate grass growth prior to winter. Cool evening and moderate daytime temperatures, along with anticipated fall precipitation, are conducive to rapid seed germination. In addition, many weeds including crabgrass are no longer germinating, reducing competition in new turfgrass plantings.
      1. Primary Establishment Period—late summer, early fall. (The earlier date is most desirable.) Southern New Jersey (Trenton and south) August 20 to October 10 Northern New Jersey (Trenton and north) August 15th to October 5th.
      2. Secondary Establishment Period—early spring (all of New Jersey).
      3. Establish the lawn during the first warm, dry period as soon as soil is dry enough to till without forming clods. Preparing soil when it is too wet results in poor germination and growth from compacted soil conditions.

      Use quality seed adapted to site.

      Seed Selection: Many advances have been made by turfgrass breeders in recent years. For instance, there are now Kentucky bluegrass varieties better adapted to moderate shade, as well as improved disease resistance. Tall fescues, just a few years ago, were considered stemy, coarse grasses. Today, finer leafed, lower growing, denser and darker green tall fescues are available. The same can be said for perennial ryegrasses. Fine leaf fescues, such as hard fescue and creeping red fescue, are known for their adaptability to shady areas and “droughty” soil. New improved fine fescues are also available.

      In addition, the issue of seed mixtures is an important consideration. Reputable seed companies provide mixtures of “improved” varieties of various species allowing a wider range of site adaptation. Mixtures of various turfgrass species, each selected for a specific trait, provide the best opportunity for successful lawn establishment if a site has a combination of wet, dry, sunny and shady areas.

      1. Kentucky Bluegrasses (Poa pratensis) This is a popular lawn grass in New Jersey. It is hardy, attractive, widely adapted and known for its pleasing color and leaf texture. New varieties have some shade tolerance and improved disease resistance. It is suitable for moderately to well-drained soil but is somewhat slow to establish from seed. Spreading underground rhizomes (stems) enhance recovery from injury and fill in voids. Seeding rate is approximately 2 pounds per 1000 square feet. Spring seedlings are difficult to establish.
      2. Tall Fescues (Festuca arundinacea) This is a coarser bunch-type grass able to persist in moderate to well-drained, infertile soils. Newer varieties are improved in leaf color, texture and density. Tall fescues are also known for rapid establishment from seed, excellent drought tolerance and ability to tolerate traffic. Seeding rates are 4 to 6 pounds per 1000 square feet.
      3. Fine Fescues (Festuca spp.) Fine fescues are comprised of several species (hard, sheeps, creeping red). As a group, they are known for their ability to persist in shady areas as well as in dry infertile locations. They establish slightly faster than Kentucky bluegrass. Improved newer varieties are useful for lower maintenance turfgrass areas. Fine fescues do not tolerate high traffic. Seeding rates are 4 to 6 pounds per 1000 square feet.
      4. Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne) Breeding advances have produced varieties markedly improved over the older non-persistent types. These newer turf type ryegrasses have excellent color and fine textured leaves. They survive in a wide range of soil conditions but grow poorly in extremely wet areas. They possess moderate shade tolerance and very rapid establishment. Seeding rates are 4 to 6 pounds per 1000 square feet.
        Rapid Lawn Establishment: At certain times, such as in new home construction where dust or muddy conditions cause concern or on sloping terrain where soil erosion is a serious problem, a rapid cover of turfgrass is most critical. A first choice may be sodding the critical areas (see Rutgers Cooperative Extension fact sheet FS104, “Steps to an Instant Lawn”). Another choice can be the use of seed mixtures containing primarily perennial ryegrass or tall fescue. These varieties in combination with the use of straw mulch (see next point) and timely rainfall or irrigation can provide an “established” lawn in 4 weeks if growing conditions are favorable.

      Clean straw mulch conserves moisture.

      Straw Mulching and Irrigation: It is desirable to keep newly seeded lawns moist in the top 2 inches through irrigation or rainfall. If the top layer of soil dries out prior to good root establishment, poor stands of turfgrass may result. Some temporary surface drying is acceptable but should be kept to a minimum until germination is complete. Once seedlings have an established root system, watering can be less frequent and deeper (3 to 5 inches). Irrigation should not be overdone (do not create constant “muddy” conditions). Observe the drier areas of the lawn (sunny, high areas) for early signs of wilting. Irrigate, if feasible, to increase chances of successful establishment.

      Straw mulch such as unrotted, weed seed free wheat, oat, rye, or salt hay can be applied at 50 to 90 lbs., (1 to 2 bales) per 1000 square feet. This offers a significant advantage for turfgrass establishment. Light mulching, where approximately 25% of the soil is visible through mulch, is all that is needed in most situations.

