If your spouse keeps telling you the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you might want to tackle the naked-earth lawn chore you’ve been dodging. We’ll show you how to plant grass seed in seven steps. You’ll complete one of the most satisfying outdoor tasks a homeowner can accomplish (and maybe save your relationship).
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Step 1: Remove the Existing Grass
The first step in how to grow grass from seed is to determine whether your lawn can be overseeded or if it needs a complete renovation.
Ask yourself: Is your lawn happily surviving? If your grass is good but could be better, you could overseed to plump up the existing lawn.
If your yard is where feisty weeds go to party, and half of your lawn lies naked, you should plan to renovate — remove the old vegetation. New baby grass seedlings cannot compete with that mess. If you’re starting from scratch with a new home build, and establishing a new lawn, you can skip to Step 2 to learn the best way to grow your grass.
There are mainly two ways to remove grass from your lawn:
- Use a nonselective broad-spectrum herbicide. Follow label instructions carefully, and don’t spray on a windy day.
- Use a sod cutter, available at most rental companies. Mark your sprinkler heads before operating the cutter to avoid accidents.
Once the weeds and old sod are removed, loosen the soil bed so the new grass seeds’ roots can easily grow through. You can use hand tools (and your toughest friends), a tiller, or a core aerator. You can find tillers and aerators at rental companies, as well.
Fill low spots in your yard using a half-and-half mixture of sand and topsoil for grass seed. If necessary, grade your yard to keep rain or water flowing away from your home.
Step 2: Do a Soil Test, then Add Amendments
Once you have renovated your lawn — exposed and leveled the planting surface — you’ll need to test your soil for the best grass germination and growth. Test the soil as soon as you can. There can be a wait of up to two weeks for results, and you could miss your ideal window for planting grass seeds.
At a minimum, you should test your soil pH. This is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most grasses like slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 7. A simple moisture and pH tester can be found for $10. For about $20, you could buy a soil test kit for the major nutrients in your soil. Your results will show the N, P, and K: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.
Pro tip: The best soil tests include major and minor nutrients. Your state Extension service and private labs offer these services. Keep in mind your local Extension office can also provide great information and insight that private labs can’t, and usually at a lower cost.
The test results should give you a plan and shopping list for your local garden shop. Follow application instructions carefully. If you’re dealing with hard dirt, you will have to aerate first and then add amendments to restore what it lacks. Again, use a tiller or hand tools to work the soil amendments into the top 1-4 inches of soil. That’s how you can grow grass fast on dirt.
Step 3: Choose the Best Seed for Your Region
Growing grass from seed can be simple once you determine the best seed for your region. Your local seed expert will always give you the best advice when choosing your seed. Local Extension offices, seed stores, and agricultural suppliers are experienced and understand the microclimates of your area.
Generally, these are the best seed options according to your region:
- In northern states, select cool-season grass, which grows best when temperatures are 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses thrive in the late spring and early fall months in the northern two-thirds of the United States.
- In southern states, you should select a warm-season grass seed. Warm-season grasses thrive from late spring through summer.
- In the transition zone (between the North and South), summers are hot, and winters are cold. You’ll either need to find the most cold-tolerant warm-season grass available or the most heat-tolerant cool-season grass.
Pro tip: When choosing the grass seed, look for the weed seed percentage and choose the ones with less than 0.5 percent. You can find this info on the package label, along with the grass variety, purity, and germination percentage.
Best Cool-Season Grasses for Northern States
- Bentgrass is a standard grass for golf course putting greens. Colonial Bentgrass is for home lawns and likes a low mow.
- Kentucky bluegrass is a classic choice for northern lawns. It likes full sun and isn’t shade-tolerant.
- Fine Fescue is a perennial bunchgrass and stands up in poorly drained areas.
- Tall fescue puts down deep roots and is drought tolerant.
- Ryegrass (annual) can be used for a quick shot of green. The perennial ryegrass variety is best for high traffic lawns and playgrounds.
Best Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States
- Bahiagrass has a coarse texture, is heat/drought tolerant, and is best for low-traffic lawns.
- Bermudagrass is hardy and stands up to heavy traffic, but it’s high maintenance.
