New homeowners faced with the first element of landscaping---a perfect lawn---must choose between the work of seeding it themselves and buying a ready-made carpet of green sod. In addition to being less expensive than sod, seed is more adaptable; mixtures can be made that will grow reliably in different exposures or growing conditions. There is more to a new lawn than seed, however. Proper soil diagnosis and preparation can make seeding as successful as a sod-scape.
Cultivate 6 to 8 inches of the lawn area's topsoil with a rotary tiller or a garden spade. Remove every rock and weed you can find, digging weeds with a dandelion digger if necessary. Spray the area with a non-selective herbicide containing glyphosate to completely clear all vegetation.
Add about 4 inches of top-dressing composed of compost, manure and humus to improve texture and provide nutrients. Work in a nitrogen-rich starter (10-10-10 or 12-12-12) fertilizer. Adjust the pH of your soil by adding lime to raise pH or sulfur to lower it if necessary. Lawn grass prefers slightly acidic (5.5 to 7.0 on the pH scale) soil.
Grade your lawn by raking or pulling a board across the lawn, removing stones and clumps of clay as you go. Soil should slope away from buildings toward the street or swales between properties, depending on your neighborhood drainage plan. Avoid sharp slopes; soil level should drop 1 inch for every 10 feet to keep as much water as possible on your property to water your lawn. Water well to check for drainage problems and make corrections before seeding.
Scatter a mixture of seed designed for your area at the rate according to instructions when the ground temperature is about 60 degrees. Cover with a light top-dressing of humus if the instructions say to cover the seed. Some seed does not need to be covered.
Water lightly and keep the seed moist, not wet, until it begins to germinate---usually within a week or two. Wait until your grass is 3 to 4 inches tall to begin mowing. Remove no more than a third of the leaf; mow frequently to keep grass trim and to encourage new shoots. Begin watering when you begin mowing; your lawn needs 1 inch of water a week, including rainfall.