When to use grass seed vs. “weed and feed” I have a stretch of my otherwise healthy South Florida, St. Augustin lawn that has thinned out over time. It’s a long, but relatively thin (maybe 15′ Follow this guide on how to plant grass seed for a wonderfully lush, green lawn or to repair bare spots With just a little know-how, you can bring to life a beautiful expanse of inviting green grass. We break down how to grow a lawn from grass seed into six simple steps
When to use grass seed vs. “weed and feed”
I have a stretch of my otherwise healthy South Florida, St. Augustin lawn that has thinned out over time.
It’s a long, but relatively thin (maybe 15′ by 3′), stretch of the yard that is in the shade most of the day.
The dirt below grass in the area that has thinned out looks great (rich and black).
I don’t want really want to lay down new sod in the area, so my question is, when should someone plant grass seeds versus using some sort of weed and feed?
What is a recommended brand of St. Augustin grass seeds?
4 Answers 4
Weed and feed products do not actually contain grass seed that I am aware of. They are for fertilizing and weeding existing lawns.
If the grass in this area is the same grass as is in the rest of your yard (which looks pretty open and sunny) then I would not expect that same cultivar to do well in dense shade as well.
A trip to a good garden store in your area will provide several options for grasses that will do better in the shade than the main grass that you have. Its pretty common to have to plant more than one type of grass in lawns that have ranges of sun vs. shade. Also keep in mind that sod is usually grown in open fields and therefore the cultivars planted by the sod farmers are those that do well in constant sun, which is not what you have in this area, so another reason not to use sod in this area.
I have found that one of the keys to getting new grass seed established is watering is keeping the establishing seeds moist. I try to water new seed 3 times a day for 10-20 minutes per cycle. After the first two to three weeks you can cut this back a bit. In my climate mixing the grass seed with some milled peat moss also help because the peat retains moisture.
How to plant grass seed – for a luscious and healthy lawn
Many gardeners crave a healthy green lawn, and knowing how to plant grass seed correctly is the most important first step in achieving luscious, soft grass.
A pristine lawn can make all the difference to the appearance of your backyard and is a year round feature of your garden to enjoy. If you choose the best fast-growing grass seed you can quickly see the results.
An important element of how to plant grass seed is getting the timing right, so make sure you first know when to plant grass seed in your zone to get off to a good start, and give the grass seed the best chance of germinating and producing healthy green blades.
Whether you are sowing a new area of lawn, or repairing patches in grass, you need to know how to plant grass seed to ensure success.
How to plant grass seed – what you need
Learning how to plant grass seed is an easy job for any gardener that requires only basic tools. To reseed small patches, you will simply need a garden fork, rake, grass seed and fertilizer.
If you are covering a large area, it will save you time to invest in a seed spreader. These can be bought inexpensively from garden centers or Amazon (opens in new tab) .
You may also want to use an aerator to loosen compacted soil and help distribute water and nutrients.
To get the best out of your lawn once it is planted and grown, set it off with stylish lawn edging ideas and care for it with one of the best ride-on lawn mowers.
What month should I plant grass seed?
The best month to plant grass seed will depend on the hardiness zone where you live.
‘Spring is a great time to fix those bare patches and the earlier we do it in the season, we will find that nature gives us a helping hand,’ says David Hedges Gower, chairman of the Lawn Association (opens in new tab) .
Early fall is also a good time to plant grass seed for a new lawn.
However, once the grass and lawn is more established, you can plant grass seed throughout the summer. ‘Healthy grass is consistent and if you find that you have a couple of bare spots in your lawn then you may want to consider overseeding. This is a great way to sow new seed over existing lawn and can lead to fuller looking grass,’ says Chris Bonnett, founder of GardeningExpress (opens in new tab) .
The best grass seed to use
Choosing the best grass seed will depend on your location, how much sunlight the lawn receives, and whether it needs to be durable enough to withstand backyard soccer games.
‘Identifying what grass currently grows in your lawn will give you a great indicator of what likes to grow there,’ says Hedges Gower. ‘Choosing the same variety makes success far easier in the long run.’