- Buffalograss is the only variety native to North America, highly drought tolerant, and needs little care.
- Centipedegrass grows slowly but is very low maintenance once established. In warm climates, it’s non-dormant, so it stays green year-round unless there’s a cold snap.
- Zoysiagrass is a slow grower but one of the most cold-tolerant varieties of warm-season grasses.
- St. Augustinegrass is sold as sod, as its seedheads are sterile.
Best Grasses for Transition Zone States
The transition zone is a blend of temperature highs and lows, humidity, summer deluges, and drought.
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Perennial ryegrass
- Tall fescue
Opt Between Single Variety, Blend, or Grass Seed Mixes
In addition to high-quality grass seed to match your climate, the best way to get grass to grow into a beautiful green lawn is to match the seed to your backyard’s properties. Be mindful of how much shade, moisture, or traffic your lawn gets. Opt between pure seeds of one variety, blends (multiple varieties of the same species), or mixtures (seeds of different species).
Pure seed will give you a unified look. Blends will be less uniform, but one variety may cover up for the weaknesses of another. Grass seed mixtures provide the most biologically diverse lawn: The grass plants won’t look identical, but your lawn has a better chance of surviving diseases and droughts.
There’s yet another decision to make: Are you going to purchase a seed that incorporates fertilizer and mulch, or purchase them separately? All-in-one products are more expensive, but they are more convenient.
Buy The Right Amount of Grass Seed
Measure your lawn area in square feet, and purchase enough seed to cover that area. Usually, seed bags are marked as the number of pounds needed per 1,000 square feet. If possible, buy a little more than needed in case you want to reseed some bare spots.
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Step 4: Choose the Best Time to Plant Grass Seed
The best time to plant grass seed depends on the type of grass seed. For cool-season turf, planting grass seeds in spring or fall is the preferred time, since these northern varieties of grass prefer warm soil and cool air.
In the South, warm-season grasses can be planted from late spring to mid-summer. Wait until the last chance of a late frost has passed and the daytime temperature is in the 80s.
One of the biggest keys to success is picking a high-quality seed that is right for your climate.
Step 5: Plant Your Grass Seed
Now that we have gone through the necessary preparations, let’s get our hands dirty and talk about the practical aspects of how to get grass to grow. Here are the necessary tools to plant grass seed:
- For small areas, hand-seeding your lawn is fine.
- For larger areas, the best way to plant grass seed would be with seeders and spreaders, which provide more precise coverage. You can find hand-cranked spreaders, chest-mounted, or push-from-behind seeders. Drop seeders drop seeds directly below the unit. There are more expensive commercial seeding options as well.
How to Spread Grass Seeds on Your Lawn
Follow the instructions on the seed bag on how to seed your lawn. If the seeder’s lowest setting seems too generous with the seed, thin it out with sand or vermiculite.
- Fill the push spreader with seed.
- Spread half of the recommended seed north to south.
- On the second pass, spread east and west for even coverage.
- Rake the top 1/8-inch of the seeded surface lightly. Using the back of a leaf rake side-to-side makes this an easy job.
- If you have access to one, roll an empty lawn roller to improve germination.
“We call it ‘the seed-soil contact,’” said University of Illinois Extension educator Richard Hentschel. “You want good seed-soil contact. If the seed and soil are not in intimate contact, the little root radicle may die out before it hits the soil.” The radicle is the first root to emerge from a seed.
If you have hilly areas, seeds tend to wash away to a low point. One potential solution is hydroseeding: broadcasting seeds that are suspended in a fertilizer-mulch slurry. Professional landscapers often offer hydroseeding services, and there are some hose-end sprayers for the do-it-yourselfers.
An important note: After following the steps to plant grass seed, you need to find out if your state restricts the use of starter fertilizers containing phosphorus. Most laws allow limited application of phosphorus on new lawns to help new grass grow, but turf experts say to let your soil test be your guide. If it says that your soil lacks phosphorus, then it’s acceptable.
Step 6: Water Your Grass Appropriately
Keep a careful eye on your new grass seeds. They only get one shot to germinate, so what you do now is critical. That means water. Keep in mind that different grass plants germinate at different times, so if you have a mixture of grass seeds, you’ll need to keep watering them until the slowest-germinating species emerges.
