6 Steps to Plant a New Lawn Successfully

Close up of freshly planted blades of grass

Planting a new lawn is a big job; it may be best to tackle the project in sections. You can begin this process by redoing the worst or most visible lawn areas, and then make plans to tackle the remaining areas the following year.

Starting with smaller sections instead of the entire lawn keeps the job manageable and makes the critical step of watering feasible for homeowners who do not have in-ground sprinkler systems. However, whether you plant a new lawn in stages or all at once, you will need to take the following steps:

Step 1:  Remove Old Turf

The first step is to kill and remove any poor-quality turf, which can be accomplished through several methods including solarization, heavy mulches, using a hoe or sod cutter, and herbicides. Keep in mind that some methods are more effective in certain lawn and climate conditions than others.

Step 2:  Fix Grade Problems

Before adding amendments to the soil, fix any existing grade problems. Although grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment, you can fix minor problems yourself with either earth-moving equipment or a landscaping rake. Read more about the process.

Step 3:  Amend the Soil

This is your best opportunity to add amendments such as fertilizer, organic matter, and lime or sulfur.  Use a soil test to determine the best amendments for your particular soil. The best way to test your soil is to send a sample to a Cooperative Extension Service (CSREES), which is usually located at or affiliated with a state university, or to a commercial soil tester.

Use a power tiller to work amendments, including fertilizer and organic matter, into the soil; then use a landscaping rake to level. Read more for additional information on soil amendments.

Step 4:  Rake Smooth and Firm

Rake the area for replanting until it is smooth and remove any stones and vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling. Next, water the ground and check for puddles. Allow the soil time to dry adequately, and then fill the depressions with soil from higher spots.

To foster adequate soil structure, roll the prepared soil to provide a firmer base. Do so by filling a lawn roller about one-third with water, and roll until your footprints are no deeper than a ½-inch for optimal planting. If the seed is planted in soil that is too loose, the seed generally ends up too deep and may die before reaching the surface.

Complete this step by thoroughly watering the area to a depth of 5 or 6 inches two days before planting.

Step 5:  Plant Your New Lawn

It is finally time to plant your new lawn! There are four methods of planting a new lawn: sod, seed, sprigs, and plugs. Each method requires different preparation and installation techniques. Read more to learn about each method and its process.

Step 6:  Caring for Your New Lawn

You have now put a lot of work into creating a new lawn so do not forget the most important step. Plan for watering needs before you plant your lawn.  Insufficient water and overwatering are the leading causes of new-lawn failure.  Take precautions to prevent damage.  Minimize play and foot traffic on new and sodded lawns for at least three weeks.

Do not fertilize new lawns for at least six weeks. After six weeks, apply a light fertilization of ½-pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.  Thereafter, fertilize according to the recommendations given for established lawns. Read more for further lawn care for your chosen planting method.

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