If you’re wondering either how to plant grass seed into a new (bare) area OR into an existing lawn, this article is for you.
Supposing you’ve already chosen the proper seed for your soil and conditions, now you just need to make sure that you are able to get it established correctly. And quite frankly, this is where most people mess up, big time.
There are three critical things you must do to have seeding success. You may be familiar with the phrase “If it’s worth doing, do it right the first time.” The last phone call a retailer wants to receive is one that says this on the other end of the line – “That seed you sold me didn’t grow.” So please be very careful to follow the steps outlined below to ensure a successful lawn seeding.
Plant at the right time
This may seem obvious, but if you’re in central Kentucky and it’s 175 degrees outside, and it’s not rained in 4 years, you probably should hold off on starting that new lawn.
Seriously though, spring and fall are usually great times to plant grass seed, no matter where you live. The fall is ideal because you will face less weed pressure, there is typically adequate moisture, and you can combine your seeding with dethatching and aeration.
The springtime seedings usually suffer a little more from weed pressure. And the later you get in the spring, the hotter it gets, and the harder it is to keep the ground moist enough to outcompete weeds. If you find yourself needing to plant seed in June (or any time it’s particularly hot), be sure to use a starter fertilizer that is safe for grass seed but also will prevent crabgrass from germinating.
If you do end up seeding in the early spring late summer, you may need to reseed some areas after establishment – just to fill in some bare spots. This is normal.
Plant into the right environment
In preparation for planting the seed:
- You’ve tested the soil and amended accordingly (click here for more details).
- You’ve prepared the seed bed well for a brand new seeding (click here for more details).
- You’ve aerated your existing turf.
- You’ve applied starter fertilizer.
Okay, now you’re ready to plant. You can do this a couple of ways:
1. Use a broadcast spreader
Using a quality broadcast spreader will help you apply accurate amounts of seed to the area you’re working to improve. You can simply use your spreader and broadcast the seed right on top of the soil. Lightly rake the seed into the top 1/4 inch of soil.
Using a broadcast spreader is great if you’re starting a brand new lawn, where there’s no (or little) existing grass. SEED TO SOIL contact is critical for successful planting. Keep in mind that “seed to soil contact,” doesn’t mean that the seed is just laying on top of the ground. It must be worked into the soil. You will only need to plant grass seed 1/4 – 1/2 inch deep. No deeper.
WARNING: don’t plant the seed too deeply. You should be planting your seed into a firm seedbed. There is a highly complicated, scientific way to determine if your seedbed is firm enough – you should be able to bounce a basketball on it. It sounds dumb at first, but if you think about it, it’s brilliant. If you can’t bounce a basketball on it, then roll your lawn again until it is firm enough, broadcast your seed, and then roll again one final time to press the seed in.
2. Use a slice seeder
Second, you could rent a slice seeder. This works great, especially if you’re over-seeding into existing turf. Again, make sure you’re slicing your seed into a firm seedbed. Set the seeder to the recommended depth (no deeper than 1/2″), and plant your seed. This method is probably your best bet. Below is an excellent video from Greenworks Lawn Care on the in and outs of slice seeding.
Protect your seed the right way
Seed must be kept moist once it has germinated. Those new roots need to have food and moisture to grow into the soil. It takes very little wind and sun to dry out their tiny new roots. Your grass seed doesn’t stand a chance without some sort of protection.
If you’re planting a new lawn, use a form of erosion and wind control material that will hold the moisture in place and protect the new seedlings from the direct sun. There are many products to choose from. A lot of people will use straw; this usually works just fine.
If you’re planting seed on a slope, an erosion control blanket that is held together with netting will keep the seed and the erosion control material in place while the seed grows right through it. If it’s a flat area or you are just filling in a few bare spots, again you can use straw – or hydro-mulch, or mulch pellets. You can also use sphagnum peat.
Keep the layer of material light and moist so that you don’t smother the seed. If you’re slice seeding into existing turf, just keep the area moist. Slice seeding into bare ground still requires some form of moisture control barrier as mentioned above.