Growing a new lawn from seed
If you’re not in a hurry for your lawn to be useable or if you want to save money, the answer is to grow your new lawn from seed. Here’s how it’s done.
First prepare your soil for seeding
Proper soil preparation is the most important thing you can do to make a lovely lawn. The soil will be underneath your lawn, supporting root growth, allowing drainage, and nourishing the plants for as long as the lawn is there. Prepare it properly and you’ll benefit for many years to come. Skim over the job and you’ll forever be trying to correct niggly little problems.
Remove every last weed. When you’re seeding a new lawn, you’ll find lots of little weeds germinate at the same time as the grass seeds. Most of them will be killed off when you start to mow. However perennial weeds such as plantains, daisies, docks and dandelions will be much harder to get rid of.
If you’re happy to use herbicides in your garden and the weather is fairly mild, a dose of systemic weed killer will tackle existing weeds and stop them from reappearing in your new lawn. Choose carefully though. You need a systemic herbicide – one that kills the roots. Not a weed killer that just burns the leaves off. Look for one that contains the active ingredient Glyphosate.
Systemic herbicides take about 3 weeks to work properly. So once it’s been applied, leave at least 21 days before you start digging.
Dig dig dig
Create a deep root run by digging or rotovating the area. Grass needs non-compacted soil at least 15cm deep if it’s to really thrive. Remember – once the seeds are sown you can’t do much to change the soil structure so no cheating at this stage!
A beautiful soil for sowing grass seed into. It has plenty of organic matter (the dark colour tells you that). It's easy to work with and virtually stone free.
As you turn over the soil, be sure to remove any weeds, roots, rocks and other debris. As a rule of thumb, any rocks or stones larger than a baby’s fist need to be removed. Little stones are good – they help with drainage. Sharp stones are not very nice to walk on barefoot or to sit on!
Now is a good time to assess your soil quality. It is very sandy and a bit too free-draining? Is it clay based and quite sticky? Is it difficult to work with? If you’re not happy with the soil, you can mix in some good quality topsoil to improve it. If you’re not sure, talk to the team at Stewarts Turf. They’ll know what you need and where you can find it.
Once you have a nice deep area of topsoil, you can start to level and firm it. Use a wide rake to break down any lumps of soil and pull it about until you’re confident that the surface is reasonably flat and level. Hills and hummocks could make it difficult to get a nice even finish with the mower later on.
A good test is to drag a ladder or a plank across the prepared soil. Any lumps and bumps will show up and you’ll know where you need to re-rake it.
At this stage the soil should be fairly firm. If your foot sinks into it as you step on it, then you need to trample all over it and rake it again. We call that the gardener’s shuffle.
This video is about turf laying but the soil preparation is just the same – you’ll see how to do the gardener’s shuffle too.
When you’re happy with your soil preparation, rake in some pre-turfing fertiliser. It’s not just for turf. It will make sure the newly germinated grass plants have plenty of nourishment to help them get established.
Choosing grass seed
Believe it or not, there’s grass seed and there’s grass seed. If seeds have been in the packet for a long time, they’ll not germinate as well. So when you’re buying grass seed, look on the box to see when it was packaged. Ideally it needs to be no more than 24 months old.
Think hard about varieties too. There are a lot of different types of grass and not all of them will make a nice lawn. Some are for agricultural use but are too coarse and clumpy for a lawn. Some are beautiful to look at but hard to look after.
For a family lawn, a mixture of seeds including dwarf perennial ryegrass, fescues and smooth stalk meadow grass is ideal. Stewarts Turf offer this grass seed that has been specially developed to be hard wearing and easy to look after. For shaded lawns, Shadesman seed from Turfonline.co.uk is highly recommended.
How thickly should you sow grass seed?
The answer is, not as thickly as you might think. One seed should in theory produce one grass plant. Each grass plant needs enough space and light to grow strong and healthy. If the plants are too close together they tend to be a bit sickly looking. So check the instructions on the packet and follow them closely.
You might want to use sand or spray paint to divide the lawn into squares measuring 1m x 1m. Then sow the right amount of seed into that square. It does take longer than just spreading the seed about but it does make it easier to achieve a nice even coverage.
Quick tip: If your grass seed is a blend of different grass species, the seeds may be slightly different sizes and they sometimes separate out in the packet. Give the seed a good mix and a shake before you start seeding your lawn.
Watering your newly seeded lawn
Never ever ever let your newly seeded lawn dry out. Even if it looks as though the seeds aren’t doing anything – they will not germinate if they sense the soil is too dry. (The longer it takes the seeds to germinate, the higher the risk that they’ll be eaten by birds)
The very worst thing you can do to a newly seeded lawn is allow the soil to dry out. If the seeds have started to pop out roots and shoots and then they dry out, you’ll need to start all over again with fresh seed.
Use a watering can or hosepipe with a fine rose. A sprinkler is idea for this job. Make sure the top 5-8 cm of soil is good and wet. Check every day. Watering in the evenings is best in warm weather because less is lost to evaporation. In really warm weather you might need to water twice a day.
Keep watering until the grass plants are at least 4cm high – at this stage the roots and the shoots will be roughly the same length so you’ll know that the plants are able to reach water from deeper in the soil. Gradually reduce the amount and the frequency of watering as the plants get stronger.
Mowing your new lawn
When the plants are around 8cm high you can introduce them to the lawnmower. Make sure the mower blades are clean and sharp – the last thing you need to do is introduce disease. Aim to remove no more than ¼ of the length at this first cut and take away all of the clippings.
You can mow again in a week’s time. Gradually reduce the height of cut until it’s where you want it to be but never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blades. Little and often is a good rule to follow for any lawn but more so for a newly seeded one.
Seeking help and advice on sowing grass seed
If you have any questions at all about creating a new lawn from seed – or from turf – please don’t hesitate to contact the Stewarts Turf team. Between them Eleanor and Dave have over 30 years’ experience of lawn making.
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