Grass seed is the cheapest way to create a new lawn. The team at Turfonline offer advice on choosing and sowing grass seed.
Choose grass seed wisely
There are dozens and dozens of different brands and types of grass seed on the market. Your challenge is to find the right one for your soil type and your lifestyle.
For a family lawn
Look for hardwearing grass species such as dwarf perennial ryegrass and smooth stalked meadowgrass. Don’t be frightened by the species names – modern varieties are not in the least bit “agricultural looking”. For a velvety texture, add in some fescues. Chewings fescue is good and so is slender creeping red fescue.
A family lawn needs to cope with all sorts of activities. Choose a grass seed that will grow into a hardwearing lawn.
Be very wary of mass-marketed brands of grass seed that claim to grow really fast and crowd out weeds…they’re not all suited UK weather or expectations. Some of our customers have been sorely disappointed with the long-term results.
For a shady lawn
There are shade tolerant grass seeds available. They do cost more but they’re worth it.
Prepare the soil well
It’s more difficult to control emerging weeds in a newly seeded lawn than it is on a turfed lawn. So be sure to remove ALL vegetation before you start. Even the roots. Especially the roots of perennial pests like dandelions, bindweed and creeping buttercup.
If the area to be seeded has a lot of weeds growing in it, apply a systemic weedkiller 3 weeks before you start disturbing the soil. I’m not a fan of herbicides but sometimes a stitch in time saves nine.
Preparing soil for grass seed
Dig deep and remove debris and large stones as you go. If you think you will be tackling builders’ rubble as you prepare your soil for seeding – try to dig it out before you use a mechanical rotator. Trust me – I have the first-hand experience of violent vibrations and bent blades. Painful AND expensive!
Grass needs a depth of at least 15cm of friable soil to thrive in. Don’t cheat at this stage because you can’t re-dig the area once the lawn has established. That depth of soil gives a nice deep root run to help grass cope with summertime drought. It also helps carry excess water away from the surface of the lawn.
Rake and tread, rake and tread until you have a firm (but not hard) surface and a nice fine tilth. Then add some pre-turfing fertiliser so that the emerging plants will be well nourished.
Don’t be too generous with grass seed
The biggest mistake that most people make when sowing grass seed is to put too many seeds in too small an area. It doesn’t need to be slathered on thickly. Each seed will make a plant. Each plant needs room to grow and plenty of daylight. When plants are too close together they become sickly and weak. Sometimes a fungal disease will attack crowded seedlings and kill them. Just like salt on your chips – it’s better to go sparingly and then add later if you think it needs it.
Water well and don’t stop until the plants are strong
Watering isn’t often a problem in the UK. Mother Nature is normally very generous with rainfall in spring and autumn. (She’s certainly done us proud this spring!). However, it’s really important that you don’t let your seeded lawn dry out until the plants are really well established.
Start watering on the day you sow the seed and check every day that the soil is damp. Surface water isn’t enough. The soil needs to be moist to at least 1cm deeper than the roots.
It won’t take long for the seed to germinate if the soil is warm and moist. First to appear will be the roots and they’ll immediately start burrowing into the ground. You might not notice root growth. Roots are pale-coloured, like the seeds and you have to look closely to see them. Once you see green fuzz appearing, the roots are already starting to do their job.
As a rule of thumb, newly seeded grass has roots roughly the same length as the grass blades. So if you can see 2cm of leaf, there’ll be 2cm root underground. Your job is to make sure the soil is damp below the roots – that way you’ll encourage them to dig deeper.
Don’t scalp a developing lawn – use the mower to nurture lush growth
Scalping a young lawn will do more harm than good. However, your lawn mower is your biggest ally in helping your newly germinated lawn to thicken up.
You can start mowing once the grass blades are around 8cm (3 inches) long. To start with, just take off the tips of the grass blades. That will encourage more grass to grow from the base of the plants. Remove all of the clippings so that they don’t block the light from the young plants.
After the first 2 or 3 cuts you can start lowering the mower blades but please don’t ever cut off more than ¼ of the length and never cut a young, ryegrass, lawn shorter than 5cm. It needs to be able to harvest the sun’s energy to grow strong roots.
For help and advice
The team at Turfonline are always happy to answer your questions on any aspect of lawn growing. Here’s how to contact them.
Useful information for anyone creating a new lawn