Establishing a New Lawn in the Piedmont

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When planning a new lawn, careful consideration must be made on the site itself and then selecting the type of grass that is best suited for it. Table 9-1 in the NC Extension Gardener Handbook Chapter 9: Lawns gives characteristics of typical turf species grown in NC. Be sure to look at the Piedmont section of the table. Additional information on required care for these grass types is available in lawn maintenance calendars developed by N.C. Cooperative Extension.


Site Preparation

To prepare a new lawn, you must determine if the site needs grading and plan for any potential drainage issues. Other items to consider as you are planning a site for a new lawn are:

  • How will the lawn be accessed for mowing and fertilizing in the future?
  • Terraces and steep grades can make maintain the lawn a challenge.
  • Seek the advice of a professional if there are poorly drained areas to determine if and what type of drain may be needed.
  • Heavily shaded spots are difficult places to establish a lawn.
  • If grading is needed, remove 4 to 8 inches of topsoil and keep it nearby if needed.
  • After shaping the site to the desired look redistribute topsoil above the subsoil. Note that a 2% to 3% slope is needed for proper drainage away from buildings.
  • Be wary of bring in topsoil from another source. This could introduce need weeds or diseases to your site.
  • Firm the soil after shaping. Footprints should not be seen when walking over soil.
  • To help the soil settle, water the area, and fill any areas that show standing water.


A soil test should be made before planting your new lawn to determine the amounts of nutrients needed for your lawn. Soil testing kits can be picked up in Forsyth County at the Demonstration Garden located at 1450 Fairchild Rd, Winston-Salem, NC 27105. Kits can be found in the brochure holder below the Demonstration Garden sign.

You will need to mail completed kits to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s soil testing lab in Raleigh. Depending on the season, there may be a modest charge for the test. The NCDA will email you the soil test results. Your local Extension agent can assist if you need help understanding the report. You can also find more information about Soil Tests here Soil Test Information.

You should fertilize before planting, applying the amount of lime and fertilizer recommended by the soil test. Work the lime and fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil using a disk or rototiller this encourages a deep root system allowing the grass to pull more moisture and nutrients from the soil.

Planting a New Lawn

There are several options to select from when planting a new lawn. Regardless of the method, it is advised to purchase certified seed or sod. A blue certified tag indicates that the seed or plants have met certain standards to assure high quality and low levels of contaminants. The NC Crop Sod Producers Association offers a list of certified sod producers on its website.

  • Seeding is the most economical method of establishing grasses.
  • Vegetative planting is necessary for some grasses that do not produce viable seed (seed that will germinate).
  • Space planting is the planting of separate shoots or sprigs at regular spacings. This labor-intensive method is best used for planting small areas.
  • Plugging is planting individual pieces. This method is often used to introduce a more adapted lawn grass into an old lawn by crowding the old grass out.
  • Sodding is placing sod stripped from one site to another for an “instant” lawn.

Maintenance for a New Lawn

Watering a new lawn is important and you should try to keep the top 1.5 inches of the soil moist. Depending on conditions, a light watering two or three times a day for 7 to 21 days may be needed. As the seedlings grow and root, water less often but for longer periods. After the third mowing, the lawn is considered established and you can follow the recommended watering schedule as noted in the Lawn Maintenance Calendar.

Mow a new lawn when the grass is 50 percent higher than the desired height. How often you will need to mow is will be determined by the environment and the natural growth rate of the grass. Suggested heights of cut can be found in the Lawn Maintenance Calendar mentioned before. Cut lawn often enough that less than one-third of the total leaf surface is removed.

Fungicides and insecticides are rarely needed on new lawns. Weeds are common and it is environmentally responsible to have some tolerance of weeds in a lawn. If weeds are deemed a problem, and pesticides or herbicides are used, always read and follow label directions.

This article was prepared by Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer of Forsyth County Jack Smith.