To grow grass is one of the most basic yet essential knowledge in the gardening world. Looking at your average garden lawn, you might think there’s a simple plant that does all the work.
However, lawns are complex ecosystems made from multiple types of grass, harboring mosses and small weeds which help to create a perfect, pristine green carpet of grass in your garden.
In this article, we’re going to share the best way how to grow grass seeds, and how to find the best mix of grass seed for your garden, because every garden is different, every family uses lawns differently, and, most importantly, grasses perform differently depending on your climate.
What is Lawn Grass?
Lawn grasses are clump-forming perennial plants, chosen for their ability to respond to regular cutting. The dense mat created by lawn grasses is a combination of single plants fanning out, and their roots spreading under and over the ground.
Lawn grass seed is great for starting new lawns on a budget, and for repairing patches of damaged lawn. In this article, we’ll share how to do both.
While most lawn grasses look best at 1-2” tall, many can look wonderful if allowed to flow out into prairie-style planting at the end of the garden.
This kind of wild gardening isn’t up everyone’s street, but it’s important to understand how these grasses would grow in their natural environment to help provide the best care for any type of lawn.
Festuca, Poa, Lolium, Agrostis
Lawn grass, Fescues, Meadow Grass, Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Bentgrass
Perennial ground cover
2ft tall (uncut), unlimited spread
Partial shade to full sun
Poisonous for Pets:
Non-toxic to cats and dogs
How Does Grass Grow?
Grass stolon and rhizomes
Grass is an incredibly well-selected plant for its purpose spreading relatively slowly on shallow roots called rhizomes underground, and overground roots called stolon, which helps to form a thatch beneath the visible grass blades.
Most gardeners will be familiar with rhizomes as the thick roots growing at the base of Iris, Anemones or other perennial border plants. The rhizomes spread out from root crowns at the base of grass stems, moving horizontally underground.
Botanically speaking, when you see new grass emerging next to grass shoots grown from seed, this is when the grass has truly begun to establish as a lawn.
Stolon, the thatch-forming overground roots, which connect one plant to the next move faster in summer, making the most of surface water before it is evaporated.
Choosing grasses that spread on stolon is very much advised for those living in warmer climates further south.
How does grass respond to cutting?
Later in this article, we’ll talk about how and when to cut your new lawn after seeding, but first, make sure you understand what cutting lawns is really doing to these tiny plants.
When you cut grass, you remove part of the stalk (made of collars and culms). Collars are the base of each leaf, wrapped around an inner stalk called a culm, which carries water to the leaves. The culm is nodes along its length, which branch into new leaves (grass blades) when cut.
Grass nodes shoot into new leaves when you cut above them, which actively thickens your lawn, but as you continue cutting grass back it will respond by sending up new shoots from the root crown, allowing more, shorter, blades to catch the light.
This makes up for their restricted height and gives us the thick thatched green lawns we know and love.
Different Types of Lawn Grass
Knowing what lawn grass seed is best for you is complicated. There’s no easy way to say it. There are hundreds of different varieties of lawn grass seed, but below we’ll look at some of the more important properties of the nine most common lawn grass seeds you can buy in the US.
Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Ryegrass is a tough, durable grass, made famous for its use at Wimbledon, the world’s biggest grass-court tennis tournament. The pristine striped lawns of Wimbledon center court are sowed annually with 100% perennial ryegrass seed as the only grass that can truly stand up to high traffic of two weeks of constant sliding and stamping.
Ryegrass is ideal for cooler climates and doesn’t do well in drought, so should be avoided in warmer states without ready access to water from sprinkler systems.
The ideal use scenario for ryegrass is for heavy traffic lawns, where wear and tear are the biggest issues.
Fescues are perfect for lush green lawns, typically chosen for their color, but with slightly different characteristics depending on the variety of fescue grass you choose:
- Fine Fescue (Festuca rubra var. Commutata)
- Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)
- Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Red fescue is the toughest fescue grass, naturally growing to about a foot tall if untrimmed, so responds well to close cutting. The name comes from the red flowers if your lawn is left untrimmed, rather than the color of the grass blades themselves.
Fine fescue has tough, creeping rhizomes that thicken up incredibly quickly compared to most lawn seeds, but the blades are (as the name implies) fine, and are great for comfortable lawns if you like sitting out in the garden for a picnic.
Tall fescue is fast-growing, so needs regular maintenance but has the excellent quality of being ideally suited for dry, warm, conditions, so can hold its color through hot summers even in southern states.
For wild lawns, meadow grass is ideal, but for formal gardens, it is a real problem. The low-growing blades spread outwards across the floors, helping to suppress weeds, allowing spikes of tall grass to flower, and tougher perennial meadow flowers to poke through.
