How to Seed a Lawn Using a Tiller
Planting a Lawn With a Tiller
Your tiller is good for more than gardening. Think about it: what else grows in soil around your yard besides herbs and vegetables?
Whether you’re considering planting a new lawn or reseeding an existing lawn, proper preparation of the soil beforehand is essential. A garden tiller or cultivator is just the tool you need to make sure the soil in your yard is in top condition.
Why and When to Till and Seed a Lawn
Reseeding grass is a task that takes time, but there are moments when it’s the best step you can take toward a great-looking lawn.
The most obvious case when you might seed a lawn from scratch is when you want to grow grass on a site of new construction. If you’re the owner of a new house who doesn’t want to create a lawn using sod, then planting new grass will be one of your first tasks.
However, owners of existing homes might have good reasons to reseed their lawns, too. After several seasons of wear and tear, your lawn might exhibit some of the signs of severe damage:
- Persistent occurrence of lawn fungus and other diseases
- Brown spots resulting from animal waste
- Dead patches resulting from winter deicing salts
- Bare spots caused by heavy foot traffic
- Thinning due to increased shade from tree growth
If your lawn consistently suffers from any of the problems above, you might be able to remedy the problem by tilling your lawn, planting new grass, and essentially restarting your lawn.
The best time to seed a new lawn or reseed a patchy lawn depends on the type of grass you plan to grow. Cool-season grasses that do well in northern climates (such as Kentucky bluegrass) are best seeded in late summer or early fall. Warm-season grasses that do well in southern climates (such as bermudagrass) are best seeded in late spring.
How to Rototill a Lawn and Seed It
Once you’ve decided that you’re going to plant new grass seeds, the question that follows is, how do you do it? To seed a new lawn or plant grass seeds in bare spots, follow the steps below.
1. Clear the Area
Remove rocks and large bits of debris, such as branches or pieces of trash, that could damage your tiller or any other pieces of equipment.
2. Treat the Old Soil
If you’re seeding a new lawn, request that the topsoil on your new construction site be kept to the side. Spread it evenly over the lot and till it in after tilling the deeper soil in Step 3 below.
If you’re reseeding an established lawn, use a sod cutter to break up existing patches of grass and the root systems underneath. Alternatively, spray a non-selective herbicide across the area, but be sure that you want to commit to restarting your lawn—these chemicals will kill grass as well as your weeds.
A non-selective weed killer needs at least seven days to be fully absorbed by the plants on your lawn. Some experts suggest waiting two weeks after spraying before continuing the lawn renovation process. When you do, mow the grass debris that’s left using your mower’s lowest setting.
3. Till the Soil
This is when your tiller gets its time to shine. For many yards, either a front tine or rear tine garden tiller will work well for this process. If you’re seeding a small patch of grass, a cultivator might be better for the job.
Give the soil in place at least one pass with your tiller. This will not only loosen up compacted soil but also break up any weeds or grass debris remaining on the site. If you’re restarting your lawn, you might need to make several passes to till in all the grass.
Then, add one inch of compost over the lot and blend it in with your tiller. This will give your grass seed a nutrient-rich medium in which to grow.
Tilling and adding compost to your lawn are best done when the soil is dry.
4. Check and Adjust the Soil’s pH
Grass grows best in soil that’s slightly acidic, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Purchase a soil pH testing kit from your nearest home improvement store, or contact your nearest university extension office to ask about how to submit a soil sample for testing.
If your soil is either too acidic (pH below 6.0) or too alkaline (pH above 7.0), use your tiller to add amendments that will bring the soil’s pH within the recommended range:
- Add lime to acidic soil to make it more alkaline
- Add peat moss to alkaline soil to make it more acidic
5. Add Fertilizer
A starter fertilizer will help your grass seeds germinate. A safe blend is a 10-10-10 mixture (10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, 10 percent potassium); add 10 pounds of this mixture for every 1000 square feet in your lawn.
If a basic 10-10-10 fertilizer mixture isn’t available, it’s better to choose a mixture that’s higher in phosphorus than in nitrogen to encourage seeds to germinate.
6. Grade the Soil
Lightly rake your soil mixture to create a gradual incline in the soil that slopes away from the foundation of your house or building. Creating a one-foot drop per 50 feet of distance should allow for adequate drainage.
7. Roll the Soil and Seed the Lawn
Most experts suggest flattening soil with a lawn roller before sowing grass seeds to ensure that the ground is firm and even. However, some suggest rolling the soil after sowing grass seeds to promote good seed-to-soil contact.
Whether you choose to flatten your soil before or after, it’s time to spread your grass seeds. Scatter the seeds either by hand or with a mechanical spreader, walking from top to bottom and then from one side to the other in a grid pattern.
If you choose not to roll your soil after spreading the seeds, rake your soil again to bury the seeds about 1/4" deep.
8. Water the Lawn
To germinate, grass seeds need soil that’s moist but not saturated. Lightly sprinkle water over your newly seeded plot two to three times a day for about two weeks. Once the seeds start to sprout, gradually transition to watering the lawn less frequently.
Don’t get stuck thinking that you’re only going to use your tiller or cultivator whenever you want to garden. By using your tiller to help renovate the soil in your lawn, you can make sure your entire property shows green, healthy growth throughout the year.