Planting a new lawn from seed

What you’ll need

  • garden hose
  • rake
  • spreader
  • straw (or other mulch cover)

Perform a soil test (you can skip this step)

Your county extension service can perform this test, or you can buy a kit yourself. See the soil testing project for more details. Once you’ve determined your soil needs, amend as necessary before planting seed.

Prepare the soil

The soil must first be tilled by plowing and disking, or by using a rotary tiller. The ideal seedbed is composed of soil particles from pea to marble size, to create a good lodging place and protection for the seeds. A common mistake is to work the soil too finely, so that after watering the surface tends to crust over and dry out quickly. For best results, mix in several bags of lawn soil with the existing soil.

Fill low areas

Top soil that is trucked in often contains large amounts of weed seeds, including some that can not be selectively controlled. So it’s usually best to work with the soil you already have.

Level the area

After tilling and removing any large debris, the area should be leveled. Assuming that a general leveling was done previously by the contractor, this can usually be done using nothing more than garden rakes and other garden tools.

For detailed instructions on how to rework an entire lawn area, see the soil grading project.

Seed and fertilize the same day

The grass seed can be spread using either a drop or rotary spreader, using the setting indicated on the seed package. It is important to fertilize the same day with fertilizer to get the seedlings off to a fast, strong start. It doesn’t matter which you apply first.

Cover seed and mulch if necessary

To cover the seeds, simply drag the back of a leaf rake, or any lightweight object such as a door mat, lightly over the area so that no more than 1/4 inch of soil covers the seed. On sloping areas, or to reduce the frequency of waterings, the area can be lightly mulched with straw. The tendency is to mulch too heavily, however. Only a small amount is needed, so that the seedbed is clearly visible through the mulch.

Keep the area constantly moist – a critical step

Keep the seedbed constantly moist to start germination. Water often, rather than deeply. Only the top inch of soil needs to be kept moist. Once germination starts, keep the area moist until the seedlings are well established. Do NOT let the seeds or the seed bed dry out.

Once your lawn starts getting established, water thoroughly once or twice a week. See more on watering in our lawn care basics section

Mow carefully

Begin mowing as soon as the seedlings are about 1 1/2 inches tall. Do not mow when soil is so wet as to allow the mower to damage young plants. If weed seeds that were in the soil start to grow, do not use a weed killer until the young grass plants have been mowed four times.

You can get more tips about mowing new lawns in our basics section.