Meadow grass is a great way to limit prairie planting and help keep it under control, but should never be included in a standard lawn seed mix as it is very quick to seed into beds and borders.
Bluegrasses are great for shaded gardens where most lawn seeds would fail to germinate, or even sustain themselves from sod. There are two common forms of Bluegrass in the Poa family:
- Rough Bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
- Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
Rough Bluegrass is shade tolerant and can cope with short periods of drought, but prefers moist shade where possible. The tough blades create a thick carpet of lawn quickly, matting together with dense new shoots after the first couple of mows.
For shadier gardens or cold climates, this is perfect lawn grass as it can easily withstand prolonged frosts. The only downside of bluegrass is that it isn’t particularly tough, growing mostly from stolons rather than rhizomes, meaning it has less anchoring in the soil.
Kentucky Bluegrass spreads more through rhizomes than Rough bluegrass, and its active growing seasons are fall and winter, making it a slightly unusual grass in that respect.
The shallow roots don’t anchor further than the rhizomes, so it’s not as tough as ryegrass, but certainly tougher than rough bluegrass.
Bentgrasses are perfect for short lawns, whether that’s for golf courses, or just for gardeners who love being precise. The stolon can grow up to 1.2m long, creating a significantly denser thatch than most grasses, which sends shoots up right along the stolon, and tap roots into the soil.
- Colonial Bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis)
- Creeping Bentgrass (Agrostis palustris)
Colonial bentgrass has a finer texture than creeping bentgrass, with upright leaves that cut neatly, but no need for regular mowing. Colonial bentgrass is one of the few grasses which really does need regular watering and feeding wherever it is.
Creeping bentgrass is very high maintenance, and really only suitable for commercially managed lawns. The pristine strips of mowed golf course and bowling greens are typically sowed with creeping bentgrass, but that level of care and attention needs to be paid to keep it looking good.
Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Common Bermudagrass loses its color in the winter, but recovers well in spring, often referred to as semi-deciduous, but in reality, this grass is just doing what it needs to provide lush green lawns through the warmer seasons.
The stolons develop quickly, and are replaced by fresh growth each year, so will need regular dethatching. For easier management, you can find hybrid Bermuda grasses like Tifway II, Santa Ana and Tifgreen, which are more drought-tolerant and can tolerate heavy traffic.
They will still need dethatching every two years, but won’t be ruined if you miss a year like Common Bermudagrass.
Zoysia grass (Zoysia japonica)
Zoysia grass is one of the lushest green lawn grasses you could ever buy and is well worth investing in if you’re aiming for a traditional lawn, bordered by neat hedges, and perennial borders that don’t need much maintenance.
The only problem with Zoysia grass is that it doesn’t hold up well to regular foot traffic. Instead, consider Bermudagrass or a mix of Fescue and Ryegrass for higher foot traffic lawns.
Floratam (Stenotaphrum secundatum 'Floratam')
Floratam is a cultivar of St Augustine’s grass and is well worth considering if you’ve had problems with SAD virus on your lawn before. If you’re re-seeding a lawn or cultivating a new area of lawn, Floratam is a great disease-resistant lawn grass with tough, wide blades that grow rapidly from spring to late summer.
For cooler climates, traditional St. Augustine’s grasses have better frost resistance and grow better in shade than Floratam.
One curveball I want to throw in is centipede grass. For most gardeners, centipede grass will sound like a complete nightmare, but there are some properties that make it well worth considering.
Centipede grass has better cold tolerance, and drought tolerance than most grasses, growing on thick stolons which spread slowly and grows slowly even in the middle of summer (its peak growing season).
Centipede grass will turn brown in winter, but in spring, it quickly turns back to a lush green, which needs mowing far less frequently than any other lawn grass.
So no, you won’t get a perfect lawn with centipede grass, but it’s definitely the best grass for lazy gardeners.
How to Grow Grass Seeds
Sowing Grass Seeds
Grass seed is really quite easy to sow, but there are a few preparatory tricks you’ll need up your sleeve to make the most of your ideal grass seed mix.
How to prepare ground for grass seed
Before you go out and buy a bag of grass seed, it’s worth getting the ground ready first. Every garden is different, so you will need to till or cultivate the soil before sowing anything, and either improve drainage or reduce it depending on conditions.
For clay soils, cultivate as deep as you can, then mix through sharp sand with a cultivator again until the soil structure is more free draining. For fast-draining sandy soils, mix organic matter like compost or leaf mold through the soil to incorporate a better source of water retention.
