Planning to turn a bare patch of earth into a beautiful lawn? Forget about turf. You can create a new lawn by manually sowing grass seed. To get lawn seeding right, there are a few steps you shouldn’t skip.
Planting grass seed for a new lawn starts with removing weeds, moss and debris from the soil and then levelling it. Next, mark the area and sow grass seed, raking or rolling it into the soil, adding compost, and watering it. Covering the seeds facilitates their growth and protects them from birds.
Read on to find out how to seed a lawn from scratch without headaches and without the birds pecking out half the seeds.
Sowing grass seed on existing lawn vs new lawn
Sowing grass seed on a new lawn requires more seed and more work than seeding an existing lawn. In both cases, you’ll need to remove weeds, moss, and dead grass and rake the area first.
A new lawn also requires levelling the ground and, ideally, protecting the seed from birds and pets. For an existing lawn, you can start sowing grass seed by hand once you’ve prepared the spots that need it.
Adding fertiliser promotes the growth of grass on both new and existing lawns. You may also want to add compost or topsoil, but be careful not to bury the seeds too deep into it.
Next, we’ll look at the key steps you need to follow for sowing grass seed on a new lawn. Later in this guide, we’ll also be sharing tips on overseeding or planting grass seed on an existing lawn.
So, where should you start? Not with the seed, but with the soil.
Preparing the ground for new grass seed
To prepare the soil for grass seeds, get your soil tested, remove weeds and moss, aerate it, level it, and apply top dressing and pre-fertiliser if necessary. You may also have to water it if it’s very dry. You will then create the optimal conditions for the grass to thrive.
Begin with finding your soil type if you don’t know it already. Knowing your soil makes you a better lawn keeper. Gather a handful of soil and squeeze it.
- Soil that sticks together is heavy clay soil. This type of soil is rich in nutrients but compacts easily. It can suffer drainage problems.
- Soil that crumbles is sandy. It has good drainage but is low in nutrients.
Consider getting a soil analysis from the Royal Horticultural Society to find out the texture, pH, and key plant nutrients in your lawn soil. The analysis also comes with useful fertiliser recommendations.
While waiting for the results, you can prepare the soil for planting:
- Fork the earth to remove weeds, rocks, and debris. Aim for a depth of about 7 to 10 inches.
- Tread the soil with your feet to get rid of air pockets. Put on a pair of dependable boots and shuffle over it from one end to the other, covering every inch of it. Ask the kids or some friends to help if needed. Alternatively, you could use a weighted lawn roller.
- After compacting the soil, rake any bumps into hollows to level the ground. Shuffle the soil with your feet or use the roller once more. “Do I really have to?” you may ask. Do you want a sloping, bumpy lawn or one that’s smooth and level all the way?
- Use the rake to remove any leftover stones on the surface. Do it gently so you won’t make the surface uneven again. Otherwise, you may have to shuffle over it one more time!
- Add topsoil if necessary. After the soil test results come in, you can add topsoil if the soil is poor in quality, very heavy or very sandy. This will improve nutrients and drainage.
- Pre fertilise the soil. If your soil is low in nutrients, you can pre-fertilise it. Apply a pre-seeding starter fertiliser and rake it into the soil. Do this preferably at least a day before sowing. Pre-seeding starter fertiliser is usually rich in phosphate. When watered, it disperses into the ground, helping to boost the nutrient content of your lawn seeding soil.
Tip: If the earth is dry, water the soil the night before planting grass seed. This will help the seed stick to the soil and sprout more quickly. But don’t turn the seed bed into a swamp. You’ll have to walk over it to sow grass seed.
When to seed a lawn?
The best time to plant grass seeds in the UK is late spring or September. Autumn seeding brings less competition from the weeds and plenty of rainfall.
Soil temperature should be at least 6-8 degrees Celsius for grass seed to germinate. This usually occurs when it’s around 10 degrees Celsius outside.
After the winter months, the soil takes longer to warm up than the air. If you sow in spring, use a soil thermometer, and check the weather forecast for any temperature drops.
Don’t seed a lawn when it’s windy or if the weather forecast announces a storm. Also, avoid sowing if the soil is soggy or scorched, or if the ground is simply not prepared according to the instructions above.
Sow grass seed preferably in the late morning or early afternoon. This gives you enough time to do a thorough job. If you start late in the day, you may rush the sowing or skip some steps.
Tip: Check our guide on when to seed a lawn for more tips on the best time to plant a lawn in the UK.
What type of seeds to plant for my soil?
Grass seeds look small, greyish, and insignificant. But each grass seed that germinates puts forth a spiky green leaf. Ornamental grass seed is good for lawns that won’t see much traffic. If you plan to sit on the lawn or have children or pets running on it, look for a robust grass seed plant.
