When creating a new lawn you have two choices. You can;
- Lay new turf, or
- Sow new grass seed
I have already created a step-by-step guide to creating a new lawn with turf. But there are advantages to creating a new lawn by sowing new grass seed.
The problem is that all the articles on the web about how to sow grass seed are pretty vague.
This article is different. I’m going to show you everything you need to know about how to sow grass seed.
Sowing Grass Seed vs. Laying Turf
– It’s Much Cheaper
– There Are a Range of Grass Seed Mixes to Choose From, Unlike Turf
– Maintaining a Consistent ‘Look’ is Easier With Grass Seed
How to Choose a Grass Seed Mix For Your Lawn
– Which Grass Seed Mix Should You Actually Choose?
– A Word About Seed Quality
When to Sow Grass Seed For a New Lawn
– How Long Does it Take Grass Seed to Grow?
The Tools You’ll Need For Sowing Grass Seed
How to Calculate and Cost How Much Material You Need
– Step 1: Figure Out if You Need a Topsoil Or Soil Improver
– Step 2: Measure Your Lawn to Work Out How Much Grass Seed and/or Fertiliser You Need
– Step 3: Work Out How Much Topsoil/Soil Improver You Need
– Step 4: Order Your Materials
How to Prepare the Ground For Sowing Grass Seed
– Step 1: Kill and Remove the Old Lawn
– Step 2: Dig Over o Rotavate the Soil
– Step 3: Dig in the Topsoil/Soil Improver
– Step 4: Level the Soil With a Landscaping Rake or Lute
– Step 5: Tread the Soil
– Step 6: Add a Pre-Seeding Fertiliser
– Step 7: Rake the Soil
How to Sow Grass Seed, Step-by-Step
– Step 1: Spread the Grass Seed at the Specified Rate
– Step 2: Rake the Seed into the Soil
– Step 3: Keep the Area Moist
– Step 4: Watch Out For Weeds
– Step 5: Mow the Grass
– Step 6: Spread More Grass Seed (If Needed)
– Step 7: As Spring Roll Around, Increase Mowing Frequency and Keep On Top of Weeds
Laying turf is not only quick and easy but it also means you’ll have a good-looking, usable area in your garden much sooner than you would have sowing grass seed.
So why would you sow grass seed yourself when you could just lay turf?
There are a few reasons;
First, let’s do the maths.
I’m going to use a company called Rolawn as my theoretical supplier here. Not only because I really like them as a company (read my review here) but they also have online calculators which will make this exercise easier to demonstrate.
Let’s say for example your lawn area is 100 meters squared (we’ll cover how to measure your lawn later on).
To cover that area in Rolawn’s Medallion Turf, it’ll cost £426;
Now, let’s compare that to the cost of their Medallion Turf Seed Mix;
As you can see it only costs £62.85. The cost of turfing a lawn, in this case, is almost seven times more expensive.
In fact, you could use Rolawn’s Minster Pro seed mix, their most expensive lawn seed and it’ll still only cost £83.80;
So the cost advantages of sowing grass seed when compared to laying turf are massive!
Different gardens need different types of lawn depending on;
- How you’ll use your lawn, and
- The environmental and climatic conditions.
Will your lawn be a play area for the kids, do you want it to look nice or a mixture of the two?
Is your lawn going to be a masterpiece in the centre of your garden?
Will your lawn get lots of sun during the day or does it sit in shade? What about the type of soil? Is it damp, dry, heavy clay, chalky, sandy or loamy?
For different types of lawn to look their best under different conditions, they need to be made up of grasses that’ll grow best in those conditions.
The cost of manufacturing turf is so expensive that it makes it impossible to manufacture so many different types. Therefore, a turf is rarely perfectly suited to a particular garden.
That’s not to say turf doesn’t look nice. Grass is a hardy plant and can look nice in a range of environments and if the truth be told, I turf new lawns more often than I sow them. But putting a grass mix together is very easy and gives you the best possible lawn for your needs and goals.
Often times a lawn might need repairing or renovating, but how do you know what seed mix was used to create the lawn in the first place?
If the lawn was turfed you might not ever know.
But if you sow a new lawn from seed, you’ll know exactly which seed mix you used. Chances are, you’ll have some seed left over which you can use to repair and renovate your lawn if and when you need to. If not, you can go buy another bag of it.
Sometimes these kinds of renovations stand out like a sore thumb because the grass seed wasn’t the same mix that was used to create the turf. This can create patches of different grass types and a scruffy inconsistent look, which you don’t want!
