How to Plant an Eco-Lawn

Are you considering growing an eco-lawn in place of your higher-maintenance turf lawn? Many gardeners are seeking an easy-care, more drought-tolerant alternative to traditional grass. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago walks you through the steps you need to follow to grow a successful eco-lawn.

A hand presses down on freshly mown green grass on a plush eco-lawn.


Our lawns have become a status symbol in America. Lush green grass costs a lot of money and, more importantly, time to maintain. In the 1950s, alongside the mass manufacturing of rotary lawnmowers, the suburban manicured lawn grew in popularity. The grass seed industry has answered this call by breeding grass seeds resistant to diseases and fertilizer and pest-preventing programs that can help us all maintain our emerald green lawns. 

For many, the cost and time investment in a traditional lawn isn’t worth the effort. A new wave is coming for lawn care, and it is the eco-lawn. Eco-lawns comprise fine grasses and broadleaf grass varieties that grow nicely together. Often, these lawn types include clover as well as types of fescue.

This type of lawn requires less pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer. There are eco-lawn seed blends to purchase, or you can mix your own seeds to create the perfect blend for your yard. 

If you’re ready to say goodbye to the environmental impact, cost, and time spent growing a traditional lawn, an eco-lawn might be the ideal solution. In this article, I will go over simple steps to make it achievable for anyone to have an eco-lawn in their yard. 

Step 1: Get the Timing Right 

Close-up of a well-kept lawn in a garden. A well-maintained lawn features lush green grass with a uniform height, creating a smooth and vibrant carpet-like appearance.
The optimal times for establishing an eco-lawn are fall and spring when temps are favorable and weeds are less active.

The best time to plant a new eco-lawn is in the fall. This is because temperatures have dropped but have not cooled off too much. Another reason is that weeds are not as prevalent or active in cooler temperatures, making it easier for new seeds to take hold and begin getting established. 

If fall doesn’t work for you, spring is another great option. You can start your eco-lawn once your temperatures are about 55 degrees consistently. 

Use this planting timeline as a guide:

ZoneSpring SeedingFall Seeding
Zone 2 and 3 May-JuneOctober-November
Zone 4May-JuneAugust-September
Zone 5, 6, and 7April-MayAugust-September
Zone 8March-AprilOctober-November
Zone 9March-MaySeptember-October
Zone 10 January-February November-December

Step 2: Convert Your Existing Lawn

Dethatching the Lawn. Close-up of a gardener mowing the lawn with a red lawnmower. The gardener is wearing blue jeans and brown boots. A lawnmower is a mechanical device designed for cutting and maintaining the appearance of a lawn. It consists of a wheeled base that moves over the grass, housing a rotating blade or blades beneath it.
Before overseeding, mow the existing lawn very short, remove debris, and dethatch to prepare the surface.

You have two options when you are planting your eco-lawn. You can strip your current lawn or convert your existing lawn by overseeding. This method can take up to five years to fully convert your lawn. So be patient and stick with it. 

  1. Before overseeding, mow your existing lawn nice and short. Adjust your mower’s blade to one inch or lower. This will scalp the grass, which is damaging but will provide a better starting surface for the eco-lawn seed. Be sure to bag your lawn clippings.
  2. Remove all other debris from your lawn. This could be rocks, clumps of lawn clippings, you name it. The goal here is to start with as flawless of a surface as possible. 
  3. Dethatch your lawn. This can be done using a dethatching machine rented from local garden centers or a heavy steel rake. This process will help to break up and thatch buildup. Thatch is dead organic material accumulating at your lawn’s soil line. If thatch accumulates, it can prevent water and fertilizer from reaching the soil. Water can get caught up in thatch layers, resulting in turf diseases and suffocation of the root system due to lack of air. Dethatching can also help with soil compaction and will help to prep your soil for seed. Remove all clumps of plant material that a dethatcher can leave behind. 
  4. Time to add some compost! Your compost must be weed-free. Add about ¼ inch of compost to your entire lawn. Bulk compost can be found at local farms, garden centers, and landscape supply companies. If you only need a small amount of compost, some excellent bagged brands can be found at garden centers. The bags of compost are easy to move around and spread by yourself.
  5. Now you’re ready to overseed!

Step 3: Plant a New Eco-lawn

Close-up of a woman's hand removing grass from a lawn in a garden. Grass appears as a dense carpet of green, slender, and blade-like leaves that emerge from the ground. These leaves are smooth and have a vibrant green color
You’re either starting from bare dirt or dealing with an existing lawn.

