Nothing impacts home landscaping quite like a well-kept lawn. And it's not all about impressing your neighbors. In addition to looking nice, a healthy lawn absorbs excess rainfall, reduces soil erosion, filters groundwater, produces oxygen and improves air quality by absorbing dust and other particles.
Whether you're starting a new lawn from scratch or you need to fill in some bare patches, it's crucial to choose the right type of grass seed — and to know how to plant it properly.
The Basics of Buying Grass Seeds
Warm Season vs. Cool Season
The first step in choosing the right grass seed is selecting either a warm-season seed or a cool-season seed. Warm-season grass seed grows best in hot climates. Most varieties turn brown and go dormant in cool weather. Late spring is the best time to plant warm-season grass seeds. Popular varieties include St. Augustine, Zoysia, Bahia and Bermuda.
Cool-season grass seed grows rapidly in the spring and fall and may turn brown during the hottest part of the summer. Plant this type of seed in the late summer or early fall. Popular varieties include Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass.
Annual vs. Perennial
Annual grass must be replanted every year and is generally used to provide quick, temporary cover until perennial grass returns. It's also used for overseeding during warm months to combat brown grass.
Most grass seeds consist of perennial varieties of grass, which continue to grow back from year to year indefinitely.
Grass Seed Options
Grass seed is sold in three primary forms: straight seed, seed mixes and blended mixtures. Straight seed features a single variety of grass and is ideal for achieving specific effects. Seed mixes feature multiple varieties of grass that offset each other's strengths and weaknesses and are usually drought-resistant. Blended mixtures feature several kinds of one grass species, capitalizing on its strengths and producing a more uniform appearance.
Considerations When Choosing a Variety of Grass Seed
When shopping for grass seed, consider the following factors:
- Watering Frequency – You can choose from grass varieties with low, medium or high tolerance to drought.
- Sunlight – Choose a variety that suits the amount of sunlight your yard receives whether full sun, partial sun or a mix of sun and shade.
- Traffic – If pets or kids frequent your yard, select a coarse grass suitable for high-traffic areas.
The Basics of Planting and Growing Grass
Cultivating a beautiful lawn takes more than just buying the best grass seed for your home. To get the most out of your seed, you'll need to properly plant it. Growing new grass involves four basic steps:
- Soil preparation
- Seed planting and spreading
- Seed covering
- Mowing and continuous maintenance
How Do You Prepare Your Ground for Grass Seed?
Timing is everything when it comes to planting grass seeds. If you're using cool-season grass seeds, aim to plant in the spring or early fall. For warm-season grass seeds, plan to plant them early in summer once the soil is warm.
Although not mandatory, consider testing your soil to determine its pH level and the types of fertilizers to use. You can buy and use a soil test kit or obtain a soil test mailing kit from your local county extension office. If the pH level is below 6.0, the soil is too acidic; add ground limestone to balance it out. If the pH level is above 7.0, the soil is too alkaline; add sulfur, compost or composted manure to correct it.
If you don't want to test the soil, use 10 pounds of 10/10/10 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet. Rake the fertilizer, ground limestone or other material into the top 4 inches of soil.
Using a sharp garden tool, work the soil where you will be planting grass seeds. As you work, remove plants, weeds, stones, rocks and other debris. Fill in any low spots. Till the soil until it resembles marble- or pea-sized particles.
Lay the foundation for strong, healthy grass by mixing organic matter like peat moss, manure or well-rotted compost into the soil. Doing so also improves drainage and aeration while enhancing its nutrient-holding capacity. Add about a ½-inch layer of material, and till it into the soil.
Water the soil and allow it to settle, or roll it with a roller weighing 200 to 300 pounds. You'll know you have the right looseness to the soil bed when the heel of your shoe sinks about half an inch into the ground when you step onto it.
What Is the Easiest Way to Plant Grass Seeds?
Spread the Grass Seeds
With the soil adequately prepared, it's time to plant your grass seeds. Follow the directions on the bag of seeds before beginning. Choose a day with low winds to avoid having seeds disperse too widely. Unless you're filling in bare patches, use a broadcast spreader or a hand-held hopper spreader for even distribution. Make sure to use the correct setting for the type of seed you're spreading.
Water the area well, and let the soil drain for a little bit before starting.
Apply grass seeds to the perimeter first, and then fill in the rest of the area with slightly overlapping passes. Rake the seeds lightly into the top 1/8 inch of the soil.
Take care when applying fertilizer to newly sown grass seeds. Many fertilizers are too harsh for tender grass seedling roots. It's generally safer to apply a top dressing of compost instead. If you use fertilizer, choose a granular lawn food for new grass.
Water the Grass Seeds
Water the soil immediately after sowing the grass seeds. Until the seeds germinate, keep the top inch of soil moist but not soggy; misting the area once per day should suffice.
After the seeds have germinated, keep the top 2 inches of soil moist until the grass is about 3 inches tall. From there, water the new grass two times per week. Soak the area 6 to 8 inches deep each time to encourage roots to grow deeply.
Does Grass Seed Need to Be Covered?
It's essential to shield newly sown grass seeds by covering them with mulch or other materials. Doing so protects them from the elements and helps lock in moisture. Use gardening fabric, screened compost or straw. Avoid hay, which often contains weed seeds. Loosely cover the freshly sown seeds with a maximum of 1/4 inch of material. Remove the mulch when the grass is 3 inches tall.
Why Is Mowing So Important for Maintenance?
After removing the mulch, mow the new grass for the first time, removing the top third of the growth. Make sure the lawnmower blades are sharp; have them sharpened if they're not. Otherwise, they may tear the new grass, making it more susceptible to disease and other issues.
Keep the blade at the highest setting for the first several lawn-mowing sessions. If you cut the grass too short, weeds are more likely to make headway. Rope off the area to protect it for the first six to eight weeks until it is well-established.
More Maintenance Tips
It all comes down to giving your grass the attention it deserves. That means following any and all instructions on your seed box. Keep in mind that some types of seed may have specific instructions.
Once the grass is firmly established, stop irrigating it unless drought conditions arise. After mowing it at least six times, you can start fertilizing it. Use a systemic herbicide to ward off broadleaf weeds and supplement with compost or composted manure to impart nutrients from time to time.
The most crucial aspects of planting grass is choosing the right seeds and taking care to water them properly in the early days after planting. True Value stores stock everything you need to plant new grass and maintain it for the long haul. Get started today by finding a True Value store near you with the handy store locator tool.