For the inexperienced gardener, choosing the best lawn seed mix for their wants and environmental circumstances can be confusing.
To keep things simple, consider the following;
- The purpose of the lawn – will it be a play area for the kids, used as an all-rounder, or is it going to be a masterpiece? Purely ornamental grasses don’t tolerate heavy traffic so you wouldn’t use these on anything but an ornamental, bowling green type lawn.
- The type of soil the area is made up of – some grasses don’t grow well in certain soils. For example, ornamental grasses don’t do well in heavy clay soils. If this is the case, you’ll either need to re-think your grass type or make changes to the soil profile.
- How much sun or shade the lawn gets – different grass types don’t do well in areas of shade but some tolerate it very well. If your lawn sits it a lot of shade, choose a seed mix that’ll do well in those conditions.
Again, to keep things simple, grass seed mixes come in four categories;
Hard Wearing Lawn Seed
This kind of seed mix contains hard wearing grass types which will stand up to heavy use. They root deeply and germinate quickly in most conditions and soil types.
This makes it perfect for use on play areas.
The best hard wearing grass seed mix, in my opinion, is GBW Hard Wearing Grass Seed.
General Purpose Lawn Seed
These seed mixes contain a blend of hard wearing grasses that include; perennial ryegrass, tall and red fescues and brown tops.
They’re good for areas that get a lot of wear and tear, either from kids and pets or lots of people using it. They’re a good choice if your lawn gets a mixture of both sun and shade.
General purpose grasses grow well in most soil types. They also grow fairly quickly and require regular mowing, especially in the spring and autumn.
If you have the budget, then Rolawn’s Medallion Grass Seed gets my top recommendation. For a cheaper alternative that’ll still give good results, try A1 Lawn’s AM PRO 8 Luxury Hard Wearing Grass Seed.
Ornamental or Luxury Lawn Seed
For formal and showpiece lawns, an ornamental seed mix consists of very fine grasses which usually only contain fescues including creeping red fescue, chewings fescue and brown tops.
These types of lawn don’t tolerate much wear and tear or heavy traffic. If you have a family that wants to use the lawn, this isn’t the type of grass seed for you.
Ornamental grasses prefer slightly acidic soils so if your dead set on an ornamental lawn, make sure you test the soil pH with a soil testing kit. If it’s more on the alkaline side, you’ll need to make adjustments to the soil.
It’ll be very fine in appearance, it’ll grow much more slowly than a general purpose lawn and it’ll tolerate close mowing.
Shady Lawn Seed
For lawns that are covered by shade, these grass seed mixes are made up of dwarf perennial rye-grass, small amounts of meadow grasses, hard fescues, slender and creeping red fescues and brown tops.
The fine ornamental grasses mixed with tough, hard wearing species create a good-looking, yet hard wearing lawn that’ll grow well in most soils.
These lawns can take some wear and tear, not as much as a general purpose lawn but they can look spectacular.
A1 Lawn AM PRO 9 Premium Deep Rooting Grass Seed is excellent.
There are other types of grass seed mixes which you can buy including, ‘fast start’ lawn seed, ‘slow grow’ mixed and drought mixes. However, they usually contain grasses which are very similar to those I covered above, they’re just packaged with a different name and sold for more money.
At the end of the day, a grass seed is a grass seed so when I say ‘quality’ I’m referring to the quality of the blend, not the grass itself.
The best advice I can give you is to buy the best grass seed mix you can afford. Some cheaper blends can be contaminated with weed seeds and/or course, agricultural grasses.
Definitely NOT what you want in a nice looking lawn at home!
When learning how to sow grass seed, you should understand when to sow it to make sure it germinates quickly and establishes itself as soon as possible.
Sowing grass seed should be done when growing conditions are at their best. That means warm soil, plenty of moisture and good levels of sunlight. Ideally, you’ll also want to sow grass seed when there are fewer weed seeds floating around and germinating in your new lawn.
This means that the best time to sow grass seed is late summer/early autumn.
The soil will still hold the warmth of the summer, rainfall will start to increase and there will still be plenty of daylight hours. Also, weeds tend to be in larger numbers in spring and early summer, much less so at this time of year.
Avoid sowing grass seed during the summer, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to give the soil the moisture it needs to promote germination and growth. And although some people say winter is a brilliant time to sow seed, I’d advise against it.
Grass seed germination can take from 5 to 30 days. It depends on several factors including;
- The variety of grasses in the seed mix
- How much moisture is in the soil
- The temperature of the soil and air
- And MANY other factors
But generally speaking, you should start to see new grass shoots within a couple of weeks.
