Gardening Tips, Landscaping Tips — September 26, 2013 at 1:16 am

Prepping Your Yard For A New Lawn


Much like painting, the key to a successful new lawn is all in the prep. The initial steps are the same whether you’re prepping for sod or seed.

1. Till the soil

Whether you have an existing lawn that has seen its final days or just an open dirt patch, to break up the soil and allow for your new lawn to grow deep roots, you’ll want to rototill the space first. For smaller jobs, the tillers at home improvement centers are more than sufficient. Although, I would still opt for the larger of the options unless your space is super small. For larger jobs, check your local equipment rental yard such as a john deere or CAT rental location.

Before doing any digging or tilling in your yard, it’s a good idea to call your local utility company to check for any lines that run through your yard. If your yard has an existing sprinkler system, use a shovel to determine where the lines run. Otherwise you’ll learn where the water shut off is real fast.

While many people skip this step to save time and cost, most regret it later. Not only does tilling help promote deep root growth (which saves water!), but it also makes it much easier  to properly level your yard with all the loose soil.

2. Checking your soil

Grass like most other plants prefer a nice loamy soil that is not too sandy and not too clay. The easiest way to tell what kind of soil you have is to scoop up some with your hands and roll it into a ball. If the ball immediate falls apart, your soil is probably too sandy. If the ball sticks together with no crumbling at all, your soil most likely has a lot of clay.  You’re looking for the ball to crumble slightly while maintaining some of its form.  If your soil needs some help, swing by your local building materials supplier and order some top soil to mix in to your existing soil. As mentioned in our landscaping projects article, if you need more than just a few square feet of soil, you’re better off ordering in bulk from a building materials supplier than buying them by the bag at your local home improvement store. Most materials places will deliver to your home for a fee, but the savings over the bags makes it worth it. Or better yet, butter up your friend that owns a pick up truck and save even more $$$.  A burger and beer are a lot cheaper than most delivery fees!


3. Leveling your yard

Once your soil is tilled and you’ve determined your soil doesn’t need any further amendments added, it’s time to level your yard.  You’ll need: a flat nosed shovel, a landscaping rake (worth the investment!), a string line and bubble level, a couple sturdy stakes or rebar.

To start, make note of any items such as drains, planting beds or walls which will determine where you want to direct the water to flow to. Remember, you always want to make sure that the ground slopes slightly away from the foundation of your home as pooling water can start to erode the foundation or even lead to flooding. It’s also a good idea to gently slope away from any planting beds on the same level as you grass to avoid flooding during heavy rain. Of course, if you have drains installed, you’ll want to slope towards those, keeping surrounding areas slightly higher.

If you don’t have drains installed, take note of where water will pool during heavy rains. If it appears the water has nowhere safe to go, it’s worth the time to install the drains now rather than trying to do it later once you’ve put in your beautiful lawn.

Next, start flatting out any large piles of dirt left over from the tilling with the landscaping rake. As you go, make sure you’re pulling out any rocks, roots or other material turned up by your rake. For now, simply eye balling it will work to get the yard basically flat, addressing the higher and lower points you identified earlier.

This is where there is a slight difference between using seed vs. sod.  When sod arrives, it already has 1-2” of soil on the bottom of it where the roots have grown. Therefore, when you level the yard, it’s important to keep it about 1-2” lower than any sidewalks, driveways or patios that run along the borders.  Not only will this make your lawn look nicer, it will keep the edges from drying out faster due to having more of the root areas exposed.  Check with your sod supplier to find out how much soil they have on the bottom of their rolls.

For seed, you can keep the level of the dirt much higher as the grass will grow from there up. You still may want to have the level a little lower than surrounding borders, depending on what type of grass you choose.

Once you’ve determined the height you need to achieve, it’s time to get accurate by using a string line and bubble level. Start by driving sturdy stakes in the areas you want to measure. Usually starting near the closest point to the house and working your way out.  Once your stakes are in place, tie one end of the string line to a stake, making it level with the surrounding border, sidewalk or patio. Run the line to the next stake, tying it as tight as possible to ensure it doesn’t dip or sag with the weight of the bubble level. Here’s a great technique for tying off your string line without cutting it.

With your line tied, add the bubble level to determine the slope is what you want.  Once the slope of the line is correct, use a tape measure to check the level of the soil is even all along the line, moving soil with the landscaping rake to fix any low or high spots. Repeat this step as needed to determine the other slope directions of your yard.


4. Final prep before sodding or seeding

Seeding: If you’re seeding, lightly water your soil and then simply start spreading your seed. For smaller areas, seeding by hand is fine but for larger areas, you’ll want to get a seed spreader to ensure full even coverage. Once your seed is down, sprinkle a very thin layer of top soil over the seeds to help keep them away from the birds!  You’re now ready to water and watch your new lawn grow!

When watering your newly seeded area, you’ll want to water with more frequency and less volume to ensure the soil stays moist but doesn’t get so heavy that it washes the seeds away. Once you see the beginnings of the grass sprouts, you can start increasing the volume and reducing the frequency. Just remember seedlings will dry out faster than established grass until the roots are fully developed.

Sod: You’ll want to complete the final steps all in one day as fast as possible. Once it’s cut, sod dries out very quickly. On the day of your sod delivery, rent a lawn roller as you’ll need it before putting down the sod as well as after.  Invite friends and family over to help lay the sod since the faster you get it down, the healthier it will be.

Begin the day by lightly watering the soil, then running over it with the roller filled about 2/3 of the way. Start laying the sod pieces, beginning with the straight edge of a patio or walkway if possible. Also, try to start on one side, which will allow you to continue laying the sod without walking on the pieces you’ve already put down.  Be sure to stagger the joints and pushing the edges together tightly. Gaps will dry out very quickly. The easiest way to stagger the joints is by starting with a full piece, then cutting a full  piece in half for the next row.  Following this pattern will help you keep the joints staggered for the rest of the rows.

Once your sod is laid, empty some water out of your roller until it’s about ½ full. Then roll over your sod to help eliminate any air pockets and create good contact between the bottom of the sod and top of your soil.


Take a moment to stand  back and enjoy the view of your beautiful new lawn!  Now water it often, keeping it moist for the first few days, then slowly start cutting back to a normal watering schedule. Be sure to check with your sod supplier for specific watering instructions.


Feeding your lawn

One of the secrets to a lush, healthy looking lawn is by keeping it fed 3-4 times a year depending on your location and grass type. (link to Scotts website)


Additional lawn care tips

– Don’t cut your grass too short during hot summers. Longer blades can help protect the roots from drying out to quickly as well as aid with moisture retention.

– Don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time as this can not only add additional stress to the grass, but also lead to thatch build up. If your grass gets too long between mowings, cut off the top 1/3 then go back and cut another 1/3 a few days later.

– Water early in the morning when wind and evaporation is at it’s lowest. Don’t water in the evening as it can remain moist all night and lead to fungus growth.

– It’s better to water longer but with less frequency than to give the grass a “sip” with high frequency. This can help promote deep root growth.