How to plant grass seed – for a flawless lawn

Discover how to plant grass seed to fix bare patches, or sow a verdant new lawn in time for summer

How to plant grass seed - Fine fescue
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing how to plant grass seed correctly is key to growing a lush, healthy lawn that will stand up to weather extremes.

A good lawn should be at the heart of your backyard, so start by choosing the best fast-growing grass seed to give it a strong start. 

While planting grass seed is an option for a whole lawn, it is most widely used for filling in bare patches.

Timing is essential, so find out when to plant grass seed in your zone to ensure your lawn has the best chance of success.

‘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.

To get the best out of your lawn, set it off with stylish lawn edging ideas and care for it with one of the best ride-on lawn mowers.

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.

You may also want to use an aerator to loosen compacted soil and help distribute water and nutrients.

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.

Exterior of Southern home with large green front lawn

(Image credit: Dream Pictures / Getty Images)

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.

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 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 Brian Walker. You can buy aerators on Amazon.

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

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.

Garden path ideas

(Image credit: Future / Annaick Guitteny)

Should I put topsoil over grass seed?

You can add a thin layer of organic matter to help the seed to germinate, but do not cover it over with top soil. 

‘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.

How much to water new grass

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 3x3 feet (1x1 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.

Zoysia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How do you maintain brand new grass?

Feeding a new lawn is one of the most important steps to maintaining it.

‘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.

‘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.

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.’

As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, Melanie loves the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds in England, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Melanie is interested in all aspects of homes and gardens. Her previous roles include working on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, and she has also contributed to Gardening Etc. She has an English degree and has also studied interior design. Melanie frequently writes for Homes & Gardens about property restoration and gardening.