Proper planting techniques are the first step in ensuring success with any new lawn. A little bit of extra care in soil preparation can produce lawns that are healthier, more deeply rooted, and more drought-tolerant for years to come. See below for helpful tips on how to properly install new seed or sod so that your new lawn remains healthy and ready to enjoy!
The first step in establishing new lawns is to assess the existing site and design a plan for proper planting. Some sites may have existing vegetation, debris, or other items in place that need removal. It is also important to inspect the perimeter of the site to see if there are obstructions in place that may prevent adequate sunlight, water, or even maintenance equipment from reaching the lawn. If potential obstructions or debris exist, it is best to remove them prior to preparing the soil for planting. This is also a good time to take initial measurements of the lawn so that you can estimate the budget, purchase the correct amount of seed or sod, determine what type of tillage or other equipment can access the site, and design irrigation plans if needed.
Proper soil preparation is an essential step in ensuring the long-term success of newly established lawns. Soils that are high in clay are easily compacted and can benefit dramatically from soil amendments containing organic matter, potting soil, or other amended topsoils commonly found in lawn and garden centers. Similarly, very sandy soils can also benefit from these products as a result of increased water holding capacity. In either of these cases, incorporating soil amendments is the most important and effective way to ensure your newly planted lawn can establish roots after planting. Place bags or loads of soil amendments evenly throughout the lawn and incorporate them into the existing soil as evenly as possible.
Perennial grasses are some of the hardiest species of plants for use in urban sites, as is demonstrated by their success when planted on hard, compacted soils. While tilling may not be necessary, or even possible in all cases, tilling the soil prior to sodding is the most important and effective way to ensure your newly laid sod can establish roots after planting. Furthermore, university research shows that tilling to a depth of 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) will dramatically improve drought tolerance and grass survival during prolonged periods of no rainfall or irrigation.
However, if tilling is not possible or practical, your lawn can still benefit from other soil preparation practices such as raking, aerification, and soil amendments. Renting a core aerator and pulling plugs from the existing soil is a great way to open it up for incorporating soil amendments. Even holes as deep as only 0.5 – 2 inches (1.5-5 cm) can allow for soil amendments to penetrate deep enough to allow newly established lawns to root deeply.
When tilling, make sure the final grade is sloped away from any homes or buildings and/or towards any drain lines or outlets such that water drains away from the home. Be sure to fill in any low spots and remove any high spots. After tilling is complete, firm up the surface enough that it can be walked on without leaving significant depressions from foot traffic. Now that the site is properly prepared, seeding or sodding is the easy part!