Although growing a lawn from seed requires more care and patience than laying out sod that is ready to enjoy that day, the end result can look just as beautiful and be just as healthy. Either method requires significant time and effort for soil preparation. From that point, successfully growing a lawn from seed is a matter of keeping the seeds moist and keeping people and pets off the lawn until the turf has time to establish roots.
Turn the Soil
Take a shovel and turn the soil. Go down at least 6 inches. Work across the lawn several times, not just once. Remove plant debris such as old tree limbs as well as rocks--both of these could make it more difficult for the root system to get established. Use a garden fork to break up compacted clumps of soil. The soil must be loose and crumbly in texture so air can reach the roots. If you are planting a large area, more than 300 square feet, consider renting a rototiller rather than expending the effort to turn the soil by hand.
Boost the Soil's Nutrient Level
Add compost to provide additional organic matter to the soil. A 2- to 3-inch layer of compost is sufficient--but remember to work it into the soil deeply with your shovel, not just spread it over the top. Add fertilizer that contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous; each of these nutrients is essential for growing a healthy lawn. The fertilizer should also be worked down into the soil.
Install an Irrigation System
Pop-up sprayers work well in residential lawns, providing much more even water coverage than a sprinkler attached to the garden hose. Since you will have to dig up your planting bed to install the sprayers, lay out the irrigation system prior to spreading the grass seed. Calculate the maximum distance each sprayer covers, and locate them so all areas of the lawn receive water.
Level the Planting Bed
With the irrigation system installed, take a rake and smooth out the soil in the planting bed. Go back and forth several times until all sections of the bed are level. Uneven areas allow water to collect, which can either drown the seeds or wash them out of position. Turn on the irrigation system to test for low spots.
Spread the Seeds
Pour the seeds into a push spreader and work across the rows, releasing the seeds. Push the spreader across the rows you just seeded, creating a crisscross pattern for ideal seed coverage. Cover the seeds with a layer of compost no more than 1/4 inch thick, which will help the seeds retain moisture.
Maintain Regular Watering
Particularly in dry climates or during the warmest times of the year, getting a new lawn started depends on keeping the seeds moist. Four times a day water the seed bed for a brief time, no more than 10 minutes. This will keep the seeds moist but not cause them to wash out of position. Maintain this watering schedule for the first three weeks. Keep people and pets off the newly germinated seeds until the grass has reached a height of 2 inches, an indication the turf is strong enough to walk on.