Tools you will need:
- Pegs and string
- Cultivator or tiller - refer to our reviews of the 10 best rototillers for 2022
- Lawn roller - we reviewed 6 of the best lawn rollers available online.
- Sharp sand or compost
- Mark out your lawn using pegs and string
- Cultivate or till the entire area
- Add compost or sharp sand if needed to improve or reduce drainage
- Rake the entire area level
- Use a lawn roller to gently compact the earth
Or, walk back and forth in small steps, making sure to compress every last inch of soil. This is cheaper but will take a long time.
- You’re ready to sow grass seed
How much grass seed to sow
As we’ve said throughout this article, all grasses are different, and all soils are unique, so you will need to weigh up your grass seed (literally) against your soil, depending on the variety you choose.
As a basic guide, we’ve put a table together to illustrate the average spread of grass seed per 1000sq.ft depending on variety:
Note: For overseeding small areas, 0.01lb translates to a small pinch in the palm of your hand -roughly a teaspoon.
How to sow a lawn
There are two ways to sow a lawn – the right way, and the cheap way. If I’m completely honest, DIY lawn spreading by measuring out seed and throwing it onto patches of earth does work, but you will have to wait longer for an even lawn.
Using a drop spreader to create even rows of lawn will not only give you better results but be easier to keep track of thanks to the neat rows of grass seed you’ll lay, which create a tougher meshed root system as a result.
Below, we’ll run through how to grow grass seed the right way:
Tools you will need:
- Drop spreader - check out our guide on fertilizer spreaders which can also be used for grass seeds.
- Grass seed - see our review on the best grass seeds here.
- Choose a dry day.
- Set up a string line along the length of your lawn*.
- Fill your drop spreader hopper, making sure the hopper is closed.
- Set the drop rate to match the speed requirements per sq ft. / sq m.
- Walk slowly forward using the string line as a guide.
Don’t worry about stepping on seeds, it won’t affect their germination until after they’ve been watered.
- Turn in a neat semicircle at the end of the first row, and walk back parallel to that row. Repeat until you’ve seeded the entire lawn space.
- Finish by walking carefully around the edge of the lawn to seed over any sections missed when turning.
- Close the drop spreads, and tidy up.
* The best direction to set up your first row is at 90 degrees to the midday sun. This creates more even light for growing seedlings, which won’t be sprouting in the shadow of others in their row. This won’t make a big difference but is useful for shady gardens.
How to repair lawn patches with grass seed
Oversowing grass seed is a great way to fix patchy lawns, whether it’s caused by pets or bad weather. Oversowing should always be done in the same mix of grass seed as your lawn was originally composed of, to avoid mismatching colors or textures.
Oversowing lawns just means sowing seed over existing lawns to replenish any brown patches caused by drought or freezing winters.
To oversow any lawn, use a teaspoon amount of grass seed and sprinkle it over 1m squared (about 9sq ft. of lawn). Water well, and that’s it. Just avoid walking on that patch for a couple of weeks, and water it once a day for a fortnight.
Note: It’s worth keeping a few pounds of grass seed somewhere dry and dark for a year after sowing, so you can add in any thin patches the following spring.
When to Sow Grass Seed
It’s possible to sow grass from spring, right through to late fall depending on the variety, and your climate, but it's best to sow most grass seed in spring.
Sowing grass in spring
Spring is the best time to sow grass. The weather is cool, but not cold, and there is moisture in the air, plus regular rainfall. Any lawns sowed in spring will need watering once a day, making sure the ground is wet, but not puddling.
Watering twice daily after sowing grass seed in spring will help with even germination.
Sowing grass in summer
Sowing grass seed in summer is simple, and generally advised as it's right in the middle of grass growing season, and will give the fastest results provided the grass is kept well-watered and sown into slightly moist soil.
The challenges of sowing grass in summer are mostly about timing. Find a few dry days, where you can water the soil really well, and then leave it for a day or two before sowing with a drop spreader. This means there is moisture in the soil already, without it being too wet to work with.
Following sowing, sprinkle the grass until the soil is visibly moist, then repeat watering once to twice per day for the next two to three weeks.
Sowing grass in fall
Centipede grass can be sown in fall if the weather is mild enough. Centipede grass has its active growing season through winter and spring and germinates best in cooler, wetter temperatures thanks to its preference for cool shade.
For most other grasses, sowing in fall should be avoided as it can lead to patchy germination and a clear need for reseeding in spring. Sowing in fall can also mean grass won’t grow efficiently enough in its first year to be able to mow before dormancy.
How Long Does it Take for Grass Seed to Grow
Planting Grass Seed in Spring
One of the best reasons spring is good for planting is the rain. Grass seeds need to stay wet, otherwise they die. This is crucial for the germination stage, which can take 30 days or longer in cooler weather.
