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How to Plant, Grow and Care for a new Grass Lawn
by Seed, by Sod or by Grass Plugs

Creating and keeping a healthy lawn unfortunately demands a lot of labor and care. The effort that you put out to put your lawn in now, will determine the quality of your lawn for many years to come. It will also make a major difference in the amount of upkeep and maintainance you will have to perform in the future.

Conditioning the Soil to Grow a New Lawn

The condition and type of the soil under the grass is the most important element to the overall health of your lawn. In situations where you are putting in a new lawn you will have ample opportunity to prepare the soil before the grass is planted. It is a good idea to have the soil tested before establishing your new lawn. The soil test report gives the type and amount of fertilizer to apply for your lawn. This fertilizer (and lime, if required) should be worked into the top four to six inches of your soil. Once your lawn is established it is hard to do much to improve the soil at the root level.
Proper preparation of the soil is the first step in attaining a healthy lawn. The soil should be tilled thoroughly, either by a mechanical tiller or digging down a spades depth over the entire area. If you've added topsoil to your yard, you will want to be certain that it is well mixed in with the soil underneath. Otherwise it is possible that the roots of your lawn may not penetrate the native soil. If the tilth of the soil is very heavy or sandy, organic material such as peat moss, compost, sludge or even sawdust should be added. (If sawdust is added to the soil it is wise to add extra high nitrogen fertilizer to compensate for the nitrogen loss that is caused by the composting of the sawdust.)
Dangle the Garden Gnome

Test and Adjust Your Soil pH

Most lawn grasses do well in mildly acid soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, preferably about 6.5. You need to decide what type of lawn grass you want to grow, according to your climate, soils, and what the lawn will be used for. Your local nurseries or agricultural agency will be able to help you with this decision. Once this choice is made, you can prepare your soil accordingly.
If the soil test shows high acidity, ground limestone should be added at a rate of 50-100 pounds for each pH point below 7 per every 1000 sq. ft. of lawn.
If the test shows alkaline soil (above pH 8.0) on the other hand, sulfer should be added at a rate of 20 pounds for every 1000 sq. ft. of surface area. Add any other fertilizers which were recommended by the soil test. The soil should then be well tilled again to mix in these added components.
The soil is now ready to be raked smooth, filling low spots and removing the humps and breaking up the larger clumps as you go.
Phosphorus is slow to be absorbed into the soil, and next to impossible to introduce to the root zone once the lawn is in, so now is the time to mix some superphosphate into the top few inches of the soil. Use a cultivator to mix it in at a rate of 50 pounds per 1000 sq. ft
Using a steel garden rake, create a finished grade sloped slightly away from the house. Use this oportunity to create very shallow channels to deal with any runoff problems you are aware of and to move water runoff away from the house. Level the soil to avoid any low spots where water may stand, or high spots that could cause the future lawn to be 'scalped' when you mow.
If you are planning to install an automatic sprinkler system, now is your last, best time to get it in place!
Roll the entire lawn bed with a roller (available from rental centers) to firm it up, then water it lightly to settle the area.

Lawn Grass Varieties and Types

Selecting the proper grass seed mixture is important. What you intend to use the lawn area for and the amount of maintenance you're willing to provide, are two important factors which should be considered before making the selection. Normally you will buy a lawn seed mix which has been formulated with different seed types for different needs and different climates.
There are mixes which are designed for play areas which are composed of tough and durable grasses, or fine bladed grasses for a lush, immaculate lawn in the sun, or you may need a variety that thrives in the shade. No matter what your needs, there is probably a 'most appropriate' seed blend just for you.
Read the seed bag before you buy, to make certain it is the right mix for your needs.
  • Kentucky bluegrass germinates in 14 to 28 days. Use 2 to 3 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Plant in early fall or early spring. Grows well in full sun to part shade. Does not do well in hot exposures.
  • Perennial ryegrasses germinate in 5 to 7 days. Use 4 to 6 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Best planted in the early fall. Grows well in full sun to part shade. Does not do well in hot exposures.
  • Fine-leaved fescues germinate in 14 to 21 days. Use 8 to 10 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Plant in early fall or spring. Grows well in full sun to light shade.Slower growing and more water efficient than tall fescue.
  • Tall Fescues germinate in 7 to 10 days. Use 8 to 10 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Plant in early fall or spring. Grows well in full sun to very light shade.
  • Bermuda grasses germinate in 5 to 7 days. Use 1 to 2 pounds of seed per thousand square feet. Plant in summer in full sun. Durable.
There are three common methods for planting your new lawn, seeding sod, and by plugs. The most cost effective method is by seeding, but this is a slow process. If you are looking for an instant lawn, sod is your answer.

