If you’re faced with the aftermath of losing a large tree and having its stump chipped out, or your water main broke and the plumbing excavator left a long strip of bare soil, or you just built a new house and it is setting in the midst of a field of dirt, you can save a lot of money by seeding new lawn yourself. You also will have access to seemingly infinite lawn plant species and varieties to choose from, and will more than likely wind up with a healthier and happier lawn in the process.
Creating the seedbed
The first steps to establishing a new lawn from seed include testing the soil for pH and nutrients, spreading any necessary amendments as recommended by the soil tests, tilling the soil to create a welcoming seedbed, and grading it to get the contours just the way you want them. Always remove any large clods, pieces of glass, rocks and other debris, and be sure that the top few inches are relatively loose.
If your place was stripped of its topsoil, you might want to obtain some and spread it at least a few inches thick wherever it is needed. If you have plenty of topsoil in low areas around your place, renting or hiring the equipment to mine and move it to the location of your new lawn would be well worth the effort. It can be difficult to establish a healthy lawn on hardpan clay subsoil.
Mix the potion
Next you will want to choose a seed mix that suits your location – and that will blend in with the existing lawn, if you are just making a repair. The choices are mind-boggling, and this might be the time to discuss seed mixtures with extension agents, turf professionals and grass-growing neighbors. Enter into these discussions with some skepticism, however, and by all means, if you want to have a lawn that includes the soil- and turf-feeding family of legumes called clovers, feel free to do so. Read everything you can about plant species and varieties suitable for lawns in your area and consider whether your lawn’s environment will be dry, wet, sunny, shady, exposed in winter, etc. Once you settle on a mixture, or even a combination of mixtures, calculate the number of pounds of seed you will require based on a recommended seeding rate and your yard’s area.
Finally, look for a reputable bulk seed supplier in your area and have them mix what you need – for smaller areas, it’s easy enough to source ready mixed lawn seed from local garden supply businesses.
When to plant grass seed
With seed in hand and the seedbed well prepared, it’s finally time to plant. You can seed a lawn in virtually any season, but for best results with cool-season grasses, you should plan to plant in late summer or early spring if possible. Warm-season grasses are best planted in late spring. If you live in an area with predictable winter snowfall and brutal sub-zero winter temperatures, an ideal time to plant your lawn is just before the first heavy snow, while the ground is still unfrozen. Put the seed in the ground and the snow will blanket it and any young plants, protecting them from cold desiccating winds.
Once that day finally arrives, seeding may feel anticlimactic. Planting grass seed involves three principal steps. The first is spreading the seed, the second is pressing that seed into contact with the soil, and the third is protecting the planting. Watering is optional, depending on the season, but if water is lacking and the season is right for germination, then you will need to water the lawn and keep it watered until the lawn is established.
If you have a large area to plant – say a quarter acre or more – you can rent a tractor and a solid-stand seeder to place the seed and pack the seedbed. Smaller areas can be seeded by broadcasting with a specially designed spreader or your hand. For best results, broadcast seed should be followed with a light raking and then a lawn roller. If the area to be planted is quite small, you can broadcast seed, rake it lightly, and press it into contact with the soil using your feet. Finally, you may want to protect the planting with a light mulching of chopped hay or straw. If you expect animals or people to be tempted to trample the planting, fencing may be in order. Smaller areas can be covered with burlaplike mulching fabrics in lieu of other protection methods, but be sure to stake them down.
Slaking the thirst
Unless employing the early winter planting strategy in cold, snowy areas, you should water the newly planted seedbed and keep it fairly moist until the grass germinates and becomes well established. In any case, with a little care, a little luck and a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature, you will be rewarded with a lovely lawn that will be healthier and more robust than the one your neighbor spent a fortune installing with sod. Now pat yourself on the back, go get that hammock, and dream about how you can spend all that money you saved.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.