Grasses are broadly made up of cool-season and warm-season varieties – which type you choose will depend on your local climate.
Cool-season grasses include fescue, ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass and bentgrass, which grow better in cooler climates. Bentgrass and fescue are widely used in seed mixes, while ryegrass is particularly tough so a good choice for families.
Also known as Southern grasses, warm-season grasses include Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, St. Augustine grass and centipede grass. They thrive in areas with hotter summers and milder winters.
Bermuda and zoysia grasses are widely used throughout the south, while centipede grass is a good low-maintenance choice. St. Augustine is more shade tolerant than other warm-season grasses.
Many lawns are made up of a seed mix, rather than a single variety. ‘Seed mixtures are generally a blend of species to suit most lawns and guarantee a better strike rate,’ says Hedges Gower.
‘However, be aware that seeding ryegrass, for example, into a traditional lawn mixture will stand out like a sore thumb, and vice-versa.’
Options include luxury lawn mixes, shade-tolerant mixes, hardwearing family mixes, and fast-growing varieties. Choose a mix compatible with your climate and garden conditions.
How to prepare lawn for seeding
Good preparation is the most important aspect of learning how to plant grass seed. Luckily, getting it right is easy.
‘To prepare your soil before planting grass seed, simply till and loosen the soil to create the best growing conditions – you don’t need to put down topsoil,’ says Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love (opens in new tab) .
To till the soil, Hedges Gower recommends using a fork to lightly dig it over to a depth of about 2-3 inches. ‘This will allow new seedlings to take root,’ he says.
Remove any rocks and weeds as you go, but don’t apply weed killer as this will hinder growth.
‘If possible, leave the seed bed for a few weeks and then get rid of any weeds and rake in some lawn feed before sowing,’ says the experts at Johnsons Lawn Seed (opens in new tab) .
If you are applying seed to cover patches in a large lawn, it’s a good idea to use an aerator to punch holes into the ground and pull up small plugs of turf and soil.
‘Doing this has two benefits. The first is that some seed will fall into the holes and improve germination. The second is that aerating the soil reduces soil compaction and improves water infiltration,’ says Landscape Tutor (opens in new tab) Brian Walker. You can buy aerators on Amazon (opens in new tab) .
To give your grass seed a helping hand, it’s important to feed it. Depending on the product, you can apply pre-seeding fertilizer at the preparation stage, or you can wait until after you have sown the seed to use starter fertilizer.
Rake the soil level before planting the grass seed.
How to sow grass seed
For small areas, it’s easy to sow grass seed by hand. ‘Carefully spread the seeds on the ground and cover them with about a quarter of an inch of soil,’ says Noah James, owner of Liberty Lawn Maintenance (opens in new tab) .
‘Moisten the ground, mix the seed and scatter it evenly. Sow 1 1/4 ounces of seed per square yard (35g per square meter) half from right to left and the other half from left to right to ensure a good coverage,’ add the experts at Johnsons Lawn Seed.
For larger areas, use a spreader to sow the seed. ‘Trying to use your hands for large areas can lead to very uneven coverage of grass seed,’ says Walker. ‘I have found that push rotary spreaders do an excellent job. They apply the seed at a consistent rate for uniform coverage.’
Once you have sown your seed, carefully cover the seeds over with soil using either your hand or a rake.
‘Press the seeds down by standing on them or using a tool like a roller, because they need a firm seedbed,’ adds James.
Take care not to plant the seeds either too deep or shallow. ‘Bury them too deep and they will take longer to germinate. Too shallow and the seeds will be prone to drying out or being eaten by birds,’ says Hedges-Gower.
Once you have planted your grass seed, you can apply starter fertilizer if you didn’t do so prior to planting. Water immediately. ‘In case of dry weather use a fine spray to keep the seed bed well watered and moist,’ add Johnsons Lawn Seed experts.
Should I put topsoil over grass seed?
Do not put top soil over grass seed, but you can add a thin layer of organic matter to help the seed to germinate.
‘Never put topsoil over newly planted grass seed,’ says Yamaguchi. ‘This won’t provide healthy growing conditions – it will actually prevent the seedlings from sprouting by essentially suffocating them.’
