If you missed your chance to seed your lawn last fall, don't worry. You don't have to suffer through a summer of terrible grass. You can get your lawn back in shape with an early-spring seeding.
Remove the Old Lawn
Start by digging up and removing all traces of the old lawn. If the area is small enough‚ say, 150 square feet or less‚ you can use a flat-blade shovel or manual sod cutter. For bigger lawns, save yourself a ton of time and toil by renting a walk-behind gas-powered sod cutter, which will run you about $75 per day.
Test the Soil
For grass seed to germinate and grow strong, the soil must have the right pH. The pH scale ranges from zero to 14, with 7.0 being neutral. Grass grows best in soil that has a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.
To test the pH of your soil, buy a DIY soil-testing kit at a home center or nursery, and follow the manufacturer's directions. In most cases, you'll need to mix a little soil and water in the kit's plastic vial. Shake vigorously and then wait for the mixture to change color. Then compare the color of the water/soil mixture to the color-coded chart printed alongside the vial to discover the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.
If your soil is too acidic‚ below 6.0‚ add pulverized lime to raise the pH. If the soil is mildly alkaline‚ 7.5 to 8.0‚ you can balance the pH by mi peat moss into the soil. If the soil is very alkaline‚ over 8.0‚ lower the pH by adding sulfur. (You'll amend the soil in Step 5.)
Clear the Rocks and Till
Use a pointed shovel to dig up and remove all rocks and roots that are visible on the surface of the soil. Level any high spots and fill all depressions with topsoil. Next, smooth the entire area with a garden rake. You can leave behind small stones and pebbles, but be sure to remove any rocks that don't fit through the tines of the rake. Then, use a gas-powered rotary tiller to thoroughly till the soil until there are no large clumps or hard-packed areas.
Cover the Planting Area
Spread about an inch of sand over the planting area and mix it into the soil with the rotary tiller. Then spread an inch of compost over the area and till again until the topsoil, sand, and compost are thoroughly mixed together.
Amend the Soil
Based on the pH results of the soil-test kit performed in Step 2, amend the soil with lime, peat moss, or sulfur. Use a broadcast spreader to apply lime or sulfur. If you need to amend the soil with peat moss, spread it manually using a shovel.
Next, use the broadcast spreader to apply starter fertilizer to the entire planting area. Check the fertilizer carton for the recommended spread rate, then adjust the broadcast spreader to the suggested setting. After fertilizing it’s important to use a garden rake to scratch up the area to work the fertilizer down into the soil.
Spread the Grass Seed
Buy grass seed that's recommended for your region. If you’re not sure what type of grass seed to use, visit a local nursery or check with a university extension office. Next, use a handheld broadcast spreader—the kind with a hand crank—to disperse the seed over the planting area.
Broadcast spreaders are suitable for small- to medium-size yards, but if you're planting a very large lawn, save time by dispersing the seed with a walk-behind drop spreader, which you can buy or rent—or perhaps borrow from a neighbor.
After applying the grass seed, gently work the seed into the soil using a large plastic leaf rake. However, to avoid redistributing the evenly broadcasted seeds, which can result in uneven, clumpy grass growth, turn the rake upside down and use the back of the rake with very short, light strokes to work in the seeds.
Immediately after planting the grass seed, water the area with an oscillating sprinkler or adjustable fan-spray sprinkler. Depending on the size and shape of your yard, it may be necessary to set up two or more sprinklers to ensure total coverage. After turning on the sprinklers for the first time, wait a few minutes, then check to confirm that water is reaching every single square inch of newly planted ground. That’s important because no matter how precisely you executed the previous six steps, the health of your springtime lawn is dependent on a strict and consistent watering regimen.
For the first ten days, water the area three times per day, but for only about ten minutes at a time. Over-watering can erode the soil and wash away the seeds. Once you see tiny green sprouts starting to grow, cut back the watering to just once per day, but for a longer period of time, about 20 minutes. And note that it's best to water grass seed in the early morning or late afternoon when there's less evaporation from the sun.