How to plant a new lawn

Last Updated April 2019

Knowing how to plant a new lawn is a useful skill to have, no matter if you’re moving into a new house, sprucing up your current one, or you just want to develop your green thumb. A lush green lawn is often the first thing people notice about your home, and well-manicured grass can greatly increase the value of your property. With a few personal touches, you can make it your own.

While it may seem like a daunting task at first, planting or renovating your lawn is relatively simple when broken down into a few, easy-to-follow steps. First, you must decide whether you want to use grass seed or sod (pre-grown, pre-rolled grass) on your lawn.

Sod vs. seed

Let’s start with sod, as grass seed is relatively self-explanatory. Sod, also known as instant lawn or turf grass, is rolled grass that offers several benefits over grass seed. The most obvious is that it’s much faster to establish and gives the look of a finished lawn instantly. In addition, quality sod has few or no weed seeds present, which can save major headaches (and backaches) down the road. Also, because it’s heartier than young grass, sod can be installed nearly any time of year, so long as the ground isn’t frozen or exposed to extreme heat. However, it’s not without disadvantages.

Due to its convenience, sod is initially more expensive than grass seed and requires labor to install. Your grass choices are restricted as well, because most sod farmers grow their products in full sun. That means if your lawn is shaded by houses or large trees, sod may not thrive as well as seed designed for those environments. Shade blend sod is available in some areas, but it’s not always easy to find.

By contrast, grass seed is simpler, cheaper, less labor-intensive at the onset, and offers more choice when it comes to grass variety. It requires more consistent maintenance, though, and the chance for weed contamination is higher. Perhaps the most notable drawback is this method has a defined window for success, as extreme temperatures can lead to patchy results or complete seed failure.

Preparation

No matter which method you choose to grow your new lawn, the initial preparation is relatively constant. Follow these steps:

  • First, remove debris and the existing vegetation, i.e. weeds and grass. You can do this physically, with a flame torch, using a home remedy, or with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup, Glystar, or any other glyphosate-based chemical. If you use chemicals, remember to wait for the compounds to become inert before planting (check product labels for this info).

  • Repeat the first step, till the soil, and check it again to make sure all remaining seeds are gone. Doing this will ensure a weed-free lawn in the long term.

  • Once the area is free of vegetation, you are ready to plant.

From the outside, planting a new lawn can look like an insurmountable task that’s best left to professionals. Follow our DIY guide and become the professional yourself.

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How to plant a lawn with sod

  • Till the first two inches of soil with a tiller, cultivator, spade, or rake. If needed, add seeding soil to the top of your existing soil.

  • Level soil. Any dips or bumps could stay there for years and can look unsightly.

  • If you do not use seeding soil (these generally have starter fertilizer mixed in), apply starter fertilizer, water, and till in.

  • Roll out sod. Keep edges snug against each other but don’t overlap them.

  • Use a sod roller to smooth out and firm the sod, connecting it with the ground below and facilitating root contact. Keep sod moist for the first 2 weeks after application to further assist root growth.
     

How to plant a lawn with seed

  • Till the first two inches of soil with a tiller, cultivator, spade, or rake. If needed, add seeding soil to the top of your existing soil.

  • Level soil. Any dips or bumps could stay there for years and can look unsightly.

  • If you do not use seeding soil (these generally have starter fertilizer mixed in), apply starter fertilizer, water, and till in.

  • Divide your seed into two equal portions. Spread one half going one direction, with the other half going at a right angle in the other direction. This crisscross pattern guarantees even coverage across your lawn. For higher accuracy, use a drop spreader.

  • Tamp seed down with a lawn roller. For added protection, cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of peat moss or compost. This prevents the seeds from washing away, stops birds from eating them, and also holds in moisture.

  • Gently soak the soil about six inches deep after seeding, and keep the seeds moist until grass has germinated. This should take approximately two weeks. Continue to lightly water three to four times a day until the grass is about a half-inch high, then maintain as normal.
     

Maintenance

  • A watering rule of thumb — once the grass is high enough to mow, water at approximately one inch per week.

  • Water your lawn early in the morning. Doing it at night keeps the water stagnant, which raises the risk for mold and fungus, and watering midday increases evaporation risk. In addition, water deeply and infrequently as opposed to lightly and more often. This improves root health.

  • Keep your mower blades sharp, and don’t cut more than a third of the grass blade at a time to prevent shocking the grass.

  • Fertilize every four to six weeks with lawn fertilizer.
     

Lawn care shopping list

  • A sturdy rake or cultivator will help you till your lawn before planting. This is a necessary step to remove unwanted vegetation and aerate the soil.

  • A lawn roller is the most efficient way to both tamp down new grass seeds and secure sod to the soil below. Fill your lawn roller with water if more weight is needed to finish the job.

  • Drop spreaders are extremely helpful in evenly distributing grass seed over an area. Available in rolling and handheld versions, these spreaders are adjustable for different drop rates.

  • Fertilizer is necessary to keep a lawn healthy and full. Lawn fertilizers are typically rich in nitrogen, which is very water soluble and promotes green, leafy growth.

  • Your lawn won’t survive without water, and an adjustable sprinkler helps it stay irrigated at the seedling stage as well as when it’s fully developed.

Written by:
  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Writer