‘Leaves, straw, and peat moss can be used to help hold moisture for the seed to germinate and grow,’ adds James.
Once the grass is more established then ‘top dressing is something you can do a couple of weeks after fertilizing a lawn if you’re really keen for your grass to grow. Mix together materials like sand, soil loam and peat and apply this to your dry grass. The materials will transfer nutrients back into the soil and promote growth,’ says Chris Bonnett.
How often should you water grass seed?
How often you should water grass seed will depend on the weather conditions and climate where you live. Watering is an important part of establishing your new grass, but be careful not to overdo it.
‘Too much water can make it sit too wet and too dry won’t allow the seed to germinate,’ says Hedges Gower.
‘As a rough guide, a patch of around 3×3 feet (1×1 metre) should need about 15-30 seconds of water every 2-8 hours, depending on how warm the weather is.’
Always check to feel how damp the soil is before applying more water.
Once the grass is established, only water when needed and know when to water grass. ‘Overwatering grass can lead to its demise and therefore grass should be watered during the cooler time periods and only once a week. When watering grass you are looking to water deeply to ensure there’s enough water to see through a drought, ‘add the experts at Marshalls (opens in new tab) .
To encourage strong, vigorous growth, How Cobra, manufacturer of garden lawnmowers, recommends watering lawns early in the morning when heat is at a minimum to reduce the amount of evaporation. ‘This allows water to penetrate the deeper into the root. An infrequent yet heavy dose of water is also recommended as it’s one of the most effective ways of stimulating stronger grass growth.’
Water butts are also a great way to collect and reuse any rainwater so that it can be saved to keep lawns hydrated and gardens watered as a sustainable garden idea.
How do you maintain brand new grass?
Feeding a new lawn is one of the most important steps to maintaining it after you have mastered how to plant grass seed .
‘Seedlings require a lot of food in the initial germination phase. We need to turn this into a nice lush adult grass plant as quickly as possible,’ says Hedges Gower.
Feed your lawn every 4-8 weeks until it is well established, then twice a year.
Don’t reach for the lawnmower too quickly. New lawns shouldn’t be mowed until the grass reaches three inches tall. Make sure you know how often you should mow your lawn so you don’t destroy all of your hard work in planting grass seed.
‘Reseeding lawns after heavy footwall will help recover dull patches and bring back its lush color,’ add the Cobra experts.
‘If filling in patches, continue to mow the lawn as usual but keep the blade slightly higher in order to allow the new seedlings a better chance to absorb more food and water,’ says Hedges Gower.
In addition, know how to aerate a lawn to improve a lawn’s overall health, and try to keep pets off the grass as their urine is high in nitrogen, which can easily scorch lawns when undiluted.
What is the easiest way to plant grass seed?
The easiest way to plant grass seed is by hand.
‘Carefully spread the seed throughout the areas where you want to see new growth occur,’ says James. ‘Lightly water thereafter in order to soak the seeds and help encourage new growth.’
Will grass seed grow if you just throw it on the ground?
Grass seed will not grow well if you just throw it on the ground. While you might be lucky and some grass seeds will take root, for a healthy patch of grass or lawn, it requires more care and attention, as outlined above.
It’s worth your time and effort learning how to plant grass seed as ‘the cheapest way to get a thriving garden is by growing a lawn by seed, as turf isn’t cheap and can be difficult to lay. With seeding, you’ve got much greater control over which species of seed are going into your new lawn,’ explains Carlos Real, managing director of TotalLawn (opens in new tab) .
How to Plant Grass Seed in Six Steps
If your spouse keeps telling you the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you might want to tackle the naked-earth lawn chore you’ve been dodging. We’ll show you how to plant grass seed in six steps. You’ll complete one of the most satisfying outdoor tasks a homeowner can accomplish (and maybe save your relationship).
Here’s how to plant grass seed in six simple steps:
Step 1: Remove the Existing Grass
Is your lawn happily surviving? If your grass is good, but could be better, you could overseed to plump up the existing lawn. For bare spots, use garden tools to roughen up the soil first. Then spread the grass seed over to fill in the bare patches.
