How to grow lawn that is lush and full of grass. Checklist to grow a weed-free lawn. Growing a lawn without weeds is a dream for many homeowners. This checklist will help you keep the weeds away from your lawn while maintaining healthy grass and teach you how to make St Augustine grass thicker. With just a little know-how, you can bring to life a beautiful expanse of inviting green grass. We break down how to grow a lawn from grass seed into six simple steps Make your lawn the envy of your neighbors with the best grass seed for your yard’s conditions. Find the right match and top recommendations.
How To Grow A Grass Lawn Without Weeds
Growing a lawn without weeds is a dream for many homeowners. While it’s probably unrealistic to have a lawn 100% free of weeds, you can aim to grow a thick, healthy stand of grass. That’s actually the easiest way to give weeds the brushoff: grow turf that’s so thick and strong that weeds can’t find an inch to take root. Follow this checklist to grow your healthiest grass ever.
Grow the Right Grass
Different grasses grow in different areas of the country. Warm-season grasses are usually grown in warmer, more southerly regions. Types include Bahiagrass, Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass and Zoysiagrass. Cool-season grasses are typically grown in cooler, more northerly regions. Types include Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass. Check with your local Cooperative Extension System office to learn which types of grass grow best in your area.
Start by cutting grass with a sharp mower blade that cuts grass cleanly, without tearing or shredding. Proper mowing height depends on grass type. Vary your mowing pattern to avoid creating ruts in the lawn. Avoid mowing when soil is wet, or you risk tearing up grass and soil.
Provide adequate moisture to grass, especially during episodes of drought or high temperatures. Provide deep, infrequent irrigation, which promotes healthy, deeper roots. Learn about lawn irrigation basics and how much grass actually needs.
Before you start a fertilizer program, do a soil test so you know you’re applying the correct blend of nutrients. In some parts of the country, soils may be acidic or alkaline and require additions of iron, magnesium or lime. Also, different types of grass need to be fertilized at different times of the year. Check with your local Cooperative Extension System office for help developing the right fertilizer program for your lawn.
Scout for Problems
Like any landscape planting, lawns can suffer from a variety of problems. Weeds, bare spots, insects and diseases can weaken and, if left untreated, even destroy a healthy lawn. Keep an eye out for problems in your lawn.
- Deal with weeds when you first see them, because one weed leads to many more. Learn about the types of lawn weed killers and when to use each. Discover why fall weed control is key and how to do it successfully.
- When a bare spot appears, figure out the cause and deal with it. Open soil extends an invitation to weeds, so repair bare spots as quickly as possible.
- Scout for insect problems. Some of the signs to look for are skunks digging up lawn or flocks of birds feeding on turf. White Grubs are a common lawn pest. Discover the basics of dealing with Grubs.
Aerate and Dethatch
Compacted soils don’t allow air and water to reach grass roots, which results in unhealthy grass.
Aerating helps relieve soil compaction.
When thatch builds up in a lawn, it can prevent water and fertilizer from reaching soil and provide refuge for insects.
How to Plant Grass Seed in Six Steps
If your spouse keeps telling you the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you might want to tackle the naked-earth lawn chore you’ve been dodging. We’ll show you how to plant grass seed in six steps. You’ll complete one of the most satisfying outdoor tasks a homeowner can accomplish (and maybe save your relationship).
Here’s how to plant grass seed in six simple steps:
Step 1: Remove the Existing Grass
Is your lawn happily surviving? If your grass is good, but could be better, you could overseed to plump up the existing lawn. For bare spots, use garden tools to roughen up the soil first. Then spread the grass seed over to fill in the bare patches.
If your yard is where feisty weeds go to party and half of your lawn lies naked, you should plan to renovate — remove the old vegetation. New baby grass seedlings cannot compete with that mess. If you’re starting from scratch with a new home build, and establishing a new lawn, you can skip to Step 2.
There are two ways to clean your lawn’s slate:
- Use a nonselective broad-spectrum herbicide. Follow label instructions carefully and don’t spray on a windy day.
