Ordinarily, fall is not the time to plant anything in our yards— except, of course, springblooming bulbs. The other exception is the lawn, whether you are replacing an old, worn-out one or starting from scratch.

A cluster of favorable conditions allow this project to succeed now. Unlike in spring, fall soil is warmed up and quite hospitable to seeds—they’ll grow well. Rainy days ahead will help keep the area moist. And those pesky, fast-growing annual weeds that invade spring-planting projects are done growing for the year. This all means that your new grass can sprout in peace and establish its root system. Your fall-sown lawn will be ahead of the game when spring rolls around.


When to get started: If you live in an area with cold or snowy winters, don’t wait too long to get started. Plan to sow six to eight weeks before your first expected frost (if you don’t know when that is, check with your regional weather service, nearest Cooperative Extension Service office or just ask at a local nursery or garden center).

Decide what to plant: The lawnseed section of your local garden or farm-supply store will have a range of choices appropriate for your area. Some are explicitly labeled “cool-season grass,” signaling that now is indeed the time to sow.

A mixture can be a good choice. It hedges your bets—with more than one type of grass in the blend, something is sure to succeed.

Also think about what you want the lawn for. Do you want a lawn that’s especially drought-tolerant so you won’t have to water it as much? Will children or pets be romping on it (in which case, you want something durable)? Read the labels…do some Internet research… and/or ask a knowledgeable local person for advice before you buy.

One last thought: If grass has struggled in your intended site or the spot is shaded most of the day, consider filling the area with a groundcover instead. Easy-care, fast-growing choices include pachysandra, ajuga, sweet woodruff (in cooler, wetter areas) and sedum, thyme, and prostrate junipers (in warmer, arid climates).

Decide how much seed you should buy: Measure the area you intend to sow, and do some simple math to determine square footage. Then consult the label on the seed bag for rates. Example: Three pounds of a standard bluegrass mixture will cover about 1,000 square feet.

Prepare the site: Dig up and get rid of whatever is growing in the spot now. Do not work old sod back into the ground. This results in rough ground that is hard for anything to grow in anytime soon.

Be especially thorough with perennial weed removal, or they or their offspring will return to trouble your lawn next spring. 

Remove all rocks and debris, and rake the area well to create a nice even seedbed. In particular, fill in lower spots and level higher places. This crucial step makes mowing so much easier, plus smoothing out the ground prevents puddling when it rains.

If you know the area has poor or thin soil, improve it by digging in some organic matter to a depth of four to six inches (the root depth of most grasses once they mature). Compost, dried bagged manure, well-rotted bark—any and all of these materials improve soil structure and fertility.


Sow the seed according to the rates advised on the bag—first in one direction and then over the same area at a right angle to your first pass. Some people hand-sow, walking slowly back and forth tossing handfuls. (Be sure to sow seeds on a windless day.)

If that’s too casual for you and you want to assure an especially even lawn, use a mechanical spreader, which you can either buy or rent.

Rake the area to bury the seeds about one-quarter of an inch—if seeds are buried too deep, they won’t germinate. Or sprinkle some bagged topsoil over the seeds, but, again, thinly.

Spread a thin layer of weed-free straw or aged sawdust over the entire planting area to hold in soil moisture and protect emerging grass seedlings from birds. (It will break down in time—you will not have to remove it later.) You should still be able to glimpse the ground below it.

Run a roller over everything. This optional step simply presses both the seeds and the mulch into the welcoming ground.

Soak the area well with a sprinkler or fine-spray from a hose. In the following days, if it doesn’t rain, repeat this a few times a day for around 10 minutes. Once the grass is up and growing well, water less often, perhaps once a week or so.

Put up a temporary fence, or border the area with string and stakes. This protects the area from damaging footprints, human or pet.

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