When seeding a brand new lawn, spring offers one of the best opportunities to get things started. The most important step for seeding is properly preparing the seedbed. Proper seedbed preparation is essential for good seed to soil contact. In short, the seed must be in contact with the soil for the seed to germinate and grow.
Seed as early in the spring as the weather and soil conditions allow. This will give the seed the most time to germinate, grow and become established before the beginning of hot summer weather.
To establish new grass on bare soil the following steps are suggested:
- Control all existing vegetation on the site using a non-selective herbicide (weed killer) and remove it once it dies off by mowing and collecting the debris. Be sure to read the herbicide package carefully and follow any recommendation for wait time before seeding.
- Next, rough grade the site. Make sure desired drainage is taken into account when grading, so water will not collect in low areas.
- Till the soil to a depth of 2 or 3 inches, breaking up the largest clumps of soil so they are golf ball size or smaller. It is not necessary to break up all the soil clumps into fine particles.
(Optional step). If you want to incorporate compost into the soil for additional nutrients, spread a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of cured compost on the soil surface and till the compost into the top 2 or 3 inches of the soil.
- Rake the soil to achieve a uniform surface.
- Apply a Starter fertilizer that contains nutrients only such as GreenView Starter Fertilizer according to the directions on the fertilizer bag or a Starter fertilizer that contains nutrients plus a crabgrass preventer such as GreenView Seed Starter Fertilizer plus Crabgrass Preventer, which provides crabgrass control for newly seeded lawns without harming the germination of grass seed. If crabgrass has been a problem in the past, it would be a good idea to apply GreenView Seed Starter Fertilizer plus Crabgrass Preventer.
Do not apply a preemergent herbicide for crabgrass control to a new seeding or on seedling turf—unless the product is specifically formulated to do so, like GreenView Seed Starter Fertilizer plus Crabgrass Preventer.
- Apply seed following the directions on the seed bag. It’s important to buy high quality seed such as GreenView Fairway Formula Sun & Shade MixtureGrass Seed - Sun and Shade Mixture. You should plan for your lawn to last 30 years or more—look at it as an investment.
- Use a light weight leaf rake and gently drag the rake over the soil surface to move the seed in contact with the soil. Do not move any soil from one spot to another; just change the position of the soil particles on the surface.
As an alternative to starter fertilizer, you can choose GreenView Fairway Formula Seed Success Biodegradable Mulch with Fertilizer, which is applied after the seed is applied, as a fertilizer/mulch combination product. It will help keep the newly seeded lawn moist and provides additional nutrients which promote germination.
(Optional step). Another mulch alternative is to spread a thin layer of straw over the soil surface using one bale of clean straw per 1,000 sq. ft. The straw should cover only about 50% of the soil so when you look down at the soil surface, you can see straw and bare soil.
- Water immediately after seeding. The water will stimulate the seeds to germinate. Then, water at least once a day until the seed starts to germinate. Keep the soil moist but do not saturate the soil. After you water, the damp soil should have a dark color but without any standing water.
Keep watering lightly at least twice a day as the seedlings start to grow. When you can see the green “fuzz” of turf plants in your lawn, this is the most important time to water. These small turf plants have a limited root system and are prone to drying out. Lightly water the green “fuzz” of turf at least twice a day.
When the turf plants are 2 to 3 inches in height, water every other day and water using slightly more water than when the plants were very small.
- When the grass reaches 3½ inches in height, mow at a height of 3 inches. Make sure the soil is dry and firm before mowing. Mow the lawn at a height of 3 inches whenever the turf reaches 3½ to 4 inches in height. Mowing the grass on a regular basis results in the healthiest lawn.
- At about 4 to 6 weeks after the seed germinates fertilize the lawn with a high quality turf fertilizer that is predominantly nitrogen. Once turf is 4 to 6 weeks old or older, nitrogen is the most important nutrient for a healthy, attractive stand of grass. A product such as GreenView Fairway Formula Lawn Fertilizer is an excellent option.
- Weed control options are limited when herbicides are applied to seedling turf. If weeds are present in a new lawn, it’s important to focus on getting the lawn to fill in rapidly and become more dense (step 10) first.
A broadleaf weed herbicide can generally be applied to new turf once the grass has reached 3 inches in height and has been mowed at that height at least three times, but it’s important to follow the package instructions carefully for exact details as manufacturer recommendations may vary depending on the formulations.
- About 8 weeks after seeding the turf should be well on its way to forming a dense, healthy, attractive lawn. Continue to mow, water and fertilize on a regular basis.
Clark Throssell, Ph.D., is a turfgrass scientist and LebanonTurf staff member.