Planting Grass or Renovating an Existing Lawn

Successfully planting grass from start to finish is the same regardless of whether you are starting with a clean slate or you are repairing an existing lawn.  Whether you use seed or sod to plant grass you are looking for the same results.  You want a beautiful and healthy lawn.

A key element in getting that healthy lawn is understanding what your soil has and what it doesn't. There are two ways to test the soil. You can buy a soil test kit at your local garden center or you can send a soil sample to your local agricultural office, university or lab.

A home test kit only checks the pH level in your soil.  Soil pH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity.  This level impacts the nutrients in your soil.  The pH level ranges from 1 to 14.  Levels below 7 are considered acidic.  Levels over 7 are considered alkaline.  A level of 7 is considered neutral.  It is best for the level to be slightly acidic (6 to 7).  You can always alter the pH level of your soil.  You can use lime to increase the pH levels and sulfer to lower pH levels.  In my front yard I have a large evergreen tree.  Evergreens are very acidic, which contributes to the soil being acidic.  I have to add lime to the soil to even out the pH level of the soil in my front yard.  Click here for more useful information regarding soil testing methods.

If you choose to send your soil samples to the local agricultural office,university or lab, you should allow three to four weeks to get the results back.  This will give you a more comprehensive examination of your soil. The results will show the levels of pH, phosphorous, potassium, organic matter as well as the percentage of sand, silt and clay in your soil.  If the results show one of these levels are off, you can correct the problem before you plant your lawn.  

Preparation for planting grass - Preparing the area for new grass is very important.  After the soil test is complete, the following preparatory steps should be taken.

  • Rototill the area - It is important that the soil isn't too wet or too dry.  Pick up some of the soil in your fingers.  If it stays in a mudball the soil is too wet.  Rototilling wet soil will interfere with the soil's structure and ability to drain properly.  Soil that is too dry is like dust.  Rototilling soil that is too dry also ruins the soil's structure.
  • Eliminate all weeds and remove existing grass - This can be done manually or with chemicals.  If you have the time, energy and you prefer not to use chemicals you can manually remove the weeds and grass.  This can be accomplished by digging, hoeing and smothering them.  If you prefer to use chemicals, use a non-selective herbicide.  This type of herbicide will kill anything green.  This chemical breaks down quickly in the soil.  Once the vegetation is completely dead you can replant your lawn.  Never use a pre-emergent herbicide when you are reseeding your lawn.  The pre-emergent prevents seed germination.
  • Remove obstructions (large rocks, pebbles or chunks of soil) that will interfere with your seed establishment.  Wood, tree branches and bark should also be removed because they contribute to a lawn disease know as fairy ring and also a fungus known as mushrooms.
  • Once the vegetation has been removed, either lightly rototill the area again or manually turn the soil with a rake.

On the pages that follow, we will discuss........

  • Grass seed - Seed mixes give you a wider variety of grasses.  This method is the least expensive but also requires the most amount of time to become fully established in the soil.
  • Plugs or Sprigs - This method is more time consuming than laying sod.  However, it is also less expensive than laying sod.
  • Sod - This is an instant lawn.  Growers usually select the best varieties of grasses.  This is also the most expensive method of planting grass.
  •  Overseeding an existing lawn.
  • Patching/Repairing an existing lawn.

When planting grass you will need the following equipment/supplies:

  •  Starter Fertilizer
  • Grass Seed (I recommend a pro landscapers seed mix) or sod
  • Rent a rototill
  • Rake
  • Spreader
  • Hose
  • Sprinkler
  • Rent a Lawn Roller (water filled) - This will help reduce the risk of the seed and soil moving during the germination period if there are heavy rains.  This extra touch gives the lawn a nice level look.
  • Mulch (i.e. ideally you would use material from your own compost bin or you might use a straw product).

In my opinion, the best time to plant a lawn is in mid-April to mid-May.

Which is better to use when planting grass, seed or sod?

This has been the topic of debate for many years.  Maybe these elements of the debate will help you decide which method of planting grass is better for your own personal situation......

  •  Cost of Materials -  Grass seed is much less expensive than it's counterpart sod.
  • Time to Establish - Grass seed takes much longer to establish than sod.
  • Soil preparation - The amount of preparation work is exactly the same for both grass seed and sod.
  • Labor - Grass seed is much less labor intensive than sod initially.  However, after it's initial installation, a lawn planted with grass seed becomes more labor intensive than sod.
  • Grass Type Availability - You have more choices of grass type with grass seed than with sod.
  • Best Time to Plant - Grass seed grows best if planted in the Spring in the South and in the Fall in the North.  You have more flexibility with the best time to lay sod (Spring-Fall).
  • Success Rate - You have a higher risk of failure when you grow grass seed.
  • Weed Infiltration - You have a higher risk of weed infiltration at the installation when seed is used.
  • Erosion - You have a higher risk of erosion at the installation when seed is used.

Planting grass is not difficult.  It takes a little time, effort, organization and most importantly a plan.

Return from planting grass to lawncare hompage

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