Starting a small lawn from seed
Selecting the proper grass
One of the benefits of starting your lawn from seed is that you get a wide variety of grasses to choose from. You can pick the best grass for your area, climate, and intended lawn use. Rest assured there will be plenty of choices at the store, so be sure to ask yourself some questions before you go to the lawn and garden store:
- What will I be using the lawn for? Will you be using the lawn mainly for family gatherings with volleyball and croquet games? To impress the neighbors? A walkway to your precious gardens? Some grasses tolerate being walked on better than other, so it is important to decide how much "treading" your grass will receive.
- What is the sunlight like all day long? It would be good to watch the intended lawn location for several full days. Is the patch in full sun all day or does it get morning shade and full afternoon sun?
- What is the natural moisture level of the area? Some grasses require a lot of water and will not do well in drier areas, while other grasses may not like high humidity or lots of rain. Look for low spots where excess water might collect and be aware of any steep sloping points in the area.
- What part of the country am I in? There are warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. Generally the southern United States requires warm-season, while the central and northern US calls for cool-season. Cool season grasses include Fescue, Bluegrass, and Rye, while warm season varieties include Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia and St. Augustine grasses.
- What is the square footage of the area I want to seed? Trust me, you don't want to show up at the lawn and garden store without a clue of how much seed to buy. Measure your square footage before you set out to shop and save yourself some time.
- And lastly, what kind of grass is successful in my neighborhood? You could live in a microclimate of your area. If you research what grass has been successful in your area, you will likely have fewer headaches down the line.
- When to seed? Seeding a lawn is easiest in spring for warm season grasses and in early fall for cool season grasses. It can be done any time of year that it is warm enough to work the ground, but you might have varying results. Trying to start grass from seed in the heat of mid-summer will always be a challenge. Local experts in your area should be able to help you pick the best time of year for your seed type and location.
Once you answer all of these questions, go to a store that has a good selection of grass seed and a helpful staff to ask questions of. There are many different types of grass, some intended for heavy traffic, others for full shade or sun, and others still contain a mix of types for varied usage. Make sure you buy enough grass seed for your square footage as well as some extra for goofs or patching down the line. If you are unsure of how much to buy, check out this grass seed calculator.
While you are at the store, pick up enough bags of topsoil or compost to cover the area with about an inch or two of material. This is an extremely important part of the process and creates a hospitable environment for the grass seed.
Preparing the area
Because this is a tutorial about starting a *small* lawn, you can probably do this whole process by hand. However, if you are starting a larger area of lawn than say, 20 by 20 feet, then you may want to rent some equipment from your local hardware store. You could use a roller, a tiller, and a seed spreader, but in all truthfulness, you can do this process with a rake, a hoe/pitchfork, and some elbow grease.
You'll want to clear the area of weeds, rocks, and stray debris. Use a hoe or a pitchfork to loosen the existing soil so that you can evaluate and clean it as needed and so that it will be loose for the seed. If there are any severe low or high spots, try to even them out now as you don't want water to collect or run off at a high rate; moreover, you don't want to sprain your ankle in a low spot during that family croquet game! You'll want to make sure the top layer (2 to 3 inches) of soil are loose, and if not you can make up the depth by adding more topsoil.
Add topsoil and/or compost in an even layer over the area using a rake. You'll want the loosened soil, including what you loosened earlier, to be about 3 inches thick. Use the added soil to fill in low spots and to generally level the ground to an acceptable grade if there is an existing incline.
By hand or using a seed spreader, distribute the seeds at the rate suggested on the packaging.
Rake the seed into the top of the soil so that it won't blow or wash away. You don't want to rake the seeds in any deeper than a quarter-inch. Once the seed is evenly spread and raked in, using a light spray, water the seed in well. You want an even spray to pack the soil and seed down, but not enough to flood or wash away the seed.
Water, water, water
After the seed is spread, you will want to water at least two times a day. You don't want the seed to dry out for extended periods of time because that can prolong germination or make the seed unviable. In about 2 weeks, you will start to see tiny sprouts. Some sections of your lawn will sprout before others, so don't worry that it didn't work. Keep watering at least once daily to keep the new roots moist. Be sure to water in the morning or in the evening to avoid the hottest times of day so that the grass is not scorched and you aren't fighting major evaporation.
If you are not seeing germination in certain sections after several weeks, you can reseed. Make sure that you rake in a little extra topsoil and the seed.
Some things to consider
Spots in your lawn may be harder to start from seed than others. For example: around tree roots, in areas of extreme shade or sun, or in a hellstrip (the small strip of grass between a sidewalk and the street). In these areas, you'll need to watch the seed and moisture levels more carefully as it may take a while to start healthy growth.
Hopefully, you'll be able to start your lawn in the first try using seed, but if not, there are products available that will help with tricky spots in your lawn. Products such as Scott's Patchmaster, can be used for small tricky areas or for larger areas along the hellstrip that won't get going. This particular product contains grass seed, fertilizer and a biodegradable mulch to help retain moisture. Other products such as Greenview Grass Seed Accelerator will provide fertilizer and mulch without seed to aid in starting lawns. Both are available at big box hardware stores for about $10 a bag.
A fertilizer may also be applied when you seed or as you see sprouts. You can find many different brands, but what you are looking for is called a "starter fertilizer." They generally will have a higher middle number in the NPK number designation. After the lawn has been established, you may want to switch to a maintenance fertilizer.
Hopefully with these tips you will be successful at starting a new and lush lawn. If you choose the right kind of grass to grow and prepare your lawn correctly, it will be less of a struggle to maintain, water, weed, and enjoy in the future. Good luck!
Photos copyrighted to Susanne Talbert, except the article thumbnail which is courtesy of morguefile.com