How to Sow a Low-Maintenance Lawn

A low-maintenance lawn combining grass and clover will require little care.

So, you want to put in a new lawn! Most people choose to put in sod or, in warmer climates, plugs, but that can be very expensive. Plus, it’s a lot of work to install (sod is heavy!) And it’s even more expensive if you pay someone else to do it. 

Worse yet, from the point of view of a laidback gardener, it will give you a “high maintenance lawn,” one that needs constant care to remain green and healthy and will keep you busy for years to come: watering, fertilizing, pest control, etc., as few sod producers offer low maintenance varieties.

The other option is to put in a low maintenance lawn. You can find low maintenance lawn seed just about everywhere these days. It contains slower-growing grasses that will need less mowing, less watering and—especially!—less fertilizing. (Such a lawn may need no fertilizing at all if you leave lawn clippings in place to feed it!) Plus, it will be disease- and insect-resistant. Look especially for grass seed that contains endophytes, beneficial fungi that actually make the lawn less palatable to insects. 

Sowing a lawn is much cheaper than installing sod and also takes much less effort. And, in the end, it gives you a better-quality lawn. It’s telling that the great golf courses of the world only use lawn seed, never sod!

Here’s how to do it:

A newspaper barrier will smother invasive weeds.

1. In May or in the fall (up to 5 weeks before the ground freezes for the winter), prepare the site by removing the old lawn (you can rent a sod remover for that) and replacing it with 6 inches of good, weed-free topsoil. If the lawn was heavily infested with creeping weeds, like horsetail, quack grass or goutweed, the sod remover won’t have successfully removed them, so first put down a barrier of 7 to 10 sheets of old newspaper before adding fresh soil.  

If it’s a brand-new surface (say, a lawn around a new house), you obviously won’t have to remove the old lawn, but still, unless you’re sure the developer put in top-quality soil (very unlikely), it may still be necessary to cover the area with the best weed-free topsoil you can find. After all, a lawn is only as good as the soil it grows in!

2. Once the fresh layer of soil is in place, use a garden rake to even it out. Ideally, you’ll want a slight slope (about 2 to 5%) away from the house and other structures to ensure good drainage, but not a slope so steep that mowing will be difficult (33% or more).

3. Buy quality low-maintenance lawn seed. You can also add clover seed to the mix or even start a lawn entirely composed of clover. Lawns grow best when they include some clover.

4. Rent a spreader. You ought to be able to do so for free at the garden center where you bought the lawn seed.

5. Set the spreader to half the recommended rate and go over the lawn with it in one direction, then a second time at right angles. (This will give better coverage than one single pass.)

6. Rake lightly so the seeds lightly penetrate soil and are barely covered. If your soil is very light, go over the lawn with a lawn roller (available from a tool rental center) to compact it just a bit.

 7. Water well and keep the soil moist during the germination period, about two to three weeks. You’ll have to water several times a week, maybe even daily if weather is hot and dry. About one hour of watering per day should be enough to properly moisten most soils. Avoid walking on the lawn or letting others do so during this period.

Don’t worry if weed seedlings, whose seeds are readily carried in by the wind, start to appear at this point. Most are annual weeds and the first mowing will eliminate them.

8. When the grasses reach about 4 inches (10 cm) in height, mow for the first time, to about 3 inches (8 cm) in height. Walk as gently as you can as you mow, because the grass roots are still fragile at this point. After a mowing or two, your lawn will “toughen up” and be as dense and beautiful (and probably more beautiful!) than the sod lawn your neighbors put in at 5 times the cost.

9. The first summer after sowing (that will be year 2 if you sowed the lawn in the fall), you’ll need to carefully monitor watering, because a new lawn is more fragile to drought than a well established one. However, do make sure you follow whatever watering restrictions your municipality applies.

And there you go! A low-maintenance lawn thus installed is normally good for about 40 years of use … and that’s 40 years of much less effort than your neighbors!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “How to Sow a Low-Maintenance Lawn

  1. Pingback: Is It the Right Time for a Thyme Lawn? – Laidback Gardener

  2. for montreal, what types of seeds do you recommend in addition to clover? thank you

    • You can find plenty of low maintenance lawn seed mixtures in your area. All are mostly, if not entirely, lawn grasses, but more in the fescue group, with endophytic types, all of which are easy to maintain compared to the very needy Kentucky bluegrass.

  3. What do u recommend for California, where water for lawns is scarce?

    • California is a big state with many different climate zones, so the choices are going to vary, but there are deep-rooted native grasses you could try. There is even seed and sod of California native grasses. However, groundcovers are often a better choice and some are very drought-resistant indeed. Which ones will depend on where in the state you live. Check with a local garden club to see what they recommend for your area.

      • We have more climate zones here than most of the rest of the continent. We have more climate zones just here in town than the entire state of Oklahoma.

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