- Use a sod-cutter, available at most rental companies. Mark your sprinkler heads before operating the cutter to avoid accidents.
Once the weeds and old sod are removed, loosen the soil bed so the new grass seeds’ roots can easily grow through. You can use hand tools (and your toughest friends), a tiller, or core aerator. You can find tillers and aerators at rental companies, as well.
Fill low spots in your yard using a half-and-half mixture of sand and topsoil. If necessary, grade your yard to keep rain or water flowing away from your home.
Step 2: Do a Soil Test, then Add Amendments
Once you have renovated your lawn – exposed and leveled the planting surface – you’ll need to test your soil for the best grass germination and growth. Test the soil as soon as you can. There can be a wait of up to two weeks for results and you could miss your ideal planting window.
At a minimum, you should test for pH. This is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most grasses like slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 7.
A simple moisture and pH tester can be found for $10. For about $20, you could test for the major nutrients in your soil. Your results will show the N, P, and K: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.
The best soil tests include major and minor nutrients. Your state Extension service and private labs offer these services. Keep in mind your local Extension office can also provide great information and insight that private labs can’t, and usually at a lower cost.
Here are four very good soil tests you can buy on Amazon.
The test results should give you a plan and shopping list for your local garden shop. Follow application instructions carefully and add soil amendments to restore what it lacks. Again, use a tiller or hand tools to work the amendments in to a depth of 1-4 inches.
Step 3: Choose the Best Seed for Your Region
Your local seed expert will always give you the best advice when choosing your seed. Local Extension offices, seed stores, and agricultural suppliers are experienced and understand the microclimates of your area.
In northern states, select cool-season grass, which grows best when temperatures are 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses thrive in the late spring and early fall months in the northern two-thirds of the United States.
People living in Southern states should select a warm-season grass seed. Warm-season grasses thrive from late spring through summer.
Between the North and South is the transition zone where summers are hot and winters are cold. You’ll either need to find the most cold-tolerant warm-season grass available, or the most heat-tolerant cool-season grass.
Best Cool-Season Grasses for Northern States
- Bentgrass is a standard grass for golf course putting greens. Colonial Bentgrass is for home lawns and likes a low mow.
- Kentucky bluegrass is a classic choice for Northern lawns. It likes full sun and isn’t shade tolerant.
- Fine Fescue is a perennial bunchgrass and stands up in poorly drained areas.
- Tall fescue mix puts down deep roots and is drought tolerant.
- Creeping fescue is slow to germinate and spread, but tolerates shade, and is good for large lawns.
- Ryegrass (annual) can be used for a quick shot of green. The perennial ryegrass variety is best for high traffic and playgrounds.
Best Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States
- Bahiagrass has a coarse texture, is heat/drought tolerant, and is best for low traffic lawns.
- Bermudagrass is hardy and stands up to heavy traffic, but it’s high maintenance.
- Buffalograss is the only variety native to North America, highly drought tolerant, and needs little care.
- Centipedegrass grows slowly but has very low maintenance once established. In warm climates, it’s non-dormant, so it stays green year-round unless there’s a cold snap.
- Zoysiagrass is a slow grower, but one of the most cold-tolerant varieties of warm-season grasses.
- St. Augustinegrass is sold as sod, as its seedheads are sterile.
Best Grasses for Transition Zone States
The transition zone is a blend of temperature highs and lows, humidity, summer deluges, and drought.
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Perennial ryegrass
- Tall fescue
Single Variety, Blend, or Grass Seed Mix?
In addition to high-quality grass seed to match your climate, you also need to consider your lawn’s unique properties.
- Is it in full sun, shade, or a mix? A shade mix is great for dense shade.
- How much moisture will it get?
- Is the area heavily trafficked?
- How much time and effort do you want to spend maintaining the lawn?
Knowing your terrain will help you home in on the formulation of seed you want. Seeds are sold as pure seeds of one variety, blends (multiple types of the same variety), and mixtures (seed blends of different varieties).
