How To Plant A New Lawn Using Seed
Seeding a lawn is the least expensive planting option. Seeding requires less work than sodding, but it will require a little more patience and care to become established.

Not all types of lawn grass can be planted by seed. Hybrid Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine grasses can only be planted by laying field-grown sod that has been cut from a sod farm. These hybrids do not produce a seed that will germinate when planted, and as is usual, these hybrids come at a higher cost. However, as with Fescue grass, there are several "turf-type" seed varieties that have the same density and rich color of the hybrids, and therefore are suitable for lawn turf use in residential and commercial landscapes.

The Two Basic Types of Lawn Grass
When it comes to lawn grasses, there are two basic types: "warm season" grasses, such as Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia and St. Augustine, which thrive and are green during the warmer months of the year, but go dormant during the Winter, and "cool season" lawn grasses such as Fescue and Bluegrass, which thrive during the cooler seasons, but slow down their growth and may thin out during the heat of Summer. 


When To Seed A Lawn
Cool season lawns, such as Fescue and Bluegrass, are best seeded from early to mid-Fall, or in early Spring. This will allow your new turf to establish roots before Winter, or during Spring before Summer heat arrives.

Warm season lawns, such as Bermuda and Centipede should be seeded from late Spring through late Summer, when soil temperatures are warm enough (above 68 degrees F) to promote germination of the seeds, and given time enough to establish themselves before Winter arrives.

Decisions, Decisions
Planting a new lawn from scratch, and doing it right, can be a big job - especially if it's a big lawn. If the area of your new lawn will be over 5,000 square feet (100' x 50') you may need to tackle the planting in sections, or rent large equipment to plant the entire area at once. You might want to consider getting several competitive bids from local professional landscape contractors who have the experience and equipment to do even large lawn seeding jobs in a relatively short period of time. Always get several references from landscapers, and never pay for the entire job up front.

Getting Started
If necessary, you'll need to start by removing old turf and weeds. Weeds can be sprayed with an herbicide, or removed with mechanical equipment. If you go the herbicide route, use a non-selective herbicide that degrades quickly (does not last long in the environment), such as a glyphosate-based product (Roundup or Killzall). DO NOT use a lawn weed killer or preventer!  

Mix the nonselective herbicide in your pump-sprayer according to the manufacturer's directions, and spray to completely cover all grass plants and weeds with the solution. It's best to spray on a calm day when the temperature is above 60 degrees F. Glyphosate is a potent, nonselective herbicide that will kill or severely injure all foliage it touches so take care not to over-spray on desirable plants in nearby areas - especially if they are your neighbors plants! When applying any chemical over a large area it's a good idea to wear clothing that covers your skin completely, as well as eye protection. After s[raying, take a shower and wash clothing separately.

You may find that it takes several applications of glyphosate to get the job done - particularly if you are trying to eliminate common bermudagrass. If the turf has not completely died after 2 weeks, reapply the herbicide and wait 7 days after the last application before tilling the dead turf into your soil. Take care to follow the manufacturer's safety precautions.

If you will be removing a thick, sod-type grass, consider renting a sod cutter from your local rental store.

Fixing Grade and Drainage Problems
Before planting a new lawn any drainage problems should be identified and corrected. If you know that there are serious drainage problems, hiring a professional grading contractor to correct the problem is heavily recommended. Professional graders will use a laser transit to ensure proper drainage. Too, you can tell the grader to pile up top soil removed from any surface areas for later use when finish grading

If you have a smaller lawn area, and will be doing the job yourself, fix any existing grade problems before adding amendments. Although grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment, minor problems can be fixed by the ambitious do-it-yourselfer. Small versions of earth-moving equipment are often available for rent.

The first rule of grading is that the ground should slope away from your house in all directions so that it drops at least 2 or 3 inches for every ten feet. Sometimes this is not possible to achieve, so just make sure that the grade slopes away from your house. The finished grade should also end up matching the level of existing fixtures, such as permanent walks and patios, as well as areas of lawn that are not being replanted. This takes some figuring. If you will be replanting with seed and adding one inch of amendments, grade so that the level is one inch lower than fixtures.

When grading, first focus on any problem areas; low and high spots. Make adjustments by scraping away high areas and filling in low areas. Keep a pile of good topsoil around to spread over any areas where sub-soil has been exposed. Spread two inches of the reserved topsoil over the subsoil, and till in to a depth of two inches. This will help prevent drainage problems between the two layers of soil.

The maximum slope in a lawn should be 12 inches for every 4 feet. If the drop is greater than 12 inches, you should plan to build a low retaining wall or cover the slope with a hardy ground cover or low-growing shrubs.