If trees, fences or buildings shade your lawn, use a suitable lawn seed for shade. Good choices include strong and slender creeping red fescue and hard fescue. These grass seed types do well in the shade, unlike sun-loving grass varieties, which may grow thin and sad-looking.
Good general-purpose lawn grass seeds include tall and red fescue, ryegrass, and brown top. You can use these to create a new lawn on just about every type of soil.
For a fine, low-traffic lawn, the RHS recommends strong and slender creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, and browntop.
In the end, regardless of the variety of grass you choose, the process of laying grass seed is the same.
Good to know: Fast germination isn’t necessarily an indicator of the quality of the seed. Low-quality grass seed may germinate quickly but begin to die out after 6 months or so.
How much grass seed do I need?
Sowing a new lawn requires up to 50 grams of seed per square metre. Overseeding an existing law calls for less seed, or up to about 35 grams per square metre.
The exact coverage varies based on the grass seeds you choose. For some types of grass, you may only have to use half as much seed per square metre. Check the coverage on the seed package for the best results.
Important: Sowing too much grass seed on a new lawn can be as bad as not sowing enough seed. More is not better! We’ll talk more about this common problem in a bit.
How to sow grass seeds
The best way to plant grass seed once the soil is ready starts with marking the area you plan to work on. This is especially important for lawns that are irregularly shaped. After the work you put into preparing the soil for sowing, this will seem light and easy by comparison.
To put down grass seed, you can use a manual or mechanical spreader. Sowing grass seed by hand also works well for small to medium-sized lawns. Using a spreader isn’t necessarily better than sowing by hand. The choice of using a spreader or not is largely based on the area you have to cover.
Here’s how to seed a lawn from scratch step by step.
What you need for planting grass
- Grass seed
- Marked plastic cup or drop grass spreader
- Bamboo canes or sticks and twine
- Weighted lawn roller
- Garden hose with sprinkler
- Lawn covering (optional)
Step 1: Mark the area
Use bamboo canes to mark the area you plan to seed. You can also use sticks and twine to mark the area for sowing. This is especially useful if you are sowing grass seed in one part of a larger uncultivated area.
Tip: If you’re sowing grass seed in an irregular area, approximate how much grass seed you need and buy up to 20% more seed.
Step 2: Sow the seeds
Mark a plastic cup halfway down with a marker to know how much seed to use for every square metre. The resulting measure is the equivalent of about 50 grams.
Shuffle the cup from side to side, taking care to cover all the area. However, don’t sow the seeds too thickly. It’s not necessary and may actually harm the lawn since the grass will come out too close together. In wet weather, the roots may rot.
For a larger area, use a seed spreader. The University of Nebraska recommends using a drop spreader rather than a rotary spreader to disperse the seed more uniformly.
With the spreader adjustment on low, sow half the seed in one direction and the remaining at a right angle to the first direction. You may have to make several passes.
Warning: Don’t sow grass seed on a windy day or in dry weather. You’ll end up with less-than-ideal results.
Step 3: Rake or lightly roll the area
Good seed-soil contact is crucial for the seeds to germinate. If the seeds lie on top of each other, they may not grow. Raking helps prevent this.
Rake over the seeds lightly. Be careful not to bury them in the soil—they need sunlight to grow. For a large area, use an empty lawn roller. It will push the seed into the soil so that water won’t wash it away.
Tip: If you don’t have a roller, you can also firm the seed into the soil by foot.
Step 4: Add straw or compost (optional)
Adding straw or compost to your grass seeds will help keep them moist. It will also protect them from birds. But avoid covering the grass seeds entirely or it may thwart their growth. Don’t add more than a quarter of an inch.
If you’ve taken the time to prepare the soil before sowing grass seed, you won’t have to worry now about using topsoil to level the ground. That’s something best done before the sowing begins.
Step 5: Water the seeds
Water up to four times a day using a hose with a sprinkler so that you won’t disperse the seed. It’s better to water lightly and frequently than once and heavily. Watering this way will help the seed become established.
You want to ensure that the soil stays moist until the grass seeds grow. Living in the UK means you can often count on the rain to help you seed a lawn, so be careful to avoid overwatering newly planted seeds. Grass seeds, like all seeds, like drinking water, not swimming in it!
Step 6: Cover the seeds (optional)
Covering grass seed is not necessary for the seed to grow. But it can speed up its growth significantly in the first few weeks by increasing the temperature of the soil and protecting the seed from the elements. It will also safeguard the seeds from birds, cats, and dogs.
Use a light lawn seed cover for spring seeding and a thicker fleece covering for autumn seeding. These usually come as a roll that you can apply directly over the seeds. Make sure that the covering material you use allows sunlight to pass through.
You’ll have to secure the cover in place so the wind won’t carry it away. For this, you can use garden staples or nails. Avoid using stones or other objects with a large surface to fix it in place as the grass won’t grow under them.
