Fall in love with your lawn! Follow these steps to replace your lawn with drought-tolerant and resilient grass plugs or grass seeds from High Country Gardens for a new sustainable lawn.
Read through the steps below - preparing for your new lawn includes removing or killing the existing lawn, which can take time depending on the method you use.
You'll also need to determine how many grass plugs or how much grass seed to purchase. Measure the area that you want to plant. Remember, length x width = area. When measuring, round up to feet to safely calculate the area you need to cover in square feet.
Grass Plugs are sold in flats of 70, and each flat covers 70 square feet when spaced one 1 foot centers. Grass Seedis generally sold in 5 pound or 10 pound bags; coverage rates vary, and each product page includes details for coverage.
For best results with grass seed, you'll want to start with bare soil. For best results with grass plugs, you can either plant into bare soil, or you can leave dead grass as a mulch.
If you plant in a dead lawn, it's important to make sure that the grass foliage and roots are dead, not just dormant. Note that simply withholding water will only make your existing lawn dormant, not kill it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming a completely brown patch of Kentucky Blue Grass (or any other turf grass) is dead from lack of water – many warm season grasses, including water intensive Kentucky Bluegrass, survive drought by going dormant and coming back to life when it rains or when it is watered. You do not want your new lawn to compete with the old lawn!
Here are 4 most common ways to kill or remove existing lawn:
Strip off the old turf grass with a sod cutter and kill off any remnants of lawn around the edges. This is the fastest method.
Smother the existing lawn with organic matter & improve the soil: Let time work for you. If you can wait 6 months or longer, the old lawn can be killed by covering it with alternating layers of newspaper or corrugated cardboard and compost laid down about 6" deep. Once done, rototill the area and it's ready-to-plant. This method turns the dead lawn into organic matter for the soil, and once the organic matter is tilled in, itimproves the soil.
Solarize the existing lawn by killing it with heat from the sun. This can be done by covering the lawn turf with clear plastic for one to two months during the heat of summer. First, irrigate the soil, as wet soil conducts heat better than dry. Then bury the edges of the grass with plastic all along the border of the lawn and put big rocks all across it to hold it down in the wind. This takes about 4-6 weeks, and is most effective from late spring through late summer when daytime temperatures are hottest.
Kill the existing lawn, by spraying it with a one-time application of systemic glyphosate 14 days or longer prior to planting. This is our least favorite method, but is relatively quick. This kills the grass, roots and all, and does it within about 10 days. Plugs or seed can be planted when old grass is dead. While repeated or widespread uses of glyphosate are damaging to the environment, healthy soils are capable of breaking down any residual chemical from a one-time application. Keep kids and pets off the lawn until the herbicide has dried. Don't let pets eat the treated grass.
Step 2: Improve The Soil
Healthy soil means a happy lawn! Before planting grass plugs into bare soil, it is best practice to enrich the soil with compost and other organic or natural fertilizers to ensure that the plugs grow vigorously and cover the area quickly. Proper soil preparation can be done anytime before planting the plugs. However, preparing the soil well in advance of planting ensures that the ingredients have begun to breakdown and the soil will have a finer texture. It also allows weeds to sprout and be pulled or rototilled prior to planting. This will greatly reduce the amount of weeding after planting the plugs.
For best results, use the organic and natural soil amendments listed below. Rototill the soil-amendments into the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches.
Compost: Use 1/2 to 1 cubic yard per 100 sq ft. Along with Yum Yum Mix, a high quality compost will build and maintain a healthy living soil.
Yum Yum Mix: Use 4 lbs per 100 sq ft. This gentle, non-chemical fertilizer feeds the soil that feeds your lawn. This organic formula adds essential nutrients to the soil and feeds the beneficial microorganisms for a healthy, living soil. This will give the best chance for a vigorous, low-maintenance lawn.