To create a new lawn, or repair an existing lawn you’re going to need the right tools and equipment.
Here’s what you may need (or may not need, depending on your situation);
If you’re replacing an existing lawn you should apply a glyphosate weedkiller to the whole area. This will kill the whole lawn and any weeds or weed grasses.
This will prevent any weeds or weed grasses from the old lawn growing amongst your new grass seed.
Elixir Glyphosate Weedkiller is my favourite.
If your existing lawn is small, a spade is a good tool for removing the existing turf and digging over the soil underneath to prepare the ground to receive new grass seed.
Digging over the soil manually is hard work though, so expect to ache afterwards.
Petrol Turf Cutter (If You Have Large Lawns)
Even on a small, 30 square meter lawn, using a spade or turfing iron is hard graft!
If you have a big lawn or lots of lawns, stripping the turf manually will be exhausting and could even result in injury.
If you have large areas of turf that need removing, you should really consider buying or hiring a petrol turf cutter.
Again, if you’ve only got a small lawn you should be able to dig and turn the earth with a spade and a bit of hard graft.
But if you’re working on big lawns you’ll need a rotavator to turn the earth for you. Doing it with a spade will be backbreaking and again, could result in injury. Rotavating the soil will be far quicker and so much easier on your back!
The best looking lawns are flat. They don’t have to be level as this will aid water runoff but they are flat.
The easiest way (and this is a secret most pro’s don’t share) to make an area flat is to use a landscaping lute.
You can buy landscaping lutes but the bigger ones can cost several hundred pounds. You don’t need to spend that kind of money!
Get a pack of 2×4 timber, some wood screws and a few meters of rope from your favourite builder’s merchants and make a bigger, better lute of your own for around £30.
There is a video further down the page that shows you what a homemade lawn lute looks like and how to use it.
You’ll need a rake to rake the new grass seed into the soil once it has been levelled and prepared.
A landscaping rake with strong tines and a flat back is the ideal tool for this job.
Soil Improver or Topsoil (Optional but Recommended)
I always recommend you do what you can to improve the soil before laying turf or sowing new grass seed.
My favourite product for this is Rolawn’s Turf and Lawn Seeding Topsoil. This will improve the soil structure and promote good root development. It also comes with a lawn establishment fertiliser mixed into it.
If you use this topsoil, there’s no need to use a fertiliser.
Mole Mesh (Optional, if You Have Moles)
If your current lawn has fallen victim to molehills in the past, or if you live rurally, it might be a good idea to lay some Mole Mesh as you prepare the ground.
This won’t prevent moles from tunnelling under your lawn but it will prevent them from creating molehills and making your lawn an uneven, lumpy mess.
You can buy Mole Mesh on Amazon fairly cheaply.
At the very minimum, you need to fertilise the soil before spreading grass seed.
If you don’t, the roots will have a hard time establishing themselves and the whole lawn will be very slow to grow.
Rolawn’s GroRight Lawn Establishment Fertiliser is the best I’ve come across.
Grass Seed and Fertiliser Spreader
Spreading grass seed or a pre-lawn fertiliser evenly on a small lawn can be done fairly easily by hand.
Or you can get little handy spreaders that’ll help do it that bit quicker and more evenly.
However, if you have a large area that needs seeding and fertilising, invest in a bigger spreader. It’ll make the job so much quicker and easier.
When you’ve decided on the type of lawn you want, how you’ll use it and the soil type, choose the best grass seed for the job.
It’s always a good idea to order more than you need so you’ve got the same seed mix if and when you need to overseed or renovate your lawn in the future.
Hose and Sprinkler
With the grass seed spread and raked into the soil, you’ll need to keep the ground moist in order for the seed to germinate and new grass roots to grow and establish.
The best way to water the lawn gently without washing the grass seed away is to do it with a sprinkler.
Before creating your new lawn, you’ll need to calculate how much grass seed, topsoil and/or pre-seeding fertilising you’ll need.
Here’s how to do it;
The first step is to dig a small hole in your lawn and take a look at the soil. Is it heavy, does it feel like clay, dry, wet, or sandy?
If your soil is heavy and clay-like, it’s a good idea to mix in a sandy topsoil. This will help improve drainage. Rolawn’s sandy, lawn seeding topsoil is perfect for this. It also has a pre-seeding fertiliser mixed in so you won’t need to buy an extra fertiliser.
If your soil is dry and sandy, Rolawn’s soil improver is very fertile and will help it to retain moisture and oxygen. This doesn’t have a fertiliser mixed in so you’d need to apply one.