Either you have a brand new lot with nothing but dirt, or you have an existing lawn that you wish to remove before sowing your eco-lawn seeds. If you don’t have any grass to kill, skip to the next step. If you do, you have some decisions to make!

Cover with Soil

Dump about 4 inches of soil on top of your lawn. This will smother the existing grass and give your new seeds a good start. This will not work for everyone for several reasons. You do not know exactly what is growing in that new soil. It could be full of weeds.

Secondly, it may not be viable. Four inches is no small amount of soil. If you want to try this method, I would suggest doing so only if you plan on having a small ecolawn.

Use Herbicide

Option 2 is to spread herbicide over your entire lawn. Using an organic herbicide takes more time and more applications than a non-organic option. Follow the instructions on the package of whichever product you choose. The goal is to kill your lawn. Once it is dead, give it one last low mow. Rake up all of the debris. Now you are ready to sow!

Manual Removal

And the third and final option is physically removing your lawn. You will not only need to remove the leaves but the roots as well. The root system of grass plants can be three inches deep and, in some cases, even deeper. This job is great for a landscaping company if you plan to replace a larger lawn. Once your lawn is cleared, give the soil a good raking to create a good growing environment for your grass seed.

Step 4: Amend Your Soil

Close-up of a gardener's hands holding a handful of peat moss over a bag full of peat moss, in the garden. The bag is a large black plastic bag. Peat moss has a distinctive appearance characterized by its brownish color and fibrous, sponge-like texture. It consists of partially decayed organic matter, primarily mosses and other plant materials.
Soil quality matters for a successful eco-lawn.

Soil may not seem like the most important factor when planting a new lawn. Grass grows pretty much everywhere, right? But now that you have gone through all this hard work clearing your lawn and cleaning it up, you should take this opportunity to ensure your soil is in good shape. This will only increase your success rate. 

The ideal soil for an eco-lawn is loam. Loam is a type of soil made up of clay, silt, and sand. This soil will hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. If you have clay soil or sandy soil, do not worry. Here are a few ways to improve your soil: 

  • For clay soil: Add a layer of peat moss or straw to your soil after you sow your seed. This will not change your soil, but it will help prevent evaporation, allowing the seeds to stay moist. Dry seeds will not germinate properly. 
  • For sandy soil: Add a few inches of topsoil to your lawn before seeding. This will give the seed something more substantial to hold on to and aid in germination and overall success. 

Step 5: Sow Your Seeds

Male gardener sows lawn grass. Close-up of the hand of an elderly gardener, dressed in a blue sweater, pouring grass seeds onto the prepared soil in the garden.
Apply the seed by hand or with a spreader for accuracy, then lightly rake or roll it into the soil.

Now that your yard is prepped, it is time to sow your seed!

  • For small areas, just broadcast the seed by hand.
  • To overseed or lightly seed, the application rate is 5 pounds per square foot.
  • To seed heavily, the application rate is 7-9 pounds per square foot.

You can choose to spread your seed by broadcasting by hand, or you can use a hand crank or push-behind spreader. The spreaders will provide the most accurate distribution, which makes the job easier for larger lawns. 

Once you have spread your seed, lightly rake the area to help the seed settle into the dirt. Use a lawn roller to gently roll the seed into the dirt if you have a sloped lawn or struggle with erosion. 

Step 6: Water Your Eco-lawn

Green lawn watered by automatic sprinklers in a sunny garden. A green lawn appears as a lush and well-maintained grass, characterized by its vibrant green color. The grass blades are uniform in height and have a healthy, smooth texture.
To establish drought tolerance, water regularly in the first year.

One of the main attractions to growing an eco-lawn is that, over time, it may become drought-tolerant. As with anything, this takes time and effort from you. 

  • In the first year of growth, water your eco-lawn regularly.
  • For the first three weeks after seeding, water every day you do not have rain. The goal is one inch of water per day.
  • Cut your water back to every other day or every two days for the next two weeks.
  • From that point on, water once a week.
  • While your eco-lawn will be drought-resistant, keep an eye on it. If you are experiencing drought, especially in your first year, water your lawn.
  • Use a rain gauge to track how much water your lawn is receiving. You can purchase a rain gauge from your local garden center or use a mason jar to collect the water and then measure it.
  • If you are in a particularly hot climate, such as California, you will likely still need to provide supplemental water each year during the summer months. However, it will take less than most lawns require.

Watering can be done using your irrigation system, with a sprinkler, or by hand with a hose. Depending on what size lawn you are growing, choosing the most efficient method is up to you. 