Soil Mender Mineral Boost Fertilizer: Use 2 lbs per 100 sq ft. Soil Mender’s Mineral Boost contains over 30 trace minerals that support the growth of healthy plants. This mineral-rich fertilizer is an essential component for good soil preparation. (Formerly known as Planters II)
Mycorrhizal Root Inoculant: Lawn grasses will grow more vigorously by having these beneficial mycorrhizal fungi attached to their roots. Mycorrhizal inoculation is essential if your home is in a new subdivision or there has been extensive earthwork, soil removal and compaction from your home construction process.
Do not use manure unless you know if has been actively composted. Even if stored for years, non-composted manure will break down after you’ve tilled it into the soil, which can cause burning of grass roots and a nitrogen deficiency that would kill or stunt grass plugs.
Before planting the plugs make sure they are well watered but not soggy. Make a few shallow slices into the sides and bottom of the plug’s root ball to encourage lateral root growth into the surrounding soil. To speed the transplantation process, just before planting, plugs should be removed from the tray, have their roots sliced, and placed in a box or flat in the shade to await transplanting. (Don’t let them dry out + avoid direct sun exposure.)
For Best Results Use Soil Moist:These non-toxic granules store over 200x their weight in water, steadily releasing water as your grass plugs need it for 3-5 years. It will reduce watering and transplant shock. This must be used at root level, not as a top-dressing. For best results, use as a root dip when planting.
Step 4: Planting Grass Plugs
There are two way to plant your grass plugs: A. You can plant into bare soil that has been enriched with compost and other natural or organic fertilizers. B. You can plant directly into dead turf that is thoroughly dead using the Drill and Fill Method. This can be a real labor saving method when replacing your existing lawn. Assuming that the lawn was planted into well prepared soil, planting into the dead grass is a proven, labor saving method. This method also greatly reduces the amount of weeds that sprout once the plugs are planted. For the Drill and Fill Method, you can use a standard cordless drill with a 1¼” diameter wood boring bit, or a water drill.
Method A: Planting Into Bare Soil
Mark out your grid: Use a string line marked every 6” or 12,” and stretch the string between stakes to create a grid. Mark where each plug will go. Then move the stakes to the next row, and so on, until the entire space is marked out with a grid.
Using a hand trowel make a shallow hole, plant the plug and firm it into place. (For best results, use Soil Moist root dip here.) Continue until all plugs are planted.
Mulch with clean wheat straw to shade the soil and keep the plugs moist. Water thoroughly after the plugs are planted.
Method B: Planting Plugs Into Dead Turf - The Drill & Fill Method
Make sure the old lawn is dead, both foliage and roots. (See Step 1)
Use a string line marked every 6” or 12,” and stretch the string between stakes to create a grid. Mark where each plug will go. Then move the stakes to the next row, and so on, until the entire space is marked out with a grid.
Using a cordless drill or water drill, drill 1-inch-deep deep holes for each plug, according to the grid.
Place the plug in the hole and step on it to firm it into the soil. (For best results, use Soil Moist root dip here.) Continue until all plugs are planted. Water thoroughly after the plugs are planted.
Grass Plug Planting Tips From A High Country Gardens Customer
"I think the advantage of the water drilling does a couple of things like pushing water down 8" inches and gives the plants a good passive watering. Also, it is a lot easier on your back. I did around 500 plugs and the time was about 5 hours. If you have a friend or two you could get the job quicker." -- Customer Erik L.
The old grass was killed, then tilled and raked level.
Drip soaker lines were installed in a grid with 12"x12" spacing.
A root water feeder was used to water-drill the holes. They used a section of 3/4 PVC with a coupler and inserted it into each hole that was water drilled. This method works particularly well if you have very hard soil.
They drilled and planted in batches of 30.
They dipped all plugs into Soil Moist before placing them in the holes and covering the roots with soil.
Maintaining Grass Plugs
See recommendations below for watering, weeding, and fertilizing grass plugs.
Frequency: Water in newly planted plugs thoroughly so that the soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches. The frequency of subsequent irrigation will depend on how quickly the soil dries. Water enough to keep the soil damp but not muddy with standing puddles.
First week to 10 days: Water daily in the early evening to avoid evaporation.
