"Successfully Starting A Grass Yard From Scratch Using Seed Or Sod"
Most of the landscapes that we create involve starting a new lawn as part of the design. And whether it is by seed or laying sod, preparing the lawn planting area is always the key element to a successful beautiful yard. Most soils are lacking in nutrients, organics, enzymes, and have an improper pH balance. This is especially true for lawn and landscaping areas in new home construction as they are generally engeneered fill and construction debris.
Of course the type of grass you choose for your new yard will have a direct relation to the way you need to prepare your soil. Different geographic areas will demand certain lawn turf types that each have different nutrient and soil requirements. So before you even begin soil preparation, it's important to choose the right type of lawn grass for your needs and area. Then you'll be able to determine exactly what the soil needs to support the new seeds or sod.
Test and Adjust The Soil pH
Soil pH (potential Hydrogen ions) is a measure of the amount of lime/calcium contained in your soil. Generally, soils in moist climates tend to be acid and those in dry climates are alkaline. A soil pH of 7.0 is neutral, lower than 7.0 is acid, and a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline. Testing the pH (acidity/alkalynity) of the soil will tell you a lot towards preparation for the exact lawn grass type you have chosen. See Testing And Correcting Soil pH for specific instructions on how to correct the pH of your lawn soil.
Soil Composition, Nutrients, And Ammendments
After testing the pH level of the new lawn area and before you add any ammendments, test the nutrient levels of the soil. Keep in mind that if the soil is lacking in certain nutrients, increasing them with certain elements can also alter the pH of the new lawn soil. Also, correcting the composition of the soil with certain elements will alter the pH balance.
The composition of any soil that will support plants or lawns should contain a mixture of elements. Pure sand can't hold any moisture or nutrients. Silts and clays are the same because there are no air spaces between the dirt particles to hold water or nutrients. Both types of soil need organics such as compost, leaf mold, peat moss, saw dust, seed hulls, manure, or such. This will help stop compaction and aid in water retention. Adding a small amount of sand to hard soils is also helpful against compaction.
The three most important nutrients for lawns and most landscaping plants are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Adding ammendments such as bonemeal or hydrated lime will increase phosphorus but at the same time it will raise the pH level to being more alkalyne. Bloodmeal increases Nitrogen but is also alkalyne. These type of organic ammendments are much better in the long run as they, in time, naturally level out and create natural buffers against over or under fertilization. However, it is an extensive subject that is outside the scope of this lesson.
So for novices, first timers, and folks that don't have the time or desire to go the extent of organics for their new lawn, we'll concentrate on composition, pH, and a pound of lawn fertilizer per thousand sq. ft. added to the new soil mix. See How To Fertilize Your Lawn Correctly for ideas and tips about fertilizing the right way and the wrong way.
Tilling And Leveling
Till the area and all amendments together to a depth of at least 4 inches. If you don't have a tiller, you can rent one from the local rental center. Get one with rear blades if possible. They dig better and are easier on your body. Don't till it to dust. A perfect seed bed for a new lawn will have particles from sand size up to about half the size of a marble. We'll talk more about this in how to seed a new lawn.
Remove any sticks, debris, and break up or remove any large clods. If your area has sidewalks or borders, level it with a garden rake to a height that's less than your border height for seed and 1 1/2 to 2 inches below if you're using sod. And of course if you're installing a do it yourself sprinkler system which should already be in place, make sure the sprinkler heads are the height that the finished lawn will be.