Plan to water daily so the ground stays moist until the seeds sprout. If you decide to plant grass in the spring, you will need to pick grass seeds that do well in the cooler seasons.
One great example is bluegrass; it germinates the best in fall or spring. You should look for C3 grass seeds. Bluegrass has a typical germinate time of 20 to 30 days because of cooler temperatures.
If you need a quicker germination and a warm spell is approaching, there are other faster varieties. Rye grass and fescue are able to germinate in 5 to 15 days. They do best when it is warmer than the typical spring.
Planting Grass Seeds in Summer
It is advised to plant grass in early summer before it becomes scorching hot. Summer can be a difficult time to grow grass because of the moisture requirements.
The typical spring showers give way to the sun beating down and drying out the ground for weeks at a time. When I have planted grass seeds in the summer, I find I have to water a lot more frequently in order to get the grass seed to germinate.
You don’t want to create swimming pool in your yard, so it needs time to soak in before you water again. I have found I need to water in the morning and summer in the hot Ohio summers in order to get it germinate. And using an expandable hose with brass fittings or oscillating lawn sprinkler system is the best option for watering in summer.
Summer grasses can take longer due to the excessive heat. They can take anywhere from 10 to 30 days. Spring has a larger variation in germination time because the temperatures can bounce and vary a lot. Summer temperatures tend to remain steady.
As you can see, answering this question depends on quite a bit of factors. The simple answer is to state it can take anywhere from 5 to 30 days. This answer is quite vague and frustrating.
There are some things to remember. If you plant in the summer and it is very hot, expect the grass seed to take up to 30 days to grow and remember to water well.
If you plant in the spring and have a warm spell, your seeds can grow quickly, maybe even 5 days! A cooler spring may take closer to the 30 day mark.
How to Care for Grass Seeds
Caring for lawns grown from seed is simple, but depending on the grass seed you have chosen can require additional fertilizer, or more regular mowing. Below we’ll look at a few important rules for caring for newly sown grass seed.
Watering New Grass Seeds
Grass seed takes up to a month to establish its roots in the soil, but will eventually form a mat that is perfectly suited, and joined on to your earth. The best way to help grass seed establish is to water it well at least once a day through spring or summer in its first year.
Water the ground two days before sowing grass seed to make sure there is a good amount of surface moisture, then wait for the top layer to dry out enough to walk over before sowing. After sowing, water immediately until water begins to pool. Stop before puddles occur.
The main problem is determining how much water is enough. If you overwater, you will notice puddles on the surface. The seeds will float, resulting in unevenly distributed seeds.
New grass sprouts can drown because the roots won’t be able to get oxygen. Avoid over-watering at all costs! You should also pay attention to use a suitable spreader before watering them to achieve the best results.
If the seeds are on a sloped ground, you want to reduce the length of time that you water and water more frequently. This practice helps to reduce the amount of runoff you experience. Also, adding mulch over the seeds can reduce seed movement and evaporation.
If you live in area with water restrictions or limitations, you may consider recycling water from your laundry. Grey water is safe for watering your garden provided you use an eco-friendly laundry detergent.
You can also use drip irrigation systems that feed water slowly out across the soil, well-suited for flower beds and gardens, as well as blended systems that make use of different irrigation methods to water areas of land that might have different patches of grass and flowers that demand different forms of treatmen
Forgot to Water Grass Seed? Here’s what to do
So, you’ve missed a day of watering grass seed? Not ideal but also not the end of the world. Dormant seeds can last up to 3 to 4 weeks.
Plus, over watering your grass seed can pose far worse than under-watering. Still, you want to try your best to ensure regular watering as dry spells in the soil will disrupt sprout growth.
Should you forget to water grass seed, here are some things you can do to help:
- Once you remember to water your grass seed, fully rehydrate the soil by making sure the soil is wet down to about 5-inches.
- Do your best not to disrupt the soil. Try to avoid walking over soil, etc.
- Watering in the mornings is recommended. Try to keep your watering consistent and in the mornings moving forward.
- If you are particularly concerned (and perhaps you forgot to water grass seed for longer than you should have) consider supporting your sprouts with some high phosphorous seed-sprouting fertilizer.
The best thing you can do is to return to a regular watering schedule and making sure your sprouts have moist soil moving forward.
A continued lack of irrigation may prove fatal for your grass seed.
When to Mow New Sown Grass
Grass seed should not be mowed until it has begun to root and spread. This might mean waiting until your grass is 2-3” tall depending on the variety, but typically, you can cut your new lawn for the first time after 3-4 weeks.