Pure seed will give you a unified look. Blends will be less uniform, but one variety may cover up for the weaknesses of another. Grass seed mixtures provide the most biologically diverse lawn: the grass plants won’t look identical, but your lawn has a better chance of surviving diseases and droughts.
Step 4: Best Time to Plant Grass Seed
For cool season grass seeds, either spring or fall are the preferred times, since these northern varieties of grass prefer warm soil and cool air.
In the South, warm-season grasses can be planted from late spring to mid-summer. Wait until the last chance of a late frost has passed, and the daytime temperature is in the 80s.
One of the biggest keys to success is picking a high-quality seed that is right for your climate.
Federal Seed Act Ensures Proper Labeling
When it comes to selecting seeds, the Federal Seed Act requires seed sellers to provide consumers with valuable information on the seed’s label.
Under the law, the label must tell you:
- The name of the grass variety (or varieties).
- Its purity, that is, the weight by percentage of each type of seed.
- Germination percentage. The percentage of the seeds that you can expect to germinate. This is not a number the seed companies can fudge. The federal government expects seed producers to run regular germination tests and keep careful records.
- Weed seed percentage. Look for a seed that has less than 0.5 percent weeds.
Pure Grass Seed or Fertilizer/Mulch Mix?
You have one final decision to make. Are you going to purchase a seed that incorporates fertilizer and mulch, or purchase fertilizer and mulch separately? The all-in-one products are more expensive but are convenient.
Measure your lawn area in square feet, and purchase enough seed to cover that area. Usually, seed bags are marked as the number of pounds needed per 1,000 square feet. If possible, buy a little more than needed in case you want to reseed some bare spots.
If you are fertilizing separately, broadcast the fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Plant your Grass Seed and Fertilizer
To plant grass seed in small areas, hand-seeding is fine. For larger areas, seeders and spreaders provide more precise coverage. You can find hand-cranked spreaders, chest-mounted, or push-from-behind seeders. Drop seeders drop seeds directly below the unit. There are more expensive commercial seeding options as well.
Follow the instructions on the seed bag. If the seeder’s lowest setting seems too generous with the seed, thin it out with sand or vermiculite.
- For large lawns, fill the push spreader with seed.
- Spread half of the recommended seed north to south.
- On the second pass, spread east and west for even coverage.
- Rake the top ⅛-inch of the seeded surface lightly. Using the back of a leaf rake side-to-side makes this an easy job.
- If you have access to one, roll an empty lawn roller to improve germination.
“We call it ‘the seed-soil contact,’” said University of Illinois Extension office educator Richard Hentschel. “You want good seed-soil contact. If the seed and soil are not in intimate contact, the little root radicle may die out before it hits the soil.” The radicle is the first root to emerge from a seed.
If you have hilly areas, seeds will tend to wash away to a low point. One potential solution is hydroseeding: broadcasting seeds that are suspended in a fertilizer-mulch slurry. Professional landscapers often offer hydroseeding services, and there are some hose-end sprayers for the do-it-yourselfers.
Lawn-Starting Fertilizer: Watch the Phosphorus
You need to find out if your state restricts using fertilizers containing phosphorus. Most laws carve out an exception and allow limited application of phosphorus on new lawns, but turf experts say to let your soil test be your guide. If it says that your soil lacks phosphorus, then it’s acceptable.
Step 5: Aqua and Attention
Keep a careful eye on your new grass seeds. They only get one shot to germinate, so what you do now is critical. That means water. Keep in mind that different grass plants germinate at different times, so if you have a mixture of grass seeds, you’ll need to keep watering them until the slowest-germinating species emerges.
- Keep the top layer of soil moist (but not soggy) down to 1/2 inch. (Too much water is as bad as too little, and overly vigorous watering could wash the seeds away.)
- Water at least once a day in the morning and perhaps again in the afternoon if the sun and wind have dried out the soil.