Planting a New Lawn with Seeds

The best time to seed lawns is from late summer until early fall (August 15 to September 20) while the soil is still warm (faster germination), watering will not be as much of a problem, there will be fewer weed problems, and the cool season grasses in the mix will have a better chance of getting established.
The best and most even results are usually achieved using a 'whirlybird' hand crank operated seed spreader. Sow ¼ of your seed (at ¼ the recommended rate) to the entire lawn area. Repeat three more applications like this, each in a different direction. Rake the seed lightly into the surface of the soil using a bamboo or fan rake. (Barely brush the seed under the surface of the soil.)
Roll the entire lawn surface with an empty lawn roller to set the seed in good contact with the soil. Water the entire area thoroughly with a fine mist.
Once the seed is planted, make sure that the soil is kept evenly moist until germination.
After the seeds germinate, you can water more heavily but less frequently. DO NOT OVER WATER and do not use a strong spray. You don't want to drown the seeds, nor do you want to wash them away. Water will continue to be a prime concern for your new lawn. About one inch of water per week (rainfall plus irrigation) will be required until your lawn is well established. You may mow a newly seeded turf when the grass is 2 1/2-3 inches tall. Use a SHARP mower so the grass is cut cleanly, and the plants are not pulled out of the ground. Do not cut the grass too short, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches is a good height for a first cut. After the first mowing you can apply a high nitrogen, turf fertilizer (23-4-6) at one-half the application rate recommended on the bag. Water immediately to prevent possible foliar burn.

Planting a New Sod Lawn

Sod is quite a bit more expensive than seeding but it does have the big advantage of giving you an instant lawn, with far less headaches. Sod also has the advantage that it can be installed any month of the year. Special care must be taken during the hot months of the summer to insure the new sod lawn receives adequate water! Be certain that the sod you buy is fresh and viable. It should be slightly moist, green, and a minimum of ¾" to an inch thick. Lift up a piece by the end. If the sod is in good condition it will hold together tightly.
  • Prepare the lawn bed as you would for seeding.
  • Scatter a recommended 'pre-plant' fertilizer over entire area to be sodded at a rate of 1 pound per 100 sq. ft.
  • Choose a long, straight line as a starting point to lay the sod. Lay the sod out so that the end seam from one row doesn't line up with the seams in the previous and following rows. Avoid gaps, press the pieces together tightly, to help them knit together.
  • Cut or trim the sod with a sharp knife when needed to fit into odd corners. The cut offs can be used to fill in other spaces. (Avoid small pieces because they dry out too quickly)
  • Don't wait until entire lawn has been installed to begin watering.
    New sod must be kept moist, so as soon you have layed out your first few rows you should begin watering it in.
  • Roll the sod with a light water roller to make sure the sod has good root contact with the soil and to eliminate air pockets.
  • Water the sod 2 or 3 times a day for at least ten days. During this critical period, the sod must be kept constantly moist.
  • During the first two weeks, heavy traffic should be avoided. After that time, the new sod should have established roots and regular mowing may begin.

Planting a Lawn with Plugs and Sprigs

Plugs and sprigs are primarily used for planting smaller lawn areas and are commonly used in warmer regions of the country. They are small sections or pieces of container grown grass, usually consisting of hybrid Bermudas, Zoysia or St. Augustine grasses.
Prepare the area as you would for a lawn bed or any other perennial planting area. Plant the plugs in the soil spaced about every six to twelve inches apart so that they will spread and fill in to form an entire lawn. Firm the soil around the roots. Water immediately after planting, and then every other day, to ensure that the soil remains moist. The lawn will begin to fill in during the first month and by the end of the second month, you will be ready to mow.