Amending Poor Soil
If your soil is hard-packed, non-porous and of poor quality, tilling in 2 to 4 inches of a screened native top soil to a depth of at least 6 inches is recommended for peak performance. And remember, once the job is done, it's done - and your poor soil will have been conditioned for a lifetime. If you need to add topsoil, buy a screened topsoil that's free of debris, such as roots or stones. A landscaping rake (hard rake) is the best tool for working soil to the proper grade if you're doing it yourself.

If you're lucky, the soil in your yard will be porous and of good planting quality. If so, there will be no need to add or till in native screened topsoil, or soil conditioners.

Either way, tilling in a layer of compost, such as composted cow manure or mushroom compost, at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet is also recommended. For large lawns, the cost of adding these amendments could be quite hefty, so see if your local nursery or mulch and soil supply company offers compost in bulk form. At a minimum, broadcast a pelletized chicken manure product, or an organic pelletized fertilizer made from compost over the area at a rate of 50 pounds per 2,500 square feet to add beneficial organic matter.

I recommend conducting a soil test to be sure your soil has the proper pH and nutrients it needs for a healthy lawn. If you are unable to conduct a soil test, broadcast "standard" pelletized lime over the entire area at a minimum of 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or 1 bag of  LimeLite Pelletized Lime per 6,000 square feet. NOTE: Centipede lawns do not require lime.

Ensure even application of amendments by dividing the recommended amounts in half, then broadcasting one half over the lawn area while walking in one direction and the other half while walking in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. 

Once you have applied top soil, compost and fertilizers, till them into the top 6 inches of soil.

Rake Smooth and Firm
After grading and tilling, rake the area until it's smooth. Remove any stones larger than 1/2" in size and vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling.

Whether you're planting seed or sod, it's helpful to roll the prepared soil to provide a firmer base on which to work and to foster adequate soil structure. For example, seed planted in soil that is too loose generally ends up being planted too deeply. The tiny plants may die before they reach the surface. Fill a lawn roller about 1/3 full of water for this job, and roll the soil until your footprints are no deeper than 1/2".

Broadcast Seed
Consult with a landscaping professional or your local extension service agent to determine what type of grass seed might be best for the conditions at your property. Use a shoulder-type or rotary walk behind spreader to broadcast seed.

Broadcast the seed over the planting area at the rate recommended by the seed packager, usually given in pounds per 1,000 square feet.  Refer to the seed rate chart below for typical spreading rates:

  • Bermuda Seed (Turf-Type) - Broadcast 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet for new lawns

  • Centipede Seed - Broadcast 1 to 2 pounds per 4,000 square feet. because you need to spread a small amount of seed over a large area, it is best to use a small hand-held rotary-type spreader rather than a large walk-behind rotary spreader.

  • Fescue Seed (Turf-Type) - Broadcast 6-8 pounds per 1,000 sq ft

To ensure even distribution and coverage, when broadcasting grass seed make two passes over the planting area, first in one direction and then in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. 

TIP:  If you don't want to purchase a hand-held spreader (cost about $10-15) for spreading smaller grass seeds such as Bermuda and Centipede, and would rather use your walk-behind or larger rotary spreader, bulk up seed with dry sand. Fescue seed can be spread with a walk behind or shoulder-type rotary spreader, no sand added.

Follow up with a light raking to work the seed into the top 1/8 inch of soil; a light rolling with an empty roller will ensure good seed contact with the soil.

Broadcast Fertilizer
Use a rotary-type spreader to broadcast a good lawn "starter" fertilizer over the entire planting area at rates recommended on the bag. To ensure even distribution and coverage, when broadcasting a granular fertilizer, make two passes over the planting area, first in one direction and then in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. 


Finally, to help control erosion and retain moisture in the soil, cover the seeded area with a light coat of wheat straw or hay. A thicker coat of straw may be necessary on slopes and inclines. Seeding sloped areas is difficult because the seed tends to run to low points when it rains. One solution is to contract with a hydroseeding contractor. Hydroseeding involves spraying a mixture of fertilizer, mulch, and water onto the prepared soil surface. Make sure that the contractor uses the specific type of seed that you want planted!

Watering Your Freshly Seeded Lawn
In the absence of rain, apply frequent light waterings to seeded surfaces to keep them from drying out. Be careful not to water so much that it causes run off. Doing so can cause seed to wash. When seed has germinated you can go back to a regular watering cycle.

A month or so after having seeded your new lawn, have your soil tested to measure pH and determine nutrient needs. Use the results of this test to apply sufficient amounts of lime and/or nutrients if needed.

Now, sit back for a while and watch the grass grow until it needs mowing.