A misting attachment on your hose can cut down on the amount of force you use. Part of your lawn may be shadier, part may have more porous soil, or part may be sloped. Adjust your watering according to your lawn’s needs.
Grass Seed Germination Rates, by Grass Type
- Bahiagrass seed: 10-28 days
- Bermudagrass seed: 7-28 days
- Kentucky Bluegrass seed: 14-21 days.
- Buffalograss seed: 7-10 days.
- Centipede grass seed: 14-28 weeks.
- Fescue grass seed: 10-14 days.
- Annual ryegrass seed, perennial ryegrass seed: 5-10 days.
- St. Augustinegrass: Rarely grown from seed, propagated by plugs and sod.
- Zoysia grass seed: 14-21 days.
Even if you planted just one turfgrass variety, the grass seeds won’t all pop up at once. Some will be buried a bit deeper or have a different rate of water absorption. Stay with your watering regimen until you’re sure the seeds have germinated.
Keep foot traffic to a minimum. You could consider putting up “Please keep off the new grass” signs to discourage accidental trampling by your kids and neighbors (and their dogs).
Step 6: When to Give your New Lawn its First Mow
Hooray! Your new lawn is green and it’s growing well.
Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:
- Bahiagrass: 2-2 ½ inches
- Bentgrass: 1 inch
- Bermuda: 1½-2 inches
- Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches
- Buffalograss: 2-3 inche
- Centipede: 1½-2 inches
- Fescue: 2-3 inches
- Perennial Ryegrass: 2-3 inches.
- Zoysia: 1-2 inches
Treat your New Grass like a Baby
Take advice from the ‘70s band, The Eagles. Slow down and take it easy the first few times you mow your new turfgrass. The roots won’t be long or well-established, so it will be easy to accidentally rip up the young plants.
Here are a few tips to ensure a successful first mow:
- Sharpen the mower’s blade so you cut, not tear, the tender plants.
- Start the mower off the lawn and minimize the number of turns you make with the mower.
- Don’t remove more than a third of the grass blade in one mow.
After the first mow, cut back on frequent shallow watering, and switch to watering a couple of times a week, deeply. Water six or eight inches deep to encourage your new lawn to root deeply. Once established the lawn will start spreading to cover any gaps.
After eight weeks, your lawn should be well-established. Hit it with a little more fertilizer to encourage deep roots, and take down your “Please keep off the new grass” signs; your new lawn is ready for fun.
It’s unlikely that grass seeds will grow on top of flat, bare soil. The seeds may germinate but the roots won’t be strong enough to penetrate the soil. It’s best to rough up the soil before sowing for the best seed-to-soil contact.
Don’t cover grass seed with topsoil. The seed needs light to germinate. To protect the seed from birds and washing away, use straw (weed-free) or an erosion-control blanket.
Expect to see tiny grass blades in 10-14 days. Other varieties of seed may take up to 30 days.
DIY or LSE (Let Someone Else)?
Some homeowners and renters love being weekend warriors, but some of the rest of us prefer anything else.
If you’re like me, and you would rather reap the rewards of great grass someone else sowed and mowed, consider hiring a lawn care pro. Give them a call early so they can begin testing and sowing seeds at the proper planting time for your area.
* Editorial Note: LawnStarter participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. LawnStarter may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.
LawnStarter writer Penny Warner updated this article.
Daniel Ray is LawnStarter.com’s former editor in chief. He is an award-winning writer and editor who previously was editor in chief of the personal finance websites Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com, but with 30 years of gardening experience, he’s well qualified to help consumers grow a different kind of green.
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The Best Grass Seed of 2022
Make your lawn the envy of your neighbors with the best grass seeds for your yard’s conditions.
By Tony Carrick | Updated Jun 29, 2022 6:15 PM
BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Many homeowners dream of a lush, green carpet of grass upon which their children and pets can frolic. Growing a lawn that makes neighbors green with envy begins with choosing the right grass seed.
