How to Start a New Lawn

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As American as apple pie, a lush lawn serves as both a verdant welcome mat to visitors and a soft playground for kids. You've got two basic choices for installing a lawn. Planting sod--rolls of grass plus roots and soil sliced off at a sod farm--offers instant lawn gratification, but requires a higher initial dollar investment. Sowing seeds saves money if you're willing to keep everyone and everything off, nurse along the seedlings and wait for the finished product.

Measure the lawn area to determine how many square feet of coverage you need.

Find out which grasses are best for your lawn by talking with experts at a local nursery or calling your county's cooperative extension service. Bluegrass, the traditional lawn grass, does not perform well in all parts of the country. Consider drought-resistant varieties if you live where water is scarce--lawns are typically a garden's main water user.

Decide if you want to plant seed or sod. You can start coolseason grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and bent) from either. Many warm-climate grasses (Saint Augustine and hybrid Bermuda) are typically started from sod (or from pieces of vegetation called sprigs or stolons)--not from seeds.

Prepare the ground thoroughly for seed or sod. Weed carefully, then use a rotary tiller to dig in compost or a mix of topsoil and compost to a depth of 6 inches (15 cm). Rake out rocks and smooth the soil. Use a roller filled halfway with water to tamp down the soil for optimal germination and root growth.

Determine the amount of seed mix you need. This varies depending on the mix, so check the package. Seed to cover 1,500 square feet (140 square m) costs about $50.

Seed the lawn in the spring, fall or early winter.

Plant your lawn where it gets at least six hours of sun a day, spring through fall--even mixes designed for shade need some sun to grow. If your yard doesn't have enough sun, consider other ground-cover choices, including gravel.

Purchase sod directly from sod farms (find sources in the Yellow Pages under "Sod," "Sodding Service" or "Lawn Supply") or from a local garden center. For an average-size lawn of 1,500 square feet (140 square m), you'll spend about $420 for sod.

Make sure the delivered sod is in good, healthy shape: moist roots, no yellow or brown grass, sod hanging together firmly.

Have sod delivered the morning you plan to lay it so that it doesn't dry out. You can lay it in spring or summer, or in mild climates during fall and winter. If you don't lay sod right away, water enough to keep roots moist. Don't saturate sod rolls with water; they'll become too heavy and muddy to roll out easily.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use a seed spreader to sow at the most efficient recommended rate--a far more precise way than scattering seeds by hand.
  • Keep newly seeded areas constantly wet until the seedlings emerge, then switch to twice-weekly watering. Water newly laid sod twice weekly. Make sure the soil stays moist between waterings.

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