If your yard is where feisty weeds go to party and half of your lawn lies naked, you should plan to renovate — remove the old vegetation. New baby grass seedlings cannot compete with that mess. If you’re starting from scratch with a new home build, and establishing a new lawn, you can skip to Step 2.
There are two ways to clean your lawn’s slate:
- Use a nonselective broad-spectrum herbicide. Follow label instructions carefully and don’t spray on a windy day.
- Use a sod-cutter, available at most rental companies. Mark your sprinkler heads before operating the cutter to avoid accidents.
Once the weeds and old sod are removed, loosen the soil bed so the new grass seeds’ roots can easily grow through. You can use hand tools (and your toughest friends), a tiller, or core aerator. You can find tillers and aerators at rental companies, as well.
Fill low spots in your yard using a half-and-half mixture of sand and topsoil. If necessary, grade your yard to keep rain or water flowing away from your home.
Step 2: Do a Soil Test, then Add Amendments
Once you have renovated your lawn – exposed and leveled the planting surface – you’ll need to test your soil for the best grass germination and growth. Test the soil as soon as you can. There can be a wait of up to two weeks for results and you could miss your ideal planting window.
At a minimum, you should test for pH. This is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most grasses like slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 7.
A simple moisture and pH tester can be found for $10. For about $20, you could test for the major nutrients in your soil. Your results will show the N, P, and K: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash.
The best soil tests include major and minor nutrients. Your state Extension service and private labs offer these services. Keep in mind your local Extension office can also provide great information and insight that private labs can’t, and usually at a lower cost.
Here are four very good soil tests you can buy on Amazon.
The test results should give you a plan and shopping list for your local garden shop. Follow application instructions carefully and add soil amendments to restore what it lacks. Again, use a tiller or hand tools to work the amendments in to a depth of 1-4 inches.
Step 3: Choose the Best Seed for Your Region
Your local seed expert will always give you the best advice when choosing your seed. Local Extension offices, seed stores, and agricultural suppliers are experienced and understand the microclimates of your area.
In northern states, select cool-season grass, which grows best when temperatures are 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses thrive in the late spring and early fall months in the northern two-thirds of the United States.
People living in Southern states should select a warm-season grass seed. Warm-season grasses thrive from late spring through summer.
Between the North and South is the transition zone where summers are hot and winters are cold. You’ll either need to find the most cold-tolerant warm-season grass available, or the most heat-tolerant cool-season grass.
Best Cool-Season Grasses for Northern States
- Bentgrass is a standard grass for golf course putting greens. Colonial Bentgrass is for home lawns and likes a low mow.
- Kentucky bluegrass is a classic choice for Northern lawns. It likes full sun and isn’t shade tolerant.
- Fine Fescue is a perennial bunchgrass and stands up in poorly drained areas.
- Tall fescue mix puts down deep roots and is drought tolerant.
- Creeping fescue is slow to germinate and spread, but tolerates shade, and is good for large lawns.
- Ryegrass (annual) can be used for a quick shot of green. The perennial ryegrass variety is best for high traffic and playgrounds.
Best Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States
- Bahiagrass has a coarse texture, is heat/drought tolerant, and is best for low traffic lawns.
- Bermudagrass is hardy and stands up to heavy traffic, but it’s high maintenance.
- Buffalograss is the only variety native to North America, highly drought tolerant, and needs little care.
- Centipedegrass grows slowly but has very low maintenance once established. In warm climates, it’s non-dormant, so it stays green year-round unless there’s a cold snap.
- Zoysiagrass is a slow grower, but one of the most cold-tolerant varieties of warm-season grasses.
- St. Augustinegrass is sold as sod, as its seedheads are sterile.
Best Grasses for Transition Zone States
The transition zone is a blend of temperature highs and lows, humidity, summer deluges, and drought.
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Perennial ryegrass
- Tall fescue
Single Variety, Blend, or Grass Seed Mix?
In addition to high-quality grass seed to match your climate, you also need to consider your lawn’s unique properties.
