How to Plant Grass Seed
Grass Planting Guide
Nothing ruins your curb appeal like patches of dirt or dead grass on your lawn. Maybe you’ve recently moved, and your new lawn looks like the Sahara Desert because the previous owner let things go. Or maybe that prolonged dry spell has done its damage. The bottom line is you need grass.
Knowing how to seed grass—from picking the right seed, to soil prep, planting, and watering—will help you create the lawn of your dreams.
- Planting Seed vs Laying Sod
- Types of Grass Seed
- Annual vs Perennial Grass
- When to Sow Grass Seed
- How to Plant Grass Seed
- How Often Should I Water New Grass Seed?
- How to Keep Birds from Eating Grass Seed
- How Long Does It Take for Grass Seed to Grow?
- How Long Does Grass Seed Last?
First, let’s understand the difference between planting seed versus laying patches of existing grass, also called sod. In this article, we’re focusing on seeding a lawn from scratch. Laying sod is a great option if you’re looking for quick results and don’t care about the type of grass. Not everyone has the patience or time to plant seeds and watch them grow.
Keep in mind that sod is more expensive than grass seed and may require professional installation if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Planting grass seed gives you control of the entire process, is less expensive, and results in a firmly rooted, healthy lawn.
Grass seed can be divided into warm-season and cool-season grasses.
- Cool-season grass grows best in the north and includes varieties like Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescues, Tall Fescue, Perennial Ryegrass, and Creeping Bentgrass.
- Warm-season grass grows best in the south and parts of the west where there are mild to hot year-round temperatures. Examples of Warm-season grass varieties are Centipedgrass, Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, Bahiagrass, and St. Augustine grass.
So, the first step in picking grass seed is to determine your local climate. Then, within these main categories, there are types of grass that prefer shade and types that prefer extra sunlight. A lawn covered in trees will need the shade variety, while a lawn exposed to direct sun may need the sunny variety.
Each type of grass seed is also either annual or perennial. Annual grasses bloom and die in one year and don’t come back. As a result, you must reseed them every year. In contrast, perennial grasses come back every year, so you only plant them once.
Typically, annual grass varieties are chosen when you’re looking to save money or need a quick fix to a lawn because they grow faster than perennials. Obviously, perennial grasses are less hassle because you don’t have to re-plant them every year.
For a wealth of additional information about the different types of grasses, please read our article on grass varieties.
The best time to sow grass seed depends on the seed type. Cool-season grasses are best planted in the early autumn but can also grow well during spring. Temperatures for cool-season grasses should be between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Warm-season grasses should be planted in late spring or early summer to take advantage of the extra heat. Make sure temperatures for warm-season grasses are consistently around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and that there is no danger of frost.
Before physically planting the grass, you need to test your soil pH, which should be between 6.0 and 7.5. Having overly alkalotic or acidic soil could spell disaster for your grass, in which case planting would be a waste of time. You can test your soil by sending a sample to a laboratory. If your soil needs improvement, you can buy soil amendments and nutrients to mix in before planting.
Once your soil is ready, take the following steps to plant the grass seed:
- Clear soil debris: Twigs, rocks, clumps of dirt, and other kinds of debris can choke your precious seedlings. Rake all obstructions away until you have nice, clean soil.
- Loosen up the soil: To create better coverage for your seeds, first loosen up the soil and level the terrain as best you can. You can also create grooves with a rake to increase seed to soil contact.
- Sprinkle the grass seed: Next is the all-important part of sprinkling the grass seed. Spread the seed evenly using either your hands or a spreader. Sprinkle a generous amount but not too much—you don’t want the grasses competing for soil and nutrients. Follow the instructions that come with your seeds for exact amounts.
- Rake the Seeds in: You don’t want the wind blowing away the seeds you spent all afternoon planting. Rake them into the soil. You can also use a roller to slightly flatten them into the soil, but don’t compact them too much.
- Add Organic Matter: Mixing in peat moss, straw, mulch, or some other organic matter into the soil can help retain moisture and support the soil.
- Water, Water, Water: Once you’re done planting, water the seeds generously.
It’s important to water new grass seed daily to keep the top of the soil consistently moist. This doesn’t mean drench the soil—you may just need to spray it lightly. Be very consistent and observant with watering, especially for the first 3-4 weeks after planting. Continue watering daily until the grass is about 2-3 inches tall.
If you mix in peat moss or other organic matter into the soil, you’ll be providing some protection from birds. You can also consider covering your newly planted grass with a burlap sheet, tarp, or net until germination to keep birds out and retain moisture. If you have a flair for the dramatic, you can buy a fake plastic owl or hawk to scare birds away.
Grow time for grass depends on the variety and whether it is a cool-season or warm-season grass. Cool-season grass grows faster and could produce a full lawn in as little as 30 days. Warm-season grass takes much longer because it’s so much more sensitive to temperature fluctuations—it could take up to one year to produce a lawn. Read the guide that comes with your grass seed for details on how long your specific variety will take to grow.
The critical period in grass growth is germination time, or the time it takes for the seed to sprout. This can happen within the first 2-4 weeks after sowing, depending on the grass. During this time, you must pay extra attention to making sure the seeds are getting enough water and sunlight. Partially Covering grass seed with mulch or other organic matter will help protect it, retain moisture, and promote growth. However, covering grass seed is not required for it to grow.
If you didn’t use it all during planting, you may be wondering whether that grass seed goes bad. As long as the grass seed is less than one year old, you should be fine. With each passing year, however, the germination rate, or the percentage of seeds that will sprout, decreases. After a few years, the rate will be so low that you won’t get a full lawn. To maximize seed life, you should store it in a dry, cool space.
A beautiful lawn can be yours with just a little time and effort. Pick up the right grass seed and plant away!
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