A green pool of grass can be an attractive foil for shrubs and perennials--even if you're concerned about the amount of water it needs to keep its color. Healthy grass growth doesn't just depend on large quantities of water or fertilizer, improving the soil before you plant and using varieties of grass seed best adapted to your climate can minimize maintenance.
Add 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and dig it in to a depth of at least a foot. The loose, airy soil encourages roots to grow deep and the organic matter helps the soil hold moisture and supports healthy populations of microorganism and earthworms for long term grass health, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.
Be sure to test the pH of your soil. Grass will grow poorly if the ground is acid or alkaline, preferring a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. If you need ground limestone to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it, spread it across the soil on top of the organic matter and till it in at the same time.
Choosing The Right Seed
Get recommendations from your county extension office on the proper mixture of grass seed appropriate for your area, often a blend of grasses that can take different levels of shade and moisture. Make sure that the seed you buy is fresh by checking the date on the label.
Time your seeding according to the type of grass you're planting. Cool-season grasses such as fescue are best planted in early fall, giving the young plants plenty of time to grow before summer heat. Warm-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass are best planted in late spring.
Effective Planting Strategies
Use a steel rake to level the soil and remove any rocks or clods of dirt. The small furrows left by the tines of the rake are useful for seed starting, so don't worry too much about making the soil level.
Use a spreader for seeds and fertilizer to sow seeds. Broadcast half the seeds while walking from north to south and half while walking east to west. Use a roller to press the seeds into the soil and follow with an 1/8 to 1/4 inch of mulch or potting soil. Water thoroughly, to a depth of 4 to 6 inches.
Caring For Your New Lawn
Until the seeds germinate, water lightly and frequently, just keeping the surface of the soil wet. The most common cause of failure at this point is allowing the seeds to dry out before they sprout. If the weather is warm, you may need to sprinkle the surface two or three times a day.
Once you see the small green shoots of grass appearing, a week to three weeks depending on the variety of grass, you can allow the top 1/4 inch of soil to dry but keep the root zone, the top 4 or 5 inches, from drying out.
By the third or four week after germination you should be able to water deeply twice a week, encouraging the roots to move downward for moisture, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council. Mow the grass when it reaches normal mowing height, 2.5 to 3 inches, but do not let clippings accumulate on the new lawn as they may smother seedlings.