Picking the Right Grass and Planting It

To establish a beautiful lawn, you need to choose an appropriate type of grass. There are two major factors in this decision:

  • Your local climate (average rainfall, heat, etc.)
  • The amount of sunlight your lawn gets

­Cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, hold up well to cold winters, but don't do well in very hot weather. Warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda grass, love heat and sunlight. Commercial grass seed is usually a mixture or a blend of species. Mixtures are combinations of different types of grass.­ The various species all have different strengths and weaknesses, so collectively they hold up to just about anything. Blends are combinations of different varieties of the same type of grass. Blends are not as adaptable as mixtures, but they are generally more attractive because of their uniformity.

Most grass species need direct sunlight several hours a day to thrive, but you can seed heartier grass that does well in the shade. If your lawn is completely covered in shade, consider another sort of ground cover.

It's also important to pick a species that does well with the amount of water in your area. "Water-loving" grass species will do terribly in drought-prone areas, and some grasses develop fungal disease in very wet areas.

Additionally, consider how you'll treat the grass. Some grasses hold up to heavy traffic and some don't. If you have kids and outdoor pets, you definitely need a resilient mixture.

Check out this site for a general guide to different grasses. For specific advice, check with nurseries and garden centers in your area -- they'll know which grasses do well in the local climate.

Once you've chosen a good grass, you need to decide how to plant it.

Planting

If you're starting a new lawn from scratch or overhauling an ailing one, you'll need to add grass. There are three ways to go about this:

  • Seeding - Planting grass seed in the soil
  • Sodding - Laying out chunks of turf containing healthy grass plants
  • Adding plugs or sprigs - Transplanting individual grass plants or small sections of grass and soil

The most common method (and the cheapest) is seeding. When planting new seed, select a good species or mix for your area. Look for high-quality seed -- don't go for the cheapest option. Check with a local garden center to find out the best time to seed in your area.

  • To seed, first mix any topsoil, fertilizer or compost into your existing soil using a rotary tiller.
  • Then use a rake or board scraper to level the soil. This minimizes bumps and holes, which make mowing more difficult.
  • Next, scatter the seed, either by hand or with a mechanical spreader. The seed bag should tell you roughly how many seeds to use in a given area.
  • Compact the seeds with a lawn roller.
  • Rake the seeded area to lightly cover about half the seeds with soil.
  • Cover the lawn with a little bit of mulching material, such as straw.
  • Soak the seeded area and water regularly until the grass starts to come in.

Sodding is much more expensive than seeding, but you get instant results. With sodding, you can go from an anemic, patchy lawn to a rich green lawn in a day, whereas it may take years for a seeded lawn to grow in completely.

Sod arrives in rolled-up rectangular chunks, about an inch thick. Before you have the sod delivered, you should prepare the soil in the same way you would for seeding. All you have to do when the sod arrives is lay it out over the soil in straight rows. Stagger the sod chunks like you would stagger bricks in a wall. Fill in any gaps between the sod pieces with soil, compact the sod with a lawn roller and you're done. Water the sod regularly until it is well established. It's a good idea not to walk on the sod at first.

Grass sprigs (individual grass plants) and plugs (small sections of soil and grass) are a huge mail-order business. You specify the area of your lawn, and the company sends you the right number of live grass plants. Planting sprigs and plugs gets faster results than seeding, but it is more expensive and takes more work.

To plant sprigs and plugs, prepare the soil just like you were seeding or sodding. Then dig regularly spaced holes (6 to 12 inches / 15 to 30 cm apart, depending on the grass species), fill them with water and insert the plants. Fill in loose soil around the plants and press them into the ground. You have to water regularly and keep weeds at bay while the plants' roots spread in the soil. In mail-order grass, such as Zoysia, the stolens branch out quickly to grow new grass plants.