- Is it in full sun, shade, or a mix? A shade mix is great for dense shade.
- How much moisture will it get?
- Is the area heavily trafficked?
- How much time and effort do you want to spend maintaining the lawn?
Knowing your terrain will help you home in on the formulation of seed you want. Seeds are sold as pure seeds of one variety, blends (multiple types of the same variety), and mixtures (seed blends of different varieties).
Pure seed will give you a unified look. Blends will be less uniform, but one variety may cover up for the weaknesses of another. Grass seed mixtures provide the most biologically diverse lawn: the grass plants won’t look identical, but your lawn has a better chance of surviving diseases and droughts.
Step 4: Best Time to Plant Grass Seed
For cool season grass seeds, either spring or fall are the preferred times, since these northern varieties of grass prefer warm soil and cool air.
In the South, warm-season grasses can be planted from late spring to mid-summer. Wait until the last chance of a late frost has passed, and the daytime temperature is in the 80s.
One of the biggest keys to success is picking a high-quality seed that is right for your climate.
Federal Seed Act Ensures Proper Labeling
When it comes to selecting seeds, the Federal Seed Act requires seed sellers to provide consumers with valuable information on the seed’s label.
Under the law, the label must tell you:
- The name of the grass variety (or varieties).
- Its purity, that is, the weight by percentage of each type of seed.
- Germination percentage. The percentage of the seeds that you can expect to germinate. This is not a number the seed companies can fudge. The federal government expects seed producers to run regular germination tests and keep careful records.
- Weed seed percentage. Look for a seed that has less than 0.5 percent weeds.
Pure Grass Seed or Fertilizer/Mulch Mix?
You have one final decision to make. Are you going to purchase a seed that incorporates fertilizer and mulch, or purchase fertilizer and mulch separately? The all-in-one products are more expensive but are convenient.
Measure your lawn area in square feet, and purchase enough seed to cover that area. Usually, seed bags are marked as the number of pounds needed per 1,000 square feet. If possible, buy a little more than needed in case you want to reseed some bare spots.
If you are fertilizing separately, broadcast the fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Plant your Grass Seed and Fertilizer
To plant grass seed in small areas, hand-seeding is fine. For larger areas, seeders and spreaders provide more precise coverage. You can find hand-cranked spreaders, chest-mounted, or push-from-behind seeders. Drop seeders drop seeds directly below the unit. There are more expensive commercial seeding options as well.
Follow the instructions on the seed bag. If the seeder’s lowest setting seems too generous with the seed, thin it out with sand or vermiculite.
- For large lawns, fill the push spreader with seed.
- Spread half of the recommended seed north to south.
- On the second pass, spread east and west for even coverage.
- Rake the top ⅛-inch of the seeded surface lightly. Using the back of a leaf rake side-to-side makes this an easy job.
- If you have access to one, roll an empty lawn roller to improve germination.
“We call it ‘the seed-soil contact,’” said University of Illinois Extension office educator Richard Hentschel. “You want good seed-soil contact. If the seed and soil are not in intimate contact, the little root radicle may die out before it hits the soil.” The radicle is the first root to emerge from a seed.
If you have hilly areas, seeds will tend to wash away to a low point. One potential solution is hydroseeding: broadcasting seeds that are suspended in a fertilizer-mulch slurry. Professional landscapers often offer hydroseeding services, and there are some hose-end sprayers for the do-it-yourselfers.
Lawn-Starting Fertilizer: Watch the Phosphorus
You need to find out if your state restricts using fertilizers containing phosphorus. Most laws carve out an exception and allow limited application of phosphorus on new lawns, but turf experts say to let your soil test be your guide. If it says that your soil lacks phosphorus, then it’s acceptable.
Step 5: Aqua and Attention
Keep a careful eye on your new grass seeds. They only get one shot to germinate, so what you do now is critical. That means water. Keep in mind that different grass plants germinate at different times, so if you have a mixture of grass seeds, you’ll need to keep watering them until the slowest-germinating species emerges.
- Keep the top layer of soil moist (but not soggy) down to 1/2 inch. (Too much water is as bad as too little, and overly vigorous watering could wash the seeds away.)