There is a seemingly endless variety of different seed types and products on the market, which can make choosing the right one an involved process. Climate, shade, and foot traffic all play roles in which grass seed is right for your lawn. This guide features factors to consider when choosing the best grass seed that will turn your yard into a striking carpet of green.
- BEST OVERALL:Scotts Turf Builder Thick’R Lawn Sun & Shade-3 in 1
- BEST BUDGET:Scotts Turf Builder Sunny Mix, 3lb.
- BEST WARM-SEASON:Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Southern Gold Mix
- BEST COOL-SEASON:Jonathan Green Black Beauty All Grasses Sun or Shade
- BEST FOR DENSE SHADE:Pennington Seed Smart Seed Grass Seed 3 Lb
- BEST FOR HIGH-TRAFFIC:Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed High Traffic Mix
- BEST KENTUCKY BLUEGRASS:Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Kentucky Bluegrass
- BEST BERMUDA GRASS:Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Bermudagrass, 5 lb
- BEST FAST-GROWING:Pennington Smart Seed Perennial Rye Blend Grass Seed
- BEST LOW-MAINTENANCE:Scotts Turf Builder Zoysia Grass Seed and Mulch
Types of Grass Seed
Grass seed falls into two main categories: warm-season and cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses endure hot southern climates much better than cool-season grasses. During the winter, warm-season grasses turn brown as they go dormant. Cool-season grasses grow quickly in the cool weather of fall and spring before going dormant in the summer heat. Warm-season grasses can be reseeded during the spring and summer, while spring and fall are the optimal time to reseed cool-season grasses.
- Bahia: This warm-season grass is popular in hot climates because of its heat tolerance and drought-resistant qualities. While other grasses burn to a crisp in the hot sun, with its broad leaves and coarse texture, Bahia grass thrives. This makes it an attractive grass species in the Deep South.
- Bermuda: As with many other warm-season grasses, Bermuda grass thrives in hot climates thanks to its exceptional ability to tolerate heat and withstand high traffic. Bermuda grass requires good drainage, full-sun exposure, and plenty of nutrients. The grass does not tolerate cold weather well, making it a good option in the southern part of the country.
- Buffalo: Even though it is considered a warm-season grass, buffalo grass thrives in a broad range of climates and is quite common in states such as Montana that experience harsh winters. Like other warm-season grasses, it goes dormant and turns brown in colder weather. Planting season for buffalo grass is from April to May.
- Centipede: Centipede grass is known for being heat tolerant and very low maintenance. This makes it a popular grass with those who don’t enjoy spending a lot of time managing their lawns. Centipede grass thrives in full sun but will tolerate some shade. Due to those requirements, it does best in the Southeast. Plant centipede grass seed in the spring when all danger of frost has passed.
- St. Augustine: One of Florida’s most popular grasses, St. Augustine can tolerate high heat and humidity. It features blue-green grass blades that spread quickly through a lawn. St. Augustine also can tolerate salt water, which makes it a popular option for coastal yards. Since it spreads rapidly, one of the most effective ways to establish St. Augustine grass is by planting plugs. Plant St. Augustine seed in the spring or the summer.
- Zoysia: Zoysia is a durable, dense variety of grass that’s known for its ability to stand up to heat, drought, and high foot traffic. Possibly the softest grass for bare feet, zoysia forms a dense lawn that chokes out weeds with very little maintenance required. Although some types of zoysia can only be grown from sod or plugs, some grass seed companies offer a variety that can grow from seed. Zoysia grass should be planted in the spring once the threat of frost has passed.
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- Fescue: Tall, fine fescue grass seed is perhaps the most common grass type in the country. This is because it adapts well to many different climates as it tolerates heat, cold, shade, and drought reasonably well. This is primarily due to its deep roots that can reach as deep as 2 to 3 feet. Tall fescue is perhaps the easiest grass to grow, but it can suffer under heavy traffic. Plant and reseed fine fescue grass seed in the fall and spring. Shoppers will sometimes see fescue sold in all-season grass seed mixes, which claim they’re good year-round.
