There’s so much more to grass seed than meets the eye. The best bags of seed contain a variety that’s suited to your area and that will thrive under the conditions on your lawn. Plus, the best types of grass seed contain a high percentage of the specified variety, nearly no weed seeds and have a high germination rate. Whether you’re redoing a lawn or starting from scratch, a healthy lawn starts with a healthy bag of the best grass seed.
Grass Seeding 101
Some argue that starting a lawn from grass seed is the best way to go. But not all grass seeds are the best seeds to use for your lawn. Quality varies from brand to brand. The type of lawn you want and your region also determine which type of seed will work best.
According to Better Homes & Gardens, starting a lawn from seed should involve three steps. You want to get the timing right. You want to prepare the existing lawn or soil. And you want to take good care of the seed after planting.
Usually, fall is the ideal time for planting grass seed, particularly cool season grasses. That means they grow the most during the cooler parts of the year, mainly the late summer, fall and early spring. Cool season grasses grow throughout most of the US, in the northern states and in the area known as the transition zone.
Spring can be an OK time to start grass seed, provided you are growing a warm-season variety. Warm-season grasses need hot temperatures, at least 75 degrees, to germinate and grow. They are usually grown in the southern part of the US.
It’s not just the temperature that makes fall a good time for planting most types of grass seed. There also tends to be more rain in the fall, helping the seeds germinate. Plus, according to This Old House, many weeds in the yard tend to die in the fall. That means your grass seed will be able to grow unencumbered by the presence of crabgrass or dandelions.
Preparing the Soil for Grass Seed
If you’re starting your lawn over or starting a lawn completely from scratch, there’s a fair amount of work to do before you put the seed down. If there’s grass on the lawn already and you want it gone, you’re going to have to remove it.
There are a few ways to get rid of unwanted existing grass. If you’re up for a workout, you can use a hoe or shovel to dig it up. A motorized tiller speeds up the job and reduces strain on your muscles.
Covering the grass with newspaper and compost, a process known as smothering, is perhaps the least labor intensive option. But, while it doesn’t require much manpower, it does take an awfully long time to work. Usually, it takes a few months before the grass is gone.
The video above from Seattle Seedling introduces you to the process of smothering. Although she’s using the method to create an additional garden bed, it can also be used to replace existing grass with new grass.
Once the old grass is gone, you can start focusing on prepping the soil for new the seed. Grass usually grows best in soil with a fairly neutral pH, between 6.0 and 7.5. You might need to add lime to your soil if its pH is below 6.0 or some peat moss if your soil’s pH is above 7.5.
The soil will most likely need some fertilizer, so that it has enough nutrition for the grass. Although it can seem like a time saver to lime your soil, then add fertilizer right away, you’ll actually want to wait a bit between each application. Fertilizer can interact with lime, producing ammonia, which removes any nitrogen from the fertilizer.
Pull up any weeds that pop up from the soil and remove any rocks or other bits of debris, so that the grass has plenty of room to grow.
Spreading the Grass Seed
Once your soil is fertilized, weeded, and has the right pH, you can focus on sprinkling the seed across it. Although scattering grass seed can seem like a fairly hit or miss process, there is actually a bit of science behind it.
For example, you want to use the amount of seed recommended on the package based on the size of your lawn. Using too little seed will result in a patchy, uneven lawn. Using too much will either waste seed or leave you with large clumps of grass in some areas and thinner spots elsewhere.
The video above from Easy Garden Tips shows you how to scatter seed. He’s seeding a smaller area, but if you’re working with an entire lawn or a larger area, you might want to use a push broadcaster or a hand held seeder.
After planting the seeds, help them get settled into the soil by raking over them, gently, with an upside down rake. You can also walk carefully across the seeded area to help firm up the soil and push the seeds in.
Your seeds need a fair amount of water, but too much water will rinse them away. Your best best is to lightly water, using a gentle spray or mist for a few minutes, several times a day. After the seeds have started to sprout, water for about 15 minutes at a time, just once a day.
Why Choosing the Best Grass Seed Important
There’s a big difference between top quality grass seed and low quality seed. Don’t be swayed by price when picking up a bag of seed. If one package of seed is priced a lot lower than another, there is probably a good reason for it.
Every bag of grass seed has a seed tag printed on it. According to the USDA, seed tags contain a specific set of information. For one thing, they tell you want type of seed you’re buying. For another, they tell you what’s actually in the bag.
You might think, well, of course, there’s grass seed in the bag. But some bags also contain a fair amount of “inert matter.” That’s stuff like dirt, chaff and other debris, which won’t result in grass. If there’s a high percentage of inert matter in the bag, it can be more likely to clog up your grass seeder. Or give you an uneven, patchy lawn.
Another thing to look out for on the seed tag is the percentage of weed seed in the bag. Lower quality grass seed is going to have a higher proportion of weed seed. Ideally, you want a bag that has less than 0.01 percent weeds.
Along with weeds, bags of grass seed might contain a certain amount of “other crop,” or other types of grass. That might not make much difference to you, but if you’re hoping to grow Kentucky bluegrass and you end up with a bag that contains 3 percent of another variety of grass too, you might not get the lawn you wanted.
Finally, the seed tag will let you know the germination rate of the seed inside. A bag of grass seed might have a low price tag, but it might also have a low germination rate (lower than 85 percent). That means you’ll end up needing more bags of seeds to cover an area.
Warm Season vs Cool Season Seed
Where you live has the biggest effect on the type of grass that’s best for your lawn. Although there are lots of species and subspecies of grass, there are really only two main categories: warm season and cool season.
If you live in the north or in the transition zone, which runs across the middle of the US, cool season grass is usually the way to go. You have mostly cool springs and falls and summers don’t get too blazingly hot. Southern gardeners should stick to warm season seed, as the summers in the south tend to get too hot for cool season varieties to stay lush and green.
A few cool season varieties include bluegrass, Fescue grass and ryegrass. A few warm-season options includes Bermudagrass and Bahiagrass.
Other Gear You Need
Although you could technically start a lawn with little more than a bag of grass seed, having some other equipment on hand makes the task a bit easier. For starters, a tiller or shovel will come in handy if you need to physically remove existing grass from your lawn. A rake is also a must have for spreading the seeds and for covering them with a thin layer of soil.
A grass seeder that you can walk behind and push can take some of the hassle out of figuring out if you’re seeding evenly. You can calibrate the seeder so that it releases a certain amount of seed while you walk.
A sprinkler with a mist setting can help you water the seeds and lawn, without the risk of washing the seeds away. You can use a hose on its own, but a sprinkler is a lot easier to work with.
Are you ready to renovate your lawn? We’ve got plenty of articles on grass seed and lawn care to help you out. You’ll find tips, product recommendations and more, all over on the sidebar.