Planting a new lawn is a little like making a cake: You have to follow the "recipe" step by step to get the result you want. The steps to planting grass include selecting the seed, preparing the soil, sowing the seeds, and providing moisture. If you happen to plant when nature is providing the moisture through light rain, all the better.
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Select Appropriate Grass Seeds
Don't expect to pick one-size-fits-all generic grass seed at the local garden store. There are dozens of types of lawn grass available in commerce, and your climate should dictate the kind you use. Basically the country is divided into three sections: The northern part of the nation does best with cool-season grass. These grasses, including fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and ryegrass, grow best when the weather is cool and can go dormant when it gets hot.
The South needs warm-season grass, like Bermuda, St. Augustine, or zoysia. These grasses thrive in the heat and die back in the cold. They have the advantage of spreading faster than cool-season grass, which tends to be bunch grass. For areas in between, you can consider a mix of grass types, heavy on the cool-season grasses.
Prepare the Soil for Grass Seeds
All seeds grow best in prepared soil, and turfgrass is no exception. Grass seeds germinate best in tilled, nutrient rich soil. If you don't want to labor with a shovel, consider buying or renting a tiller to break up the top 3 inches of soil, removing rocks and clumps. Check the soil pH to make sure it is between 6.0 to 7.5, and amend it if necessary to get there.
After that, work organic compost into the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. If you aren't sure of the nutrients in your soil, get it tested and select an appropriate fertilizer. Pick a top-quality lawn fertilizer for best results. Only then sow the grass seeds (by hand or with a lawn spreader) and rake lightly to cover them. Optimal timing for planting varies depending on the type of grass seed you choose, but fall and spring are usually best.
Water the New Lawn
Any article you read about planting grass seeds will remind you of the importance of moisture to seed germination. The ground must be kept constantly moist, but stop short of soggy. You may have to water two or three times a day initially to achieve this. Sometimes, Mother Nature makes it easy for you by offering light rain.
Can you sow grass seeds in the rain? That depends on how hard the rain is falling. A light, even sprinkle is perfect for sowing grass and will postpone the moment you have to get out there with the hose on "spray" to moisten the soil. On the other hand, a hard rain will wash those seeds right out of the ground, so use your common sense. If the rain is pouring down in sheets, or puddles are forming on the lawn area, postpone planting anything until the weather dries up a bit.