      Mulching increases soil moisture retention. Morning dew is retained longer on the soil surface. Benefits include reduced watering needs and quicker seed germination.

      Weed control in newly planted turfgrass.

      Acknowledgement

      The author wishes to thank J. Heckman, R. Duell, R. Funk, J. Murphy, B. Clarke, and E. Milewski for their constructive inputs into this fact sheet.

      Copyright © 2022 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. All rights reserved.

      For more information: njaes.rutgers.edu.

      Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Boards of County Commissioners. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.

      New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
      Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
      88 Lipman Drive, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8525

      Copyright © 2022 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

      Rutgers is an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers websites to: [email protected] or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier or Provide Feedback Form.

      How to Plant Grass Seed in Six Steps

      If your spouse keeps telling you the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you might want to tackle the naked-earth lawn chore you’ve been dodging. We’ll show you how to plant grass seed in six steps. You’ll complete one of the most satisfying outdoor tasks a homeowner can accomplish (and maybe save your relationship).

      Here’s how to plant grass seed in six simple steps:

      Step 1: Remove the Existing Grass

      Is your lawn happily surviving? If your grass is good, but could be better, you could overseed to plump up the existing lawn. For bare spots, use garden tools to roughen up the soil first. Then spread the grass seed over to fill in the bare patches.

      If your yard is where feisty weeds go to party and half of your lawn lies naked, you should plan to renovate — remove the old vegetation. New baby grass seedlings cannot compete with that mess. If you’re starting from scratch with a new home build, and establishing a new lawn, you can skip to Step 2.

      There are two ways to clean your lawn’s slate:

      • Use a nonselective broad-spectrum herbicide. Follow label instructions carefully and don’t spray on a windy day.
      • Use a sod-cutter, available at most rental companies. Mark your sprinkler heads before operating the cutter to avoid accidents.

      Once the weeds and old sod are removed, loosen the soil bed so the new grass seeds’ roots can easily grow through. You can use hand tools (and your toughest friends), a tiller, or core aerator. You can find tillers and aerators at rental companies, as well.

      Fill low spots in your yard using a half-and-half mixture of sand and topsoil. If necessary, grade your yard to keep rain or water flowing away from your home.

      Step 2: Do a Soil Test, then Add Amendments

      Once you have renovated your lawn – exposed and leveled the planting surface – you’ll need to test your soil for the best grass germination and growth. Test the soil as soon as you can. There can be a wait of up to two weeks for results and you could miss your ideal planting window.

      At a minimum, you should test for pH. This is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most grasses like slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 7.

      A simple moisture and pH tester can be found for $10. For about $20, you could test for the major nutrients in your soil. Your results will show the N, P, and K: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.

      The best soil tests include major and minor nutrients. Your state Extension service and private labs offer these services. Keep in mind your local Extension office can also provide great information and insight that private labs can’t, and usually at a lower cost.

      Here are four very good soil tests you can buy on Amazon.

      The test results should give you a plan and shopping list for your local garden shop. Follow application instructions carefully and add soil amendments to restore what it lacks. Again, use a tiller or hand tools to work the amendments in to a depth of 1-4 inches.

      Step 3: Choose the Best Seed for Your Region

      Your local seed expert will always give you the best advice when choosing your seed. Local Extension offices, seed stores, and agricultural suppliers are experienced and understand the microclimates of your area.

      In northern states, select cool-season grass, which grows best when temperatures are 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses thrive in the late spring and early fall months in the northern two-thirds of the United States.

      People living in Southern states should select a warm-season grass seed. Warm-season grasses thrive from late spring through summer.

      Between the North and South is the transition zone where summers are hot and winters are cold. You’ll either need to find the most cold-tolerant warm-season grass available, or the most heat-tolerant cool-season grass.

      Best Cool-Season Grasses for Northern States

      • Bentgrass is a standard grass for golf course putting greens. Colonial Bentgrass is for home lawns and likes a low mow.
      • Kentucky bluegrass is a classic choice for Northern lawns. It likes full sun and isn’t shade tolerant.
      • Fine Fescue is a perennial bunchgrass and stands up in poorly drained areas.
      • Tall fescue mix puts down deep roots and is drought tolerant.
      • Creeping fescue is slow to germinate and spread, but tolerates shade, and is good for large lawns.
      • Ryegrass (annual) can be used for a quick shot of green. The perennial ryegrass variety is best for high traffic and playgrounds.