At the very least, you need to use a pre-seeding fertiliser. Your lawn won’t grow and establish well without it.
You need to measure your lawn to figure out the square meterage. If your lawn is a rectangle or square then measuring it will be easy. It’s simply a case of multiplying the length by the width.
For example, if your lawn is 8 meters long and 6 meters wide, you’d multiply those numbers together;
8 x 6 = 48, or 48 meters squared
Measuring an oval, round, or odd shaped lawn is a bit trickier.
Take a piece of graph paper and allocate one large square to a square meter.
Next, measure the length and width of your garden and mark it out on your paper.
Now you’ve got the whole area of the garden marked out, draw the shape of your lawn as accurately as you can (it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect) so it’s to an approximate scale.
Count the number of full squares and make a note of that number. Then, add together the partial squares and guestimate that number. Add the square meterage of full squares to the number of partial square metres together and you’ll have a fairly accurate square meterage.
Depending on how confident you are, you might add 5% – 10% to compensate for any mismeasuring.
Or, you can use Rolawn’s Product Measuring Calculator.
To keep things simple, I’m going to take my fictitious 8m x 6m (48m squared) lawn and calculate how much seed and fertiliser I need using Rolawn’s calculator;
According to Rolawn, I need two boxes. Strictly speaking, you’d only need one box to cover 48m as that is what Rolawn say one box will cover. However, you might need to apply extra seed to areas that might not germinate the first time around. And it’s always a good idea to have some left over for repairs and renovations in the future;
Now let’s calculate the amount of pre-seeding fertiliser.
Again, I’d only need one bag as one bag will cover 125m squared.
This might seem like far too much. However, this fertiliser can be used as a top feed as well as a pre-seeding fertiliser. This means you can re-apply it 3-4 months after you sow the grass seed. Most other fertilisers shouldn’t be applied until a new lawn is least 6 months old. Rolawn’s pre-seeding fertiliser is perfectly safe to apply as a top feed so it’ll give you 6 – 8 months worth of feeding;
Calculating the amount of topsoil or soil improver you need is also very easy.
Simply take the square meterage of your lawn and multiply it by the depth of material you need.
For example, let’s say you need 10cm of topsoil or soil improver to mix in with your current soil. You’d multiply the square meterage by the depth of topsoil so it would look like this.
48 x 0.10 = 4.8m cubed.
That’s how much topsoil you’d need.
Again, we can use Rolawn’s calculator to do it for us.
Once you’ve figured out how much grass seed, fertiliser, topsoil or soil improver you need, go ahead and order it.
It’ll normally take a few days to arrive. When you arrange delivery it’s important to give yourself enough time to remove the old lawn if you have one and rotavate the soil.
Rolawn have created a video that shows you exactly how to prepare the ground for sowing grass seed.
Watch it as many times as you need to;
If you have an existing lawn where you want to create your new one, you’ll have to remove it.
For the best results, it’s advisable to kill off the whole lawn a couple of weeks before you plan to replace it.
This will prevent any weeds and weed grasses from the old lawn from growing into the new one.
Apply it as per the manufacturer’s instructions and give it a good 2 weeks to kill everything off. You’ll see the whole lawn become drier and browner with each day.
Once the lawn is completely dead, remove the turf.
Depending on the size, you can do this with a spade or turfing iron, but be prepared for some hard work! However, if it’s a large area, it’ll be much quicker and a lot easier to hire a turf cutter.
The old turf can be composted, taken to your local recycling centre or thrown in a green waste skip.
If you’ve removed the old lawn, or have an area that you plan to sow grass seed on, you’ll need to dig over or rotavate the soil to break up the clumps and aerate it.
Rotavate to a depth of at least 15cm. 20cm is even better.
If you’re doing this with a spade, again, be prepared for some back-breaking work. It’s really not something you should do if you’ve got a lot of soil to work. If you’ve got a large area to turn, do it with a rotavator.
Do this when the soil is dry. Wet, clumpy soil is hard to work.
Be sure to remove any large stones, rocks, old tree roots or any other debris as you go.
Once you have rotavated the soil, dig in your topsoil or soil improver. Spread it evenly across the whole area and rotavate it again to mix it in thoroughly.
Optional Step: If You’re Worried About Moles Ruining Your New Lawn
If you’re worried about Mole making a mess if your new lawn, remove 2-3 inches of soil. Then, lay the Mole Mesh and pin it down before replacing the soil.