Next couple of weeks: As the plugs begin to root-out into the soil and grow, watering can be reduced to every 2nd or 3rd day. Plugs that are taking hold and rooting-out will be noticeably greener and have longer, larger leaf blades than ones that haven’t.
After the first month: If it’s not too hot and dry, your growing plugs will need watering no more than one to two times per week, putting down an inch of water each time. Use several empty coffee cans placed around the newly planted area to measure the amount of water applied. Even xeric native grasses like Buffalo and Grama grass need regular irrigation that first growing season. Once established, the amount of water needed next growing season will be much less!
Watering sloped areas: If you’ve planted on a slope, be sure to mulch the plugs with clean, weed-free straw. Water the soil with a fine spray, just enough that the water is absorbed by the soil and doesn’t run off. Repeat 3 or 4 times at 5 minute intervals until the soil is wet to a depth of several inches.
This is only a suggested watering schedule. Anytime the plugs are looking gray-green and the grass blades look thin and folded, they need water. The first couple of times you water, check the depth of the soil moisture after you water by digging into the soil to visually examine how deeply the water has penetrated. You’ll soon learn how much and how often your soil will need watering to keep the plugs moist.
Weeds will sprout quickly in newly planted areas. Weed control is essential so they do not smother your new plugs, and it's easiest to pull weeds when they are small.
Hand Weeding: You will need to pull weeds until the plugs have grown together for best establishment of your new lawn. When hand weeding, use a couple of wide wood board pieces to stand and kneel on while you weed. This helps to avoid stomping and compressing the soil as you walk around pulling the weeds.
Herbicides: If it’s not practical to hand weed large, newly planted lawns, broadleaf herbicides may be considered. We recommend using Corn Gluten Organic Fertilizer & Weed Inhibitor, an organic product, to control weeds. To be most effective as a pre-emergent herbicide, it takes multiple applications of corn gluten meal to build up in the soil over time. Apply in late winter/early spring, just before weed seeds begin to germinate.
Herbicide Precautions: If you opt to use chemical herbicides instead of organic options like CMG, do not apply 2,4-D when daytime temperatures exceed 75° F. Do not use Trimec or other formulations that mix 2,4-D with other herbicides as these can stunt buffalo and blue grama grass plugs.
The First Growing Season: It is beneficial to fertilize your plugs that first growing season to make sure they fill in quickly and cover the bare soil. To minimize soil compaction from walking on the young lawn, spray fish emulsion as a foliar feed in the early morning, one time each month with the last application in August.
Extended Care For Established Plug-Grown Lawns
Watering: Once established Buffalo and Blue Grama grass are very drought tolerant, but they may need extra water during the hottest part of the summer to keep them green and actively growing. Turn on the sprinklers to apply approximately an inch of water every two weeks.
Bella bluegrass will need more water each month than Buffalo or Grama in western climates. Water Bella when it gets a gray-green color and the grass blades are folded and thin.
If irrigation is not available and you must depend on natural rainfall, Buffalo and Blue Grama may go brown in extended heat and drought but will green-up when the rains return. These native grasses have deep roots that keep them alive through extended drought.
Fertilizing: We recommend using Yum Yum Mixor natural, organic fertilizers for the health of your lawn and those who enjoy it. A 25 lb. bag of Yum Yum Mix will cover about 600 sq. ft. of lawn. Never use “weed-n-feed” chemical fertilizers as they are damaging to soil health.
Legacy, UC Verde, and Prestige Buffalo Grass and Dog Tuff Grass varieties need to be fertilized twice annually for best appearance. Apply an organic/natural fertilizer in late spring and again in early fall.
‘Hachita’ Blue Grama Grass needs only one application of an organic/natural fertilizer in early fall.
Bella Bluegrass normally needs no supplemental fertilizer. In poor soils, apply an organic/natural fertilizer once annually in early fall.
Weed Control: Buffalo and Blue Grama grasses are warm-season growers, meaning they don’t green up until mid-to-late spring (depending on elevation). In early-to-mid-spring, while these native grasses are still dormant, it’s easy to find weeds that are already green and growing. Weeds are best pulled, dug up with a dandelion fork, or spot-sprayed with herbicide. A thorough weeding in early spring is usually sufficient for the entire year. Applying corn gluten meal over time can also prevent the germination of weeds (see Herbicides above).
