How Do I Plant a Lawn?

— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson

The first step toward a healthy, attractive lawn is selecting the planting area and controlling weeds. Perennial weeds are best controlled with a nonselective herbicide when starting a new lawn. Plan for easy maintenance by not planting areas with steep slopes, poor drainage, or heavy shade. Make sure all areas have a 2 to 3 percent slope to allow for good surface drainage and at least 6 to 8 hours of sun, the more sun the better.

Soil preparation and initial fertilization is step two. Take soil samples for pH and nutrient requirements. Collect soil samples to a depth of 4 inches from 20 locations and mix them together to produce an average sample. Take at least 1 cup of the air-dried soil sample to your county Cooperative Extension Center. We have the forms and boxes to prepare samples for analysis. Indicate if you will grow centipede or some other type of grass. Samples go to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCSA&CS) for analysis. Sample reports are found at the NCDA&CS website or delivered to you by email. The report will tell you if lime and fertilizer are needed to grow a lawn. Incorporate lime and fertilizer recommended into the top 4-6 inches of the soil using a tiller. This is the key! Unless the entire root zone is limed, fertilized, and loosened then grass roots will never successfully occupy this zone and will die during stress periods. Rake the site to establish a smooth and level final grade. Soil particles should be no larger than marble size. Allow time for rain or watering to settle the soil, and roll to firm the soil before seeding, plugging, or sodding. Hand rake again to break up the crusty surface before planting

Planting is the third step. Here in eastern NC, warm season grasses do best and can be seeded when the air temperatures are 80 degrees and soil temperatures get to 70 degrees. We have finally reached those required temperatures. Varieties of Bermuda, centipede, and zoysia are available to seed. Seeding is the most economical method of establishing grasses. To ensure uniform coverage, use a rotary or drop-type spreader. Apply half the seed in one direction and the other half at a right angle to the first pass. Lightly cover the seed by hand raking or dragging with a mat or chain-link fence. Roll the soil lightly to firm the surface and provide good seed-to-soil contact. Grass seed can be mulched with wheat straw. Use one bale per 1,000 square feet for warm-season grasses. This will help conserve moisture, control erosion, and reduce surface crusting until establishment. Once in place, stabilize the mulch by watering.

Vegetative planting is necessary for St. Augustine and hybrid Bermuda, hybrid centipede, or hybrid zoysia. Sod and plugs can be planted from March through September with success. Plugging is a type of vegetative planting where individual pieces (2 inches or larger) of sod are planted on 6- inch or 1-foot centers. This is an excellent way to introduce a more adapted lawn grass into an old lawn in an effort to replace old grass by crowding out. Zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass are often planted by plugging.

Sodding is placing sod stripped from one site to another for an instant lawn. Lay sod within 24 hours of delivery. While installing, keep sod in the shade to lessen the chance of heat buildup. Soil should be moist before laying sod. Watering the soil several days before delivery works well.

Start sodding from a straight edge and put strips together, staggering rows in a brick-like pattern. Avoid stretching sod. Use a knife or sharp spade for trimming to fit irregularly shaped areas. Lay sod lengthwise across the face of slopes and peg or stake the pieces to prevent slippage. After the sod has been placed, roll the lawn to ensure good sod-to-soil contact. Water as needed to get seed, plugs, or sod moist until established and rooted in. Then, once established, water deeply and infrequently to prevent drought injury.

By following these steps you should be on your way to a healthy lawn. For lawn or garden questions call the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 902-1705 or email them at You can find local gardening information at If lawns are not your thing but flowers are, then come out to the Pitt County Arboretum at 403 Government Circle, Greenville, NC 27834 today for the Plant Sale sponsored by the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers. At 9am the plant sale is open to new and existing Friends of the Arboretum (join or renew if needed at the event), 10 am to 12 pm for general public, and a plant swap will be held starting at 11 am. Directions and details at the website above.

Written By

Photo of Danny LauderdaleDanny LauderdaleArea Specialized Agent, Nursery and Greenhouse, Eastern Region Serves 44 CountiesBased out of Wilson County(252) 237-0111 danny_lauderdale@ncsu.eduWilson County, North Carolina
Posted on Jul 9, 2013
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