How to Grow Grass: Tips for Timing, Prepping, and Caring for a New Lawn

posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Residential Property Tips

The buzz of lawn mowers marks the start of spring. Grass starts to green up and grow like crazy, sending homeowners out to make their first cuts.

If your lawn isn’t well-established with thick turf, you have to grow that grass before starting up your spring lawn care routine. And there are three critical factors that determine whether the seeds you sow will grow: timing, preparation, and care.

Follow these guidelines for growing grass, and you can join in on all the mowing fun.

Timing Your Planting for the Best Growth

Spring is a popular time to plant grass seed. It’s not always the best time. The right timing depends on your climate and the grass variety you’re trying to grow. Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi fall into the Transition Zone, where both warm-season and cool-season grasses can grow. But neither can stay consistently green all year.

If you want to join your neighbors in their spring routines, select a warm-season variety like Bermudagrass or Zoysia. The best time to grow warm-season grass is when the temperatures are between 80 and 95 degrees. Plan your planting between May 1 and June 30. But earlier is better. As you get into summer, dry conditions can make it harder to grow grass from scratch without a lot of supplemental watering.

Late August to mid-October is the best time for cool-season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass. These grass varieties thrive when temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees. Tall fescue and ryegrass are versatile enough to be planted in late winter or early spring, but Kentucky Bluegrass should never be seeded in spring. It can’t grow fast enough to establish in the hot, dry summer weather.

Preparing to Seed Your Lawn

Successful seeding takes prep work. You can’t sprinkle grass seed on top of the dirt and call it a day. You have to do a little homework to choose the right grass for your lawn and lay the foundation for optimal growth.

1. Select your seed.

The biggest mistake homeowners make is planting grass seed not fit for their lawn. Some seed bags are pre-mixed with a variety of grass seeds. Others are all one type. You need to know what type of grass you’re planting as well as its benefits and drawbacks.

Bermudagrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and Zoysia are the best options for the mid-South climate. But there are other variables you need to consider for your yard:

  • Sun/shade mix – Bermudagrass and Kentucky Bluegrass love sunshine. If you have a lot of tree cover, Zoysia is the best grass to grow in shady areas. Tall fescue and ryegrass can grow with some shade.
  • Traffic – Some grasses hold up to pets, kids, and backyard activities better than others. Ryegrass can take the most wear and tear. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most sensitive to foot traffic.
  • Turf preference – Fine or coarse? Thick or thin? Choosing a grass seed is kind of like choosing a carpet. You need to decide which type you prefer to look at and walk on.
  • Desired maintenance – The different types of turf bring different maintenance challenges. If you love your riding lawn mower, Bermudagrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, and ryegrass will give you more hours in the operator’s seat. If you want to avoid a skyrocketing summer water bill, go with the most drought-tolerant grass, Zoysia.

2. Test your soil.

Seed is one half of the planting puzzle. Soil is the other. Your lawn has to have an environment that promotes growth. Test your soil and send it to your county’s extension office. They analyze soil from homeowners and make recommendations on how you can improve it.

Or go the DIY route and purchase a soil test kit. If your soil tests out as acidic, add lime to improve its quality. If your soil is too alkaline, drop a layer of compost or sulfur to balance things out.

3. Prep your lawn.

Grass seed needs to be in the soil to establish roots and grow, not on top of it. Clear your lawn of leaves and other debris, rake or till the dirt to loosen it, and remove any random patches of existing grass.

After you have a nice, loose top layer of soil, rake it around to even it out. Now’s the time to fill in valleys or smooth out peaks so your lawn is one consistently smooth surface.

Lawn Care Tips to Get Grass to Grow

Now the real work begins — making the grass grow into a thick, green lawn. You’ve already done the prep work to give your seed a nice bed. To get it to grow, you have to treat the grass like it’s your garden crop, making sure to follow the proper steps for planting and care.

1. Seed and feed.

For best results, follow the instructions on your bagged grass seed to ensure you’re planting at the optimal temperature and using the right settings for a push spreader. If you have a John Deere tow-behind broadcast spreader, spin spreader, or similar attachment for your mower, check the product manual for flow control settings for a variety of lawn products.

Once you have the seed down, feed it with a starter fertilizer right away. Starter fertilizers are specifically suited for establishing new grass. Avoid any other products, especially ones that contain herbicides, which could kill your grass before it has a chance to grow.

2. Cover your seedlings.

Most brands of seed will say this in their instructions, but it’s best to provide cover for your grass seeds. A thin layer of topsoil spread across your newly-seeded area helps hold in moisture to keep your seeds from drying out and prevents them from washing away in heavy rain or frequent watering. Gently rake the area to work the seed into the soil.

Straw and mulch are other options. A thin layer of either material traps moisture to help your grass grow. Make sure the straw or mulch is thin enough to clearly see the seedbed underneath. Otherwise, it can have the opposite effect and prevent your grass from sprouting up.

3. Water, water, every day.

Frequent watering is a vital component of establishing a newly-seeded lawn. Your brand of grass seed should have specific recommendations for the amount of water it needs in the early weeks. Generally, you want the top soil to be consistently moist but never soggy. So you’ll have to water your grass at least once a day — twice if the weather is hot and dry. Scale back on watering if Mother Nature is doing the job of keeping the soil moist for you.

Follow this watering schedule until the grass seeds start to germinate. Then, keep the soil moist down to two inches deep until the grass reaches its optimal mowing height. This can take a couple of weeks, longer if you have Kentucky Bluegrass because it grows slower than other varieties. You may have to adjust your mowing deck so you don’t cut the grass too short. Only the first third of the blade should be removed on the initial cut.

4. Get on a regular lawn maintenance schedule.

After that first cut, your new grass can follow the same lawn care schedule as the rest of your lawn. Mow, water, control weeds, repair, and fertilize according to the seasons — with one exception. Hold off on applying any additional products for another two months. Your young grass isn’t yet ready for another round of fertilizer or any weed control just yet. Also, avoid heavy traffic until the grass is thick and lush like the rest of your lawn.

Seeing a lush, green lawn where once there was only dirt is like reaping the bounty of a fresh crop. All your hard work is rewarded with a beautiful yard that you can admire and take pride in maintaining for years to come.

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