- Kentucky bluegrass: This is the type of grass most people imagine when they consider the perfect lawn. With its lush, deep-green appearance, Kentucky bluegrass is a prized species. This grass is not easy to grow, requiring a high level of maintenance and care. Its shallow root system does not tolerate heat well, making it more suitable for northern lawns. Kentucky bluegrass should be planted and reseeded in the spring and fall.
- Perennial ryegrass: Perennial ryegrass should not be confused with annual ryegrass, which is a temporary grass used for erosion control. Perennial ryegrass comes back year after year. Ryegrass germinates quickly, making it popular for new lawns. It does best in colder climates with mild summers; however, it can still be found in the southern part of the country. Perennial ryegrass should be planted or reseeded in the fall.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Grass Seed
When deciding which grass seed is best for a front yard or a backyard oasis, it’s crucial to consider several important factors, including climate, maintenance, and sun requirements. A good grass seed should thrive in the specific conditions of your yard. Check below for some of the elements you should consider when purchasing the right grass seed.
With enough determination and money, you can grow most of the above grass seeds just about anywhere in the country. It’s not uncommon to see beautiful Kentucky bluegrass lawns in the baking heat of the Southwest. But going against climate guidelines will make the job a lot harder and more expensive, requiring significant investments in irrigation systems, water, and fertilizers. Paying attention to climate will make establishing a lawn much more manageable. Consider where you live and what grass types will thrive in your region with minimal maintenance and watering.
Reseeding vs. New Planting
How you go about reseeding a lawn versus planting a new lawn is quite different. When seeding a new lawn, you’ll be applying seed to the bare dirt you’ve prepared for new planting. For reseeding, you’ll be attempting to thicken an already existing lawn. With that in mind, you typically need about twice as much seed to start a new lawn as you need to reseed an existing lawn.
Grass types vary in how well they tolerate foot traffic. If you have kids or pets and plan to use your backyard extensively as an area for play, consider selecting grass types that can take some abuse and still keep on growing. Zoysia and Bermuda grasses are the most tolerant of foot traffic, while fescue does poorly with heavy traffic.
While some property owners enjoy fussing over their lawns, many homeowners dread long hours spent maintaining a yard. Consider which grass types require the least amount of care and how much work you’re willing to put into a lawn. Zoysia grass, for example, requires annual dethatching, while perennial ryegrass will not self-repair and requires patching. Bermuda grass, in comparison, requires very little maintenance.
Various grasses tolerate different levels of sun exposure. Some grasses, such as Bermuda grass, demand full sun but other varieties, such as tall fescue, do well with partial shade. Assess the sun exposure of your lawn to determine a good lawn grass seed for the lighting conditions there. Some seed companies produce specific seed mixes for full shade, full sun, or lawns with shaded areas and full-sun areas.
Single Seed vs. Mix
When selecting a type of grass seed, you can choose one specific seed type or a blend that combines several different species. Go for a single seed type if you’re trying to achieve a particular look for your lawn. While single seeds are more difficult to maintain, the effect of a single species lawn can be well worth it.
Mixes are easier to grow and maintain because companies blend the mixes for improved drought or heat tolerance. They also generally grow more uniformly with little need for patching. However, your lawn will lack the attractive uniform look of a single species lawn.
Despite your best efforts to prepare your yard for seeding, some seeds simply weren’t meant to become plants. This is where germination percentage comes into play. Germination percentage is a measure of the viability of a collection of seeds. It is calculated by dividing the number of seeds that germinate by the total number of seeds.
Given how much grass seed can cost, the higher the germination percentage the better, and it mostly relates to seed quality. Although you might be tempted to buy the cheapest grass seed on the shelf, chances are it will have a lower germination percentage, resulting in significant waste. High-quality grass seed has a 90 to 95 percent germination rate, making it worth the additional investment.
Our Top Picks
You can find grass seed for sunny areas, shade, high traffic, hot and cold climates, and more. These top-rated grass seed picks cover lots of lawn and grass types to suit various uses.