Legacy Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides Legacy) is a premium-quality native turf grass variety bred by University of Nebraska agronomists to be a drought tolerant, low care turf grass with the lush look of traditional bluegrass or fescue lawns.
UC Verde Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) produces a dense turf of soft, bright-green, very fine leaf blades. It is recommended for planting in the high heat conditions found in the lower elevation of the desert Southwest and California. UC Verde Buffalograss It is drought resistant (xeric), requiring only 1/4 inch of water per week, and has a very low pollen rating. Growing 4-8 inches, it requires mowing only once per year.
Appalachian Sedge (Carex appalachica) is a native grass-like plant with thin, fine-textured leaf blades. Appalachian Sedge is an outstanding choice for use as an attractive grassy groundcover for shade and heavy shade areas.
Dog Tuff™ Grass (Cynodon ‘PWIN04S’) is an amazing, highly drought-resistant lawn grass perfect for high traffic and play areas. It has excellent durability in yards with dogs and is resistant to yellowing from dog urine. Once established, this warm-season grass is highly weed resistant, deep-rooted and provides a soft, cushioned feel for bare feet. It only grows 2 ½-4 inches high, so you need not mow it unless you prefer a manicured look. 2015 Green Thumb Award Winner. Questions? Download our Dog Tuff ™ Grass Planting Guide.
Planting Grass Seed
After your soil is prepared, apply the seed at the recommended rate. To make sure you’re spreading the seed evenly, scatter 1/2 of the seed walking North to South and 1/2 of the seed walking East to West.
Many choose to cover their grass seed after planting, though this is not required. If you do choose to cover your seed to help retain moisture and hold the seed in place, we recommend a maximum depth of 1/4”. You can cover the seed with topsoil or sterilized straw. Avoid hay - you do not want to plant tall grass or weed seeds in your lawn.
Water gently and regularly, keeping the seeds moist until they begin to sprout. This could mean watering more than once a day if you’re having a dry spell. Depending on soil temperatures and weather conditions, It may take weeks or even a month for the seeds to grow. Be patient.
Once the seeds sprout, water deeply and less frequently. This helps to ensure a deep-rooted, healthy lawn or meadow.
Do not mow until your lawn is at the recommended height. This information can be found on each product page. For most grasses, this is about 3-6 weeks after planting, but could be longer depending on growing conditions. Remember to be gentle when mowing the first few times -- the seedlings will be somewhat tender.
After mowing several times, you can apply an organic fertilizer to promote strong growth, but this is not required.
Our 'Low Work and Water' Dwarf Fescue Lawn Seed Mix will create the ideal low water, low maintenance, low-growing turf grass for yards and play areas. Enjoy the beauty and benefits of a turf grass lawn without all the work and water.
The Western Trails Native Grass Seed Mix is ideal for those who wish to recreate the beauty of the grasses found in the western Great Plains prairie. This expertly formulated warm-season mix of 12 native Western grass species will enrich any western landscape with its incredible beauty, diversity, and toughness.
Go 'green' with the 'No Mow Lawn Grass Seed mix. This ecologically sensible lawn will save you time, water, fuel and money while enjoying a deep green, thick carpet of low growing, fine textured turf. This specially blended mix of six different dwarf Fine Fescue grass varieties has been formulated to provide a very deep-rooted, dense turf that needs little additional irrigation (except during dry spells without summer rains). Left unmowed, the grass blades create a wonderfully soft, swirling pattern. For a more manicured look, it can be cut once every four to six weeks to a height of 3" to 4".
The High Mountain Native Grass Seed Mix is an expertly formulated blend of cool season native grasses that re-creates high elevation meadows for states in the Intermountain West. These grasses thrive in cool mountain areas with late frosts in spring and early frosts in fall. This grass seed mix is formulated to withstand drought, will provide habitat for songbirds and beneficial insects, and be a source of natural beauty with its ornamental seed heads in late summer and fall.