      Best Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States

      • Bahiagrass has a coarse texture, is heat/drought tolerant, and is best for low traffic lawns.
      • Bermudagrass is hardy and stands up to heavy traffic, but it’s high maintenance.
      • Buffalograss is the only variety native to North America, highly drought tolerant, and needs little care.
      • Centipedegrass grows slowly but has very low maintenance once established. In warm climates, it’s non-dormant, so it stays green year-round unless there’s a cold snap.
      • Zoysiagrass is a slow grower, but one of the most cold-tolerant varieties of warm-season grasses.
      • St. Augustinegrass is sold as sod, as its seedheads are sterile.

      Best Grasses for Transition Zone States

      The transition zone is a blend of temperature highs and lows, humidity, summer deluges, and drought.

      • Bermudagrass
      • Kentucky bluegrass
      • Perennial ryegrass
      • Tall fescue
      • Zoysiagrass

      Single Variety, Blend, or Grass Seed Mix?

      In addition to high-quality grass seed to match your climate, you also need to consider your lawn’s unique properties.

      • Is it in full sun, shade, or a mix? A shade mix is great for dense shade.
      • How much moisture will it get?
      • Is the area heavily trafficked?
      • How much time and effort do you want to spend maintaining the lawn?

      Knowing your terrain will help you home in on the formulation of seed you want. Seeds are sold as pure seeds of one variety, blends (multiple types of the same variety), and mixtures (seed blends of different varieties).

      Pure seed will give you a unified look. Blends will be less uniform, but one variety may cover up for the weaknesses of another. Grass seed mixtures provide the most biologically diverse lawn: the grass plants won’t look identical, but your lawn has a better chance of surviving diseases and droughts.

      Step 4: Best Time to Plant Grass Seed

      For cool season grass seeds, either spring or fall are the preferred times, since these northern varieties of grass prefer warm soil and cool air.

      In the South, warm-season grasses can be planted from late spring to mid-summer. Wait until the last chance of a late frost has passed, and the daytime temperature is in the 80s.

      One of the biggest keys to success is picking a high-quality seed that is right for your climate.

      Federal Seed Act Ensures Proper Labeling

      When it comes to selecting seeds, the Federal Seed Act requires seed sellers to provide consumers with valuable information on the seed’s label.

      Under the law, the label must tell you:

      • The name of the grass variety (or varieties).
      • Its purity, that is, the weight by percentage of each type of seed.
      • Germination percentage. The percentage of the seeds that you can expect to germinate. This is not a number the seed companies can fudge. The federal government expects seed producers to run regular germination tests and keep careful records.
      • Weed seed percentage. Look for a seed that has less than 0.5 percent weeds.

      Pure Grass Seed or Fertilizer/Mulch Mix?

      You have one final decision to make. Are you going to purchase a seed that incorporates fertilizer and mulch, or purchase fertilizer and mulch separately? The all-in-one products are more expensive but are convenient.

      Measure your lawn area in square feet, and purchase enough seed to cover that area. Usually, seed bags are marked as the number of pounds needed per 1,000 square feet. If possible, buy a little more than needed in case you want to reseed some bare spots.

      If you are fertilizing separately, broadcast the fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

      Plant your Grass Seed and Fertilizer

      To plant grass seed in small areas, hand-seeding is fine. For larger areas, seeders and spreaders provide more precise coverage. You can find hand-cranked spreaders, chest-mounted, or push-from-behind seeders. Drop seeders drop seeds directly below the unit. There are more expensive commercial seeding options as well.

      Follow the instructions on the seed bag. If the seeder’s lowest setting seems too generous with the seed, thin it out with sand or vermiculite.

      • For large lawns, fill the push spreader with seed.
      • Spread half of the recommended seed north to south.
      • On the second pass, spread east and west for even coverage.
      • Rake the top ⅛-inch of the seeded surface lightly. Using the back of a leaf rake side-to-side makes this an easy job.
      • If you have access to one, roll an empty lawn roller to improve germination.

      “We call it ‘the seed-soil contact,’” said University of Illinois Extension office educator Richard Hentschel. “You want good seed-soil contact. If the seed and soil are not in intimate contact, the little root radicle may die out before it hits the soil.” The radicle is the first root to emerge from a seed.

      If you have hilly areas, seeds will tend to wash away to a low point. One potential solution is hydroseeding: broadcasting seeds that are suspended in a fertilizer-mulch slurry. Professional landscapers often offer hydroseeding services, and there are some hose-end sprayers for the do-it-yourselfers.