- Water at least once a day in the morning and perhaps again in the afternoon if the sun and wind have dried out the soil.
A misting attachment on your hose can cut down on the amount of force you use. Part of your lawn may be shadier, part may have more porous soil, or part may be sloped. Adjust your watering according to your lawn’s needs.
Grass Seed Germination Rates, by Grass Type
- Bahiagrass seed: 10-28 days
- Bermudagrass seed: 7-28 days
- Kentucky Bluegrass seed: 14-21 days.
- Buffalograss seed: 7-10 days.
- Centipede grass seed: 14-28 weeks.
- Fescue grass seed: 10-14 days.
- Annual ryegrass seed, perennial ryegrass seed: 5-10 days.
- St. Augustinegrass: Rarely grown from seed, propagated by plugs and sod.
- Zoysia grass seed: 14-21 days.
Even if you planted just one turfgrass variety, the grass seeds won’t all pop up at once. Some will be buried a bit deeper or have a different rate of water absorption. Stay with your watering regimen until you’re sure the seeds have germinated.
Keep foot traffic to a minimum. You could consider putting up “Please keep off the new grass” signs to discourage accidental trampling by your kids and neighbors (and their dogs).
Step 6: When to Give your New Lawn its First Mow
Hooray! Your new lawn is green and it’s growing well.
Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:
- Bahiagrass: 2-2 ½ inches
- Bentgrass: 1 inch
- Bermuda: 1½-2 inches
- Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches
- Buffalograss: 2-3 inche
- Centipede: 1½-2 inches
- Fescue: 2-3 inches
- Perennial Ryegrass: 2-3 inches.
- Zoysia: 1-2 inches
Treat your New Grass like a Baby
Take advice from the ‘70s band, The Eagles. Slow down and take it easy the first few times you mow your new turfgrass. The roots won’t be long or well-established, so it will be easy to accidentally rip up the young plants.
Here are a few tips to ensure a successful first mow:
- Sharpen the mower’s blade so you cut, not tear, the tender plants.
- Start the mower off the lawn and minimize the number of turns you make with the mower.
- Don’t remove more than a third of the grass blade in one mow.
After the first mow, cut back on frequent shallow watering, and switch to watering a couple of times a week, deeply. Water six or eight inches deep to encourage your new lawn to root deeply. Once established the lawn will start spreading to cover any gaps.
After eight weeks, your lawn should be well-established. Hit it with a little more fertilizer to encourage deep roots, and take down your “Please keep off the new grass” signs; your new lawn is ready for fun.
It’s unlikely that grass seeds will grow on top of flat, bare soil. The seeds may germinate but the roots won’t be strong enough to penetrate the soil. It’s best to rough up the soil before sowing for the best seed-to-soil contact.
Don’t cover grass seed with topsoil. The seed needs light to germinate. To protect the seed from birds and washing away, use straw (weed-free) or an erosion-control blanket.
Expect to see tiny grass blades in 10-14 days. Other varieties of seed may take up to 30 days.
DIY or LSE (Let Someone Else)?
Some homeowners and renters love being weekend warriors, but some of the rest of us prefer anything else.
If you’re like me, and you would rather reap the rewards of great grass someone else sowed and mowed, consider hiring a lawn care pro. Give them a call early so they can begin testing and sowing seeds at the proper planting time for your area.
* Editorial Note: LawnStarter participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. LawnStarter may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.
LawnStarter writer Penny Warner updated this article.
Daniel Ray is LawnStarter.com’s former editor in chief. He is an award-winning writer and editor who previously was editor in chief of the personal finance websites Bankrate.com and CreditCards.com, but with 30 years of gardening experience, he’s well qualified to help consumers grow a different kind of green.
Yard work at the click of a button.
As seen in Forbes, CNBC and USA Today, LawnStarter makes it easy to schedule service with a local lawn care professional.
Get a quote in minutes.
Manage everything online.
Enjoy your beautiful lawn.
Do you want a
Get easy-to-understand, actionable yard tips that will give you the greenest grass on the block.