How to deal with “intruders”
Birds, cats, and dogs can interfere with a carefully seeded lawn. But don’t be too harsh on them. You can cover the grass, use scarecrows or bird deterrents, and install motion-activated sprinklers to protect your grass.
Let’s take a closer look at a few strategies you can use to prevent intruders:
- Cover the grass with fine grass seed netting. You don’t need to add netting if you’ve already added straw, compost, or covered your grass seeds with fleece to speed up their growth.
- Use a scarecrow or fake owls or hawks. Regularly change their position to prevent the birds from getting used to them.
- Use a bird deterrent noise machine. Don’t worry—this device generates ultrasonic sounds which the human ear can’t pick up.
- Create a sandbox for cats. Place it near the newly seeded grass and plant in it some catnip. You can make it from a wooden or plastic box.
- Spray vinegar diluted in water around the edges of the lawn. It will keep dogs away. But bear in mind that vinegar may kill moss and grass, so only use this if the space around the lawn is paved or covered with gravel.
- Install a motion-activated sprinkler. Not only will it keep the grass seeds wet, but it will also keep cats and dogs at bay.
In the end, even if some birds will peck at your newly sown grass seed, there should be enough of it left for a lawn. Later on, you can overseed your lawn annually to correct any problems.
The first cut
Wait for at least 21 days after germination before giving the grass its first cut. Young grass blades are very delicate.
However, don’t wait too long to mow. Mowing a new lawn helps control weeds and encourages the grass to fill in.
During the first cut, mow no more than 1/3 of the length of the new blade of grass. Then mow at 1.5 to 2 inches. Starting with the third mowing, mow at 3 to 3.5 inches. After the first cut, mow often.
Overseeding an existing lawn
If you are not seeding a lawn from scratch but fixing an existing lawn, you have less work to do. The process is called overseeding and isn’t hard. Here are some pointers to help you get it right.
- Rake away any weeds, moss, rocks, or debris from the area to be overseeded.
- Loosen compacted soil with a rake before you sow grass seeds. This enables the seeds to develop roots.
- Use the same or a similar seed to the one already planted or you may end up with patches of different coloured grass on your lawn.
- Rake the seed into the soil after overseeding. The grass seeds need to come into contact with the soil for them to germinate.
- Apply a thin layer of topsoil if necessary. But don’t bury the grass seeds in it. They may not get the sunlight necessary to germinate.
- Water the seeds if the earth is dry. Keep watering the spots with a sprinkler head every day if needed, preferably together with the rest of the lawn.
Top tips to grow grass from seed
After you sow grass seed, follow the tips below to ensure it grows properly.
- Use fertiliser to encourage healthy growth – Apply a starter fertiliser 4 to 6 weeks after germination and then 4 weeks later. Alternatively, use a nitrogen fertiliser 10 weeks after germination. Avoid over-fertilising—it won’t improve results and will damage the grass.
- Keep on watering the soil every day for six weeks. Water lightly and frequently until the seeds become established. Don’t overwater or disperse the seeds. The ground will tell you if it doesn’t want any more water.
- Look out for bald spots. Despite all your care, you may notice some areas with poorer growth. Use extra seed to overseed them. With time, they will fill out and look indistinguishable from the rest of the lawn.
- Avoid walking on the fresh grass for at least a season after sowing. Young grass is delicate. Walking on it will damage the roots. If necessary, build a low fence around it to keep away any pets you may have.
How often does the seed need watering?
Unless it rains, water newly seeded grass two to four times a day. Keep the top inch of the soil moist, without soaking the soil. Once the seed reaches mowing height, water less often but more deeply.
How long until the grass will grow?
It usually takes 3 to 6 weeks for seed grass to become a lawn. This depends on the type of grass you use, soil quality, and weather conditions. The first signs of grass will start to appear in as little as one week after sowing the seeds.
The grass can reach 4 inches or more in as little as three weeks after planting. To speed up the growth of grass seeds, cover them with a light fleece.
Turf or grass seed?
Turf is narrow-leaved grass harvested with a layer of soil and shipped into rolls. You can unroll these to cover the area you need.
Grass seed is more affordable but requires more care and work. On the plus side, it gives you more varieties of grass to choose from, including grass for shade. Both turf and grass seed requires grass preparation and plenty of watering.
The wrap up
Just as your flower beds or vegetables need proper soil to thrive, so does grass. Grass is not as pretentious as flowers or vegetables, but it will grow better on level soil that’s been amended and fertilised if necessary.
Taking the time to prepare the lawn seeding soil is half the work of creating a new lawn. One that’s just as beautiful as turf but more affordable.
Now that you know how to seed a lawn from scratch, get your grass seeds and other tools and supplies ready. Only make sure you sow grass seed at the right time. There’s a proper time for everything, new lawns included!