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When we talk about a house having "curb appeal" few things contribute as much as a beautiful home lawn.

You can't always control the amount or type of topsoil you have to work with, but you can choose top quality grass seed or sod and make adjustments to the chemistry of the soil for the best possible growing conditions with the hand you have been dealt.

Grass is growing fast on this lawn renovated in Fall!
See more at: September is lawn renovation month

With a new home it's usually necessary to plant the lawn as soon as construction is completed, even if the growing season isn't conducive to planting grass.  When there is a choice, fall (September in the northeastern US) is the best time to seed and spring (April) is second best opportunity. Some housing developments may require a sod lawn in front, while the rest of the lawn can be seeded to save money.

Fall is the best time to plant a lawn in the midwest and northeastern US

Most people are surprised to hear that fall planting is better than spring.  For one thing, spring plantings face much more weed competition.  But more importantly, as soon as spring-planted grass is up and growing, it has to face the rigors of summer heat and dry weather.  Fall planted grasses have both the fall season and spring season to grow and mature before facing summer heat.


With the above considerations in mind, here are a few of the lawn basics:

  • Start early by sending a soil sample to a lab for analysis.  Your lime and fertilizer requirements will be outlined in their written report.

  • Locate utility lines, and especially any shallow wires (TV cable), before digging.  Call 1-800-242-1776 at least one week before digging to get utility lines marked; usually this service is free to homeowners.

  • Never "work" soil when it's wet.  Tilling or cultivating wet soil can ruin the soil structure.  It also makes your work much more difficult.

  • Pay close attention to grading.  Soil should be sloped away from foundations and graded to prevent low spots that will puddle.  Consider adding a french drains at the base of steep slopes, and other areas where there is poor surface runoff.

  • Final lawn installation:
    >> Finish grade the lawn with topsoil if possible.  Remove rocks and other debris that will impede good growth.
    >> Apply lime and fertilizer according to your soil test results.  In lieu of a soil test on Pennsylvania lawns, apply per 1,000 square feet: 50 pounds of agricultural lime, 10 pounds of 10-30-10 starter fertilizer (or equivalent), and grass seed at the recommended rate. There are different types of grass seed varieties for specific areas [cool season or warm season grasses].
    >> Mulch the lawn surface with one of the following:
    Mushroom manure - Great for lawns - use a thin coat
    Straw - Use the "cleanest" weed-free straw you can find at a "3-straw thickness" (straw is the least expensive mulch)
    Professionals also use hydroseeding or 'Penn Mulch' --- both methods use green-colored paper to hold moisture.

  • Watering your lawn now becomes the most important part!

sodded lawn
New sodded lawns require regular
watering to aid establishment

straw mulch on a lawn
Straw often contains some weed seeds. The rye straw (above) had seedheads causing some rye (coarser blades) to grow along with the new grass seedlings. Mowing will eventually kill this weedy rye.


If you are sodding a lawn instead of seeding, follow the steps listed above with the following exceptions:

  • When finish grading, leave the grade one-inch lower along walks, driveways and similar areas to allow for the thickness of the sod.

  • Buy the best grade (#1) of sod available.  If sod arrives stacked on a pallet, try to lay it out as soon as possible.  Cover palletized sod with a tarp (to help keep the sun and wind off) until you get it laid.

  • Green side up!  (-;

  • Try not to stretch the sod while laying it, in fact, bunch it up and keep the seams butted together as tightly as possible.  Fill any gaps on the edges with shredded and screened topsoil to help hold moisture.  Exposed edges dry out the fastest.

  • Make your cuts with a sharp bowie knife, hatchet or square-nosed spade.

  • Water sod thoroughly and often (every day or two) to aid establishment.  Curb edges dry out the fastest.

  • See our Sod webpage under Lawns.

Sod strips that were folded and stacked on pallets at the sod farm during harvesting. Some retailers sell sod in 1/2 yard pieces, but most will have sod strips that are 6 feet long x 1.5 feet wide. Do not leave sod on pallets more than a day or two at the most.

3 ft x 3 ft = 9 square feet = 1 square yard

Measure the size of the area you wish to sod. For an example let's say the area is 12 feet x 11 feet.

12 ft x 11 ft = 132 square feet

132 sq ft divided by 9 sq ft = 14.6 square yards

Therefore you would need to buy 15 yards of sod to cover the 12 ft x 11 ft area


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