- Keep the top layer of soil moist (but not soggy) down to 1/2 inch. (Too much water is as bad as too little, and overly vigorous watering could wash the seeds away.)
- Water at least once a day in the morning and perhaps again in the afternoon if the sun and wind have dried out the soil. How often to water grass seeds changes as the seeds sprout, so adjust your schedule accordingly.
A misting attachment on your hose can cut down on the amount of force you use. Part of your lawn may be shadier, part may have more porous soil, or part may be sloped. Adjust your watering according to your lawn’s needs.
Remember that even if you planted just one turfgrass variety, the grass seeds won’t all pop up at once. Some will be buried a bit deeper or have a different rate of water absorption. Stay with your watering regimen until you’re sure the seeds have germinated.
Pro tip: Keep foot traffic to a minimum. You could consider putting up “Please keep off the new grass” signs to discourage accidental trampling by your kids and neighbors (and their dogs).
Step 7: Mow at the Right Time
Hooray! Your newly seeded lawn is green, and the grass is growing well. Wait until your grass reaches a certain height before giving it the first mow.
Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:
- Bahiagrass: 2-2 ½ inches
- Bentgrass: 1 inch
- Bermuda: 1½-2 inches
- Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches
- Buffalograss: 2-3 inches
- Centipede: 1½-2 inches
- Fescue: 2-3 inches
- Perennial ryegrass: 2-3 inches
- Zoysia: 1-2 inches
Take advice from the ‘70s band, The Eagles. Slow down and take it easy the first few times you mow your new turfgrass. The roots won’t be long or well-established, so it will be easy to accidentally rip up the young plants.
Here are a few tips for growing grass to ensure you do the first mow in the right way:
- Sharpen the mower’s blade so you cut, not tear, the tender plants.
- Start the mower off the lawn and minimize the number of turns you make with the mower.
- Don’t remove more than a third of the grass blade in one mow.
After the first mow, cut back on frequent shallow watering and switch to watering a couple of times a week, deeply. When growing a lawn from seed, water six or eight inches deep to encourage it to root deeply. Once established, the lawn will start spreading to cover any gaps.
By following these tips on how to make your grass grow, after eight weeks, your lawn should be well-established. Hit it with a little more fertilizer to encourage deep roots, and take down your “Please keep off the new grass” signs; your new lawn is ready for fun.
FAQ About Planting Grass Seeds
Does Grass Seed Grow if I Throw it on the Ground?
It’s unlikely that the seeds will grow when planting grass on top of flat, bare soil. The seeds may germinate, but the roots won’t be strong enough to penetrate the soil. It’s best to rough up the soil before sowing grass seed for the best seed-to-soil contact.
Does Grass Seed Need to be Covered?
Don’t cover grass seed with topsoil. The seed needs light to germinate. Instead, you should put topsoil down before grass seed (a thin layer is sufficient), or you should mix grass seed with topsoil. To protect the seed from birds and washing away, use straw (weed-free) or an erosion-control blanket.
How Long Does Grass Seed Take to Grow?
After you plant grass seed, expect to see tiny grass blades in 10-14 days. But how long it takes for grass seeds to germinate can also depend on species: Some varieties of seed may take up to 30 days.
Here are the grass seed germination rates by grass type:
- Bahiagrass seed: 10-28 days
- Bermudagrass seed: 7-28 days
- Kentucky bluegrass seed: 14-21 days
- Buffalograss seed: 7-10 days
- Centipedegrass seed: 14-28 weeks
- Fescue grass seed: 10-14 days
- Annual ryegrass seed, perennial ryegrass seed: 5-10 days
- St. Augustinegrass: Rarely grown from seed, propagated by plugs and sod
- Zoysiagrass seed: 14-21 days
When to Call a Lawn Care Pro
Some homeowners and renters love being weekend warriors, but some of the rest of us prefer anything else. Why DIY when you can LSE (Let Someone Else)?
If you’d rather reap the rewards of great grass someone else sowed and mowed, consider hiring a lawn care pro. Give them a call early so they can begin testing and sowing seeds at the proper planting time for your area.
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