How to Start a Lawn From Seed

Small, suburban, manicured, striped lawn, small pond, and garden enclosed by large deciduous trees, azaleas, etc.
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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 3 days
  • Total Time: 3 - 4 wks
  • Yield: 900 sq. ft. lawn
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to 250 (including tool rental)

When starting a new lawn, many people wonder which is better: laying sod or sowing seeds. While laying sod is fast and produces high-quality new turf, seeding a lawn is much cheaper and offers a wider variety of grass types. To learn which grass types are best for your area, contact a nearby extension service (many counties and universities have extensions), or ask an expert at a local garden center. Much of the labor of starting a lawn from seed is in the all-important prep work, but just as important is watering the seed and sprouts regularly until the new grass is well established.

Keep in mind that you might not need all the supplies listed here. Choose your method for clearing the ground and follow those instructions to determine which supplies and tools you'll need.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flat-bladed shovel
  • Sod cutter
  • Tiller or rototiller
  • Garden rake
  • Lawn roller
  • Seed spreader
  • Water hose and spray nozzle
  • Lawn mower


  • Non-selective herbicide
  • Starter fertilizer
  • Soil conditioner or compost
  • Soil testing kit
  • Garden lime (if needed)
  • Lawn seed


  1. Clear the Area

    Remove any old grass plants and weeds from the area. You can dig out unwanted plants with a flat-bladed shovel, making sure you get the roots. Another method is to apply a non-selective herbicide (such as Roundup), then use a rented sod cutter to remove the dead grass and roots.

  2. Test the Soil

    Take a sample of the soil and have it tested for soil pH. Most lawn grasses prefer a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. If the test reveals that your soil is overly acidic, you can "sweeten" it by applying garden lime.

  3. Prepare the Soil

    Break up the compacted soil with a rented tiller or rototiller. Spread a starter fertilizer over the loosened soil. This type of fertilizer is high in phosphorus, the middle number in the NPK sequence on a fertilizer bag. Also, spread a soil amendment over the soil. "Soil conditioner" is often what it is called at the store, but if you have a good supply of compost at home, it will serve just as well as a soil amendment.

    Use the tiller to mix the starter fertilizer and soil conditioner (or equivalent) into the soil. Rake the soil to begin to level it out, removing any rocks and debris. To ensure proper drainage of surface water, make sure that any site grading you do allows water to flow away from your house. Finally, use a rented lawn roller (with a water-filled drum) to finish leveling the soil. Water the soil lightly.

  4. Apply the Seed

    Follow the recommended seeding rate (as listed on the bag of grass seed) to apply the seed with a seed spreader. Spread 1/4 of the seed over the entire lawn area. Then, repeat three more times, each time using 1/4 of the seed. However, each of the four times you distribute a load of seed, push the spreader in a different direction, to ensure even coverage. Rake the soil lightly to cover the seed with a thin layer of soil (if recommended by the seed manufacturer). Empty the water from the roller drum, and roll the lawn surface.

  5. Water the New Lawn

    Moisten the soil carefully, using a fine spray from a hose sprayer. Be careful not to over-water and create a flood. Repeat watering several times per day (depending on the weather) to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not let the soil dry out. The seeds will germinate and begin to sprout in about seven to 14 days. Do not walk on or allow pets on any seeded area during this initial phase of growth. The soil is very unstable and any disturbance will lead to bare areas.

  6. Maintain the New Grass

    Continue watering up to three times per day to keep the soil moist (it does not need to be wet) until the new grass is ready to mow—about 4 inches tall, or as recommended on the seed packaging. Mow the grass to no less than 3 inches in height (cut off no more than 1/3 of the total grass blade length). Make sure the grass gets plenty of water until it has grown enough to need three mowings. From that point on, water the grass with the normal schedule for the area, the current weather, and the type of grass. It's also a good idea to pull new weeds as they emerge to prevent them from spreading.

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