Grass seed, like all grass, is green across the top half of its stem. Cutting lower than this can cause brown, white, or bare patches of earth. This is even more important for newly seeded lawns. Never cut newly sown grass more than 1/3 of its total height as it is unlikely to recover quickly.
How to Fertilize Grass Seed
It is absolutely essential that you don’t fertilize grass seed until after its first cut. Grass is just like any other young plant – unable to take up nutrients. The root systems are geared towards water and growth, not nutrients, or color.
After mowing your lawn for the first time, use a drop spreader or broadcast spreader to distribute granular feed across your lawn, or try adding feed into your water using a hose attachment to auto-mix fertilizer into the water stream.
Fertilize Early and Get the Right Mix
Ideally, you should be applying the fertilizer either before you sow the grass seeds or while doing so. Now, fertilizers will generally have the three essential elements for plant growth: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
These are respectively referred to as N, P, and K on the fertilizer packages. Some fertilizers have an equal amount of N, P, and K. Other fertilizer mixes will have more nitrogen than the other two elements.
When fertilizing new grass, do not use a package with high amounts of these elements. High levels of N, P, and K, are beneficial for the growth of existing grass, but new grass does not need as much.
Thus, don’t pick any random fertilizer mix. Ensure that you get a quick-release starter fertilizer with just the right amount chemical element ratio.
Starter fertilizers for new grass aren’t made the exact same way, but they are likely to be a quick-release variant. In contrast to a slow-release fertilizer that is used often to prepare the lawn for the summer, a quick-release fertilizer immediately gives the grass seeds the nutrients they need.
In particular, the new grass will have a good germination period and their roots will be established fast.
Second Application of Fertilizer
After giving your new grass some quick-release starter fertilizer, it might still need more nutrients to grow. Not all lawn owners would need to a reapplication of fertilizer, but it’s not uncommon if you perform it again after three or four weeks.
This is when the new grass has reached a height ranging from an inch to 1.5 inches. By fertilizing again, you promote deep root growth while also preventing the proliferation of weeds.
Remember to use a lawn fertilizer instead of a starter fertilizer this time. The amount should range between about half to a pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Quick Tip on Weed-and-Feed Products
You might be considering the use of a weed-and-feed product for your second fertilizer application. However, we do not recommend this due to their effects on the new grass.
They usually have herbicides for treating broadleaf weeds or crabgrass affecting seed germination. The exception is the one that has Siduron, which is safe for use on grass seeds and seedlings.
Check our our detailed guide on when to apply weed and feed to find out the proper way and right time to use it.
How to Grow Grass Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to sow seed or lay sod?
Deciding between grass seed and sod can be tough, but both have their pros and cons. Grass seed gives you more choice, and will likely be tougher, and better rooted in your soil in the long run.
Sod is faster to establish and will have fewer weeds growing through for the first year. Sod is easier to lay, but more expensive, while grass seed needs more preparation, but is far cheaper.
For more information on sod, see our sod care guide which tackles when to mow, water and fertilize new sod.
What month is best to grow grass seed?
The best month to sow grass seed is April or May, giving you a full growing season or most grass varieties to establish, and have multiple cuts before going dormant for winter.
If you miss spring, it is best to wait until late summer or early fall when the cooler temperatures mean you won’t have to water as often as if you sow in summer.
Will grass seed grow if you just throw it on the ground?
Grass seed will germinate if you just throw it on the ground without any preparation, but it will struggle to truly establish. Grass is not tough rooted, and won’t have an easy time rooting through compacted soil.
Equally, clay or sandy soils will cause grass to suffer from, respectively, waterlogging or drought if they are not prepared properly.
Does grass seed need to be covered?
Grass doesn’t need to be covered with soil to germinate and will germinate better if left exposed to the sun for as much daylight as possible.
Pigeons and other native birds will completely ravage grass seed if there is no alternative food source available, as it’s an easy meal, spread evenly in plain sight across the floor.
To protect grass seed from birds, cover it with mesh, or cover sections of overseeding with chicken wire for a few weeks until they root.
That is Everything You Need to Know on How to Grow Grass in Your Lawn
I know I’m in the minority, but I do find grass truly fascinating, and taking the time to select your grass seed, and understand how and why it holds the properties it does is crucial for growing a healthy lawn.
So maybe we should all be a little bit nerdier when it comes to grass, and spend time getting to know our soils and our gardens rather than just buying sod.
Understanding how to grow grass for seed, and how long does it take for grass seed to grow, will ensure a healthy lawn for years to come, so if you lose your place on the next steps, be sure to come back and check our guide for more information.