      Lawn-Starting Fertilizer: Watch the Phosphorus

      You need to find out if your state restricts using fertilizers containing phosphorus. Most laws carve out an exception and allow limited application of phosphorus on new lawns, but turf experts say to let your soil test be your guide. If it says that your soil lacks phosphorus, then it’s acceptable.

      Step 5: Aqua and Attention

      Keep a careful eye on your new grass seeds. They only get one shot to germinate, so what you do now is critical. That means water. Keep in mind that different grass plants germinate at different times, so if you have a mixture of grass seeds, you’ll need to keep watering them until the slowest-germinating species emerges.

      • Keep the top layer of soil moist (but not soggy) down to 1/2 inch. (Too much water is as bad as too little, and overly vigorous watering could wash the seeds away.)
      • Water at least once a day in the morning and perhaps again in the afternoon if the sun and wind have dried out the soil.

      A misting attachment on your hose can cut down on the amount of force you use. Part of your lawn may be shadier, part may have more porous soil, or part may be sloped. Adjust your watering according to your lawn’s needs.

      Grass Seed Germination Rates, by Grass Type

      • Bahiagrass seed: 10-28 days
      • Bermudagrass seed: 7-28 days
      • Kentucky Bluegrass seed: 14-21 days.
      • Buffalograss seed: 7-10 days.
      • Centipede grass seed: 14-28 weeks.
      • Fescue grass seed: 10-14 days.
      • Annual ryegrass seed, perennial ryegrass seed: 5-10 days.
      • St. Augustinegrass: Rarely grown from seed, propagated by plugs and sod.
      • Zoysia grass seed: 14-21 days.

      Even if you planted just one turfgrass variety, the grass seeds won’t all pop up at once. Some will be buried a bit deeper or have a different rate of water absorption. Stay with your watering regimen until you’re sure the seeds have germinated.

      Keep foot traffic to a minimum. You could consider putting up “Please keep off the new grass” signs to discourage accidental trampling by your kids and neighbors (and their dogs).

      Step 6: When to Give your New Lawn its First Mow

      Hooray! Your new lawn is green and it’s growing well.

      Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:

      • Bahiagrass: 2-2 ½ inches
      • Bentgrass: 1 inch
      • Bermuda: 1½-2 inches
      • Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches
      • Buffalograss: 2-3 inche
      • Centipede: 1½-2 inches
      • Fescue: 2-3 inches
      • Perennial Ryegrass: 2-3 inches.
      • Zoysia: 1-2 inches

      Treat your New Grass like a Baby

      Take advice from the ‘70s band, The Eagles. Slow down and take it easy the first few times you mow your new turfgrass. The roots won’t be long or well-established, so it will be easy to accidentally rip up the young plants.

      Here are a few tips to ensure a successful first mow:

      • Sharpen the mower’s blade so you cut, not tear, the tender plants.
      • Start the mower off the lawn and minimize the number of turns you make with the mower.
      • Don’t remove more than a third of the grass blade in one mow.

      After the first mow, cut back on frequent shallow watering, and switch to watering a couple of times a week, deeply. Water six or eight inches deep to encourage your new lawn to root deeply. Once established the lawn will start spreading to cover any gaps.

      After eight weeks, your lawn should be well-established. Hit it with a little more fertilizer to encourage deep roots, and take down your “Please keep off the new grass” signs; your new lawn is ready for fun.

      It’s unlikely that grass seeds will grow on top of flat, bare soil. The seeds may germinate but the roots won’t be strong enough to penetrate the soil. It’s best to rough up the soil before sowing for the best seed-to-soil contact.

      Don’t cover grass seed with topsoil. The seed needs light to germinate. To protect the seed from birds and washing away, use straw (weed-free) or an erosion-control blanket.

      Expect to see tiny grass blades in 10-14 days. Other varieties of seed may take up to 30 days.

      DIY or LSE (Let Someone Else)?

      Some homeowners and renters love being weekend warriors, but some of the rest of us prefer anything else.

      If you’re like me, and you would rather reap the rewards of great grass someone else sowed and mowed, consider hiring a lawn care pro. Give them a call early so they can begin testing and sowing seeds at the proper planting time for your area.

      * Editorial Note: LawnStarter participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. LawnStarter may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.

      LawnStarter writer Penny Warner updated this article.

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      Daniel Ray

      Daniel Ray is LawnStarter.com’s former editor in chief. He is an award-winning writer and editor who previously was editor in chief of the personal finance websites Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com, but with 30 years of gardening experience, he’s well qualified to help consumers grow a different kind of green.

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