Whether establishing a new lawn on an empty lot or replacing an old one that is terminally choked with weeds, you must start the job from scratch. Although not complicated, the process requires careful planning and hard work.
The type of grass you plant depends largely upon the local climate. Cool-season grasses, so called because they grow rapidly in the cool temperatures of spring and autumn while languishing in the warm months of a relatively short summer, do well in northern climates. Warm-season grasses, which are more suited to southern climates, flourish in the heat of a long summer and are dormant in cool months. In regions with wide variations of temperature, a mixture of grasses gives the best results.
Check the grass chart on pages 265 and 266 for other characteristics such as color, texture, and drought tolerance that you should consider when choosing a grass.
How you plant your new lawn depends primarily upon the kind of grass you plan to grow and on how quickly you want the lawn to be established.
Seeding (page 64) is the least expensive way to start a lawn and offers the greatest choice of grasses. It is also the slowest because the plants must sprout before they can begin to spread and fill in the lawn. Planting alternatives for warm-season grasses and for sterile hybrids, which produce no seeds, are sprigging (page 65) and plugging (page 66). Sprigs and plugs generally fill in faster than a seeded lawn and, in the meantime, are less fragile. In both cases, the sparsely planted mature plants send out new shoots that fill the gaps in between.
The quickest—and most expensive—way to a new lawn is sodding, in which long strips of fully developed turf are set on bare ground (page 68). Lay sod within 36 hours of its harvest, and have your plot ready before the delivery date. For large lawns, consider having the sod delivered in installments so it does not dry out before planting.
No matter which planting method you choose, you must carefully prepare the planting bed (opposite). Before replacing a weed-infested lawn, apply a systemic herbicide formulated to kill all plant life. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, allowing the chemical to dissipate before replanting. Use a sod cutter to remove the old turf, and prepare and smooth the bed (pages 63-64).
Smoothing the soil
Till the lawn bed, then rake it, removing stones and other debris. Check the grading and drainage around the house and in the rest of the yard (pages 26-30), and make corrections if necessary. Test the soil and add amendments as needed (pages 38-39); work them into the soil thoroughly. Rake the soil again to remove any remaining debris.
Firming the soil
Remove the filler plug on the barrel of a lawn roller and fill the barrel halfway with water in order to increase the roller’s weight. Push the roller in parallel rows across the lawn bed to flatten it, then roll the area again, perpendicular to the first pass. Fill in any low spots revealed by rolling, rake the fill smooth, then roll the entire bed again.
Sowing seed with a hopper
Measure the correct quantity of seed for the entire area (chart, pages 265-266), then divide it into two equal portions. Do not try to speed growth by using more than the recommended quantity of seed. Walk slowly over the plot in parallel lines, scattering seed from the hopper by turning the crank steadily until you have covered the entire area once with half the seed; then, walking in rows at right angles to the first direction, sow the other half of the seed. For even coverage over a large area, use a mechanical spreader, following the same sowing pattern. Rake the area lightly with a grass rake to mix the seed into the soil, then roll it with a half-filled roller to ensure good contact between the seed and soil.
Covering and watering
Scatter clean straw over the seedbed, covering it so that half the soil can be seen beneath the straw. Mist the bed just enough to soak the soil without forming puddles or rivulets. Keep the soil dark with moisture until the seeds germinate—about 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the type of grass and the growing conditions—then water once a day until the seedlings are ½ inch tall. Thereafter, water as frequently as necessary to prevent the lawn from drying out. Do not mow or walk on the new grass until it is 3 inches high; at that point, either rake off the straw or leave it to decompose into the soil.
Furrowing the soil
After preparing the bed (pages 63-64), soak it with water and let it seep in for 24 hours. With the corner of a garden-hoe blade, cut a series of straight furrows 3 to 4 inches deep and 6 to 12 inches apart.
Setting the sprigs
Place sprigs in each furrow at 6- to 12-inch intervals, slanting them upward from the bottom of a furrow to the top of one side (right). The closer they are planted, the faster the lawn will fill in. Press soil gently around the roots with your hands, leaving some blades of each sprig protruding above the ground. Smooth the soil and level it around the sprigs. When you have planted all of the sprigs, keep the lawn moist until they have rooted, then water them as you would a mature lawn.
Cutting holes for planting
Prepare the soil bed (pages 63-64), soak it thoroughly, and let the water seep in for 24 hours before planting. Mark the placement of each plug hole, spacing them as recommended for your grass type. Use a grass plugger, available at a nursery or garden center, to make the holes. Press the foot bar down until it touches the ground, then twist the handle a quarter-turn. Lift the plugger, extracting a core of soil, then deposit the core on the ground.
Grass plugs should be planted in even rows 12 to 18 inches apart. You can mark a precise planting grid on your lot with the homemade spacing tool shown at right. To make one, drive 3½-inch nails through a 2-by-4 at whatever interval you have chosen, then attach a 6-foot-long 2-by-2, braced with two 3-foot-long 1-by-2s, to serve as a handle. Drag the tool the length of the plot to scratch parallel lines in the soil; pull it across the plot to complete the grid. Plant a plug at each intersection.
Planting the plugs
Fill the holes with water; allow it to drain completely. If your plugs are square (photograph), round them gently with your hands to fit the holes. Then insert one plug in each hole. With the ball of your foot, step gently on each plug to bring it even with the surrounding soil. Break up the extracted soil cores with a garden rake. Using a grass rake, smooth the ground between plugs, erasing any footprints. Water the area daily for 2 weeks, then water every other day for a month until the plugs have rooted. Once the plugs are established, water and mow the lawn regularly to stimulate growth.
Laying the sod
Prepare the bed as directed on pages 63 and 64, making it 1 inch lower than any adjoining walkways, driveways, or patios. Wet the soil thoroughly a day or two before laying the sod, and keep the soil bed moist but not muddy while laying the rolls. Lay the first course of sod along a straight pavement or a staked string to provide a uniform edge. Unroll sod gently to avoid breaking off corners and edges. If a section feels uneven, roll it up and relevel the ground beneath it. For later courses, kneel on a piece of plywood or planking laid across the new sod to avoid creating depressions. Butt the sod rolls together as tightly as possible, staggering joints between them as shown above. At the end of a row, cut excess with a sharp knife (inset), and use these pieces to fill oddly shaped areas around the perimeter of your lot.
Establishing root contact
Tamp the sod firmly against the soil bed; alternatively, roll the turf with an empty lawn roller. Water the new sod every day for 2 weeks; small pieces at the ends of rows may dry out more quickly than full sections and need more frequent watering. After 2 weeks, try to lift a piece of sod by the grass blades; if it has rooted, the blades will tear and you can begin watering less frequently. Otherwise, retamp the piece, continue watering daily, and test again in a few more days.