Laying the mole mesh a few inches below the surface will stop any moles from getting close enough to the surface to cause any visible damage.
It’ll also be deep enough so you don’t damage it when you scarify or aerate the lawn in the future.
Take your landscaping rake and move the soil around until it’s kind of level. You don’t need to be precise here because the next step is to level it properly with a landscaping lute.
The video below shows what a homemade landscaping lute looks like and how to use one.
Once you have the area as flat as possible you need to tread the soil.
This involves treading over the soil, taking very small steps with your weight over your heels. This is why it’s also known as ‘heeling’ the area.
Do this twice in different directions. Go lengthways and then widthways.
If you don’t tread the soil, the whole area will settle as it rains, causing a bumpy, uneven surface. Treading the soil compacts it and prevents this settling from happening.
Don’t skip this step!
If you’re not using a topsoil, or your chosen topsoil doesn’t come pre-fertilised, you’ll need to add a pre-seeding fertiliser.
If you have a small lawn, you can spread it fairly evenly by hand. That said, it’ll always be more even if you use a spreader.
With your pre-seeding fertiliser applied, rake it into the soil.
This will take your heeled surface and mix the fertiliser into it while at the same time, create a fine tilth.
So, how to sow grass seed…
It’s a simple process as the video from Rolawn below explains;
The specified rate for many grass seed mixes is 35g per square meter.
It’s best to do this with a number of passes to ensure you spread the seed as evenly as possible. If you have a small lawn, this can be done by hand fairly easily. However, I’d still recommend you use a spreader as it’s quicker and more accurate – especially on larger lawns.
Be careful not spread seed onto paths and into borders. You can always spread seed at the edges of the lawn by hand.
Take your landscaping rake and lightly rake the grass seed into the top 12mm – 25mm of soil. Be careful to keep the area as flat as possible, you don’t want a bumpy surface.
To ensure a good contact between soil and seed, either tread the area again or use a lawn roller.
Critically, you need to keep the soil moist.
If not, the grass seed has no chance of germinating. But you need to be careful about how you water the area. If you’re too rough you risk drowning the grass seed or washing it away.
So, get a sprinkler that has a fine spray setting.
Water deeply, for an hour every couple of days when there is no rain. You should see the grass seeds germinate within 10 – 14 days.
It’s inevitable that weed seeds will blow in and contaminate your new lawn. Remove them by hand as soon as you see them. Don’t put a weedkiller on them as the grass seedlings are too delicate and you’ll kill them.
And because the seedlings are so delicate, be very careful about where you stand, how you walk, crouch and turn on the soil. You could damage them. It’s a good idea to use a couple of wooden planks to walk on.
After 8 – 12 weeks your lawn will start to look like a lawn but the chances are it’ll look a bit scruffy. This is ok.
Wait until the grass is between 6cm – 8cm high and mow the lawn. You only want to take the top off the grass, so set the mower on a high setting. This mowing encourages the grass to root deeply and grow sideways shoots and in turn, more leaves which thicken the lawn.
Keep removing any weeds and weed grasses that have snuck in.
Depending on the growing conditions your lawn might look really good during the autumn. However, you might see there is still a lot of bare soil.
If this is the case, don’t worry. Take some of the excess grass seed and spread into the bare soil. This can be done during autumn but also in winter, providing it’s mild and not cold.
Grass seed will germinate between 8 – 12 degrees Celsius which means you should have plenty of opportunities to sow new seed.
As spring rolls around the grass will start to grow much more quickly so you’ll need to cut it more often. This will further cause the grasses roots to grow sideways and knit together creating a thicker, lusher lawn.
Spring is also the time when weed seeds are in their highest numbers, so keep an eye on the weeds in your lawn. You’ll still need to remove them by hand at this point as the grass won’t be so tolerant of weedkillers until it’s a good 12 months old.
By the time summer arrives, your new lawn should look fantastic!
In this guide, I’ve shown you, step-by-step, how to sow grass seed to create a new lawn.
As you can see, creating a new lawn from seed can take a few months. It’s often not a quick process which makes laying turf a tempting alternative.
That said, if you want to create an ornamental lawn, it’s often the only way to to do it as there are very few suppliers of ornamental turfs.
Now it’s Your Turn
If you’ve been trying to find out how to sow grass seed, I’d love to hear what you think of this guide.
If you have any questions, want to share your experiences or if you don’t fully understand something, please leave a comment below and I’ll jump in and answer you.
I’d also love to see your pictures too. If you have any before and after pictures, send them in. I’d love to share them with the community.