Step 7: Mow  

Close-up of a gardener mowing the grass with a lawnmower. A lawnmower has a cylindrical body with wheels and a handle for maneuvering. The body houses the engine or motor that powers the cutting blades. The lawn mower is white and black with red elements.
Eco-lawns are low-maintenance with slow-growing grasses, so you don’t need to mow regularly.

One of the main draws to growing an eco-lawn is that you will not have to spend every Saturday morning outside mowing your lawn. The grasses in this seed mixture are pretty slow-growing, making it easy to take a break from mowing. 

Eco-lawns do not need to be mowed as often. If you do not mind the look of the longer grass, skip your mowing sessions! Of course, no lawn will ever be 100% maintenance-free.

  • To remove seed heads that may spread your new lawn into flower beds, it’s essential to mow twice a year. 
  • Keep your eye on your lawn. When you notice these seedheads appearing, get out there and mow! The timing for these two mowing sessions will be in the late spring and again in the late fall.

Now, if you prefer your lawn to be slightly more manicured, do not worry. Eco-lawns can support that as well. 

  • Time to remove that scheduled lawn mow from your calendar! You will only need to mow your lawn when you want to!
  • One rule to remember is not to mow your lawn shorter than three inches. 
  • Using a reel mower is a great way to manage your lawn height and keep your blades sharp while saving on electricity, making your lawn even more eco-friendly!
  • Be wary of taking off any more than ⅓ of your grassed growth. This can stunt the grass’s ability to grow healthy and happily.

Step 8: Manage Your Weeds

You will have to weed or apply an organic pre-emergent herbicide during the first few years.

Weeds happen. It’s almost unavoidable, right? So what will we do when weeds emerge in our new, fabulous, eco-friendly lawn? 

  • In the springtime, as well as autumn, use an organic pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-emergent herbicides prevent many weed seeds (or other seeds) from germinating. The pre-emergent herbicide must be in the soil before the weeds emerge. 
  • If you are overseeding with eco-lawn mix, do not use pre-emergent herbicides for 1-2 months after you seed. Pre-emergent herbicides are not picky. They prevent any and all seeds from germinating. 
  • Another way to keep weeds in control is by mowing! Mowing will usually remove any seed heads that weeds produce and, in turn, will prevent weeds from spreading.
  • After your first season of growing, you can use regular weed and feed herbicides.
  • After a few years, you will not need to worry about weeds. The mature grasses will create their own pre-emergent herbicide and keep weeds away without your assistance.

Step 9: Maintenance

Close-up of watering a lawn with an oscillating sprinkler. The lawn is well-maintained, smooth, carpet-like, bright green. An oscillating sprinkler is a watering device designed for laws and gardens. It consists of a rectangular base with a series of nozzles or openings along a horizontal bar. Oscillating sprinkler is made of plastic.
Once established, your eco-lawn is low-maintenance but needs occasional watering during extreme heat or drought.

Once your eco-lawn is established, the maintenance will be low. 

  • You only need to water your new lawn when experiencing extreme heat or drought.
  • Fertilizer is not needed, but use a fertilizer that is high in potassium if you choose to fertilize.
  • As your lawn thickens, you will not need to spread herbicides. This is because the dense lawn will crowd out any unwanted weeds.
  • Overseed in the springtime! This will help to thicken your lawn while also repairing any damage that may have occurred over the winter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an eco-lawn pet-resistant?

Pets can romp and zoom around on your lawn without any damage. However, there is not a grass option that can completely tolerate pet urine. If you can, hose or spray down spots where your dog has urinated. This will help to dilute the urine and prevent it from building up in the soil, which can help to prevent brown spots. To avoid this issue, try planting microclover.

How much seed do I need?

This will depend on the type of seeding you are doing. Five pounds of seed mix will cover 1000 square feet. Simply measure the length and width of your space to find the area you need to cover. Once you know how large your lawn is, you will easily be able to calculate how much seed you need.

When can I play on my eco-lawn?

Do your best to stay off your lawn while it is getting established. This can be tricky if your lawn is a primary play or recreational space for your family, but your patience will pay off. Once your lawn is fully established, you can resume your normal activities without worrying about the long-term effects it may have on your lawn.

Final Thoughts

Growing an eco-lawn is such a great trend. It still provides a turf-type lawn, but it lightens your maintenance load, so you have lots of extra time to play with flowers and finally sit back and enjoy your yard! Do not be intimidated by these steps. When it comes down to the details, it is very similar to planting any other type of lawn.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, that’s okay! Lawn care companies are here to help and can at least do the heavy work of removing your existing lawn, spraying herbicides, or dethatching. Choose the best route for you, and you will already be on your way to a successful eco-lawn. 

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