Grass seed is the most affordable way to start or repair a lawn. But it also requires hard work. Along with prepping the soil before laying down seed, you must keep all foot traffic off of the area until the grass is well-established.
Staying off of new grass is not a rule you should take lightly. Walking on grass that has just sprouted can seriously harm or damage the lawn. Any excess foot traffic could undo all of the work you put into creating a lush lawn that you can be proud of.
Let me outline the steps I recommend taking to keep your grass in optimum condition during the first few weeks after seeding.
- Keep Pets Off New Grass
- Avoid Human Foot Traffic
- Water The Lawn With Sprinklers Or Hose Spray
- Don’t Be Tempted To Mow Too Early
- Let The Seeds Develop Deep Roots
- Let The Grass Grow To 3-Inches Before Mowing
- Mow 3 Times Before Walking On New Lawn
How Long To Stay Off New Grass Seed
Whether you’re patching an existing lawn or starting grass 100% from scratch, it’s crucial to stay off of the area for at least one month. Ideally, you should avoid foot traffic for 8 to 12 weeks if at all possible.
Your new grass is most vulnerable to foot traffic immediately after germination. Depending on the grass species, germination usually occurs within 3 weeks. Remember that grass sprouts aren’t always visible when they first germinate. So I recommend staying off of your new lawn from the moment the seed is laid down — it’s not worth the risk of ruining your hard work.
How To Avoid Walking On Grass Seed
We don’t realize how often we walk on our lawns until we’re suddenly banned from doing so! I don’t suggest winging it when it comes to keeping foot traffic off of your new grass seeds, especially if you have kids or pets around.
If you have a large lawn in need of seeding, it may be worth it to split the area into several smaller sections. While this will extend your seeding project by several weeks, it will also mean that you can use part of the lawn while the rest of the grass fills in.
Keep Pets Off New Grass
No amount of shouting will keep dogs or other pets from walking across your newly seeded lawn. As a fellow dog owner, I highly recommend investing in temporary fencing to protect the area. The height of the fence will depend on your dog’s size and persistence.
Even after your grass is a month old, it’s a good idea to keep the temporary barrier in place for several more weeks.
Canine digging, playing, and regular bathroom activities will take a heavy toll on young grass. The longer your new lawn has to establish itself undisturbed, the better it will hold up to day-to-day dog traffic in the future.
It’s also a good idea to cover your lawn with horticultural fleece, netting, or another form of protection from birds and other wildlife. Here’s an article covering this topic in more detail, if you need further advice 12 Solutions To Keep Birds From Eating Grass Seed.
Avoid Human Foot Traffic
You know not to walk on your freshly seeded lawn but do the neighbors? How about your own children? I suggest protecting your grass by placing simple rope barriers around the area. This is especially important if you’re seeding next to a public sidewalk or similar location where foot traffic is quite common.
Placing a few politely worded signs on your barrier will also go a long way in keeping passersby off of your growing lawn.
Water The Lawn With Sprinklers Or Hose Spray
There’s no excuse to walk across newly seeded grass — even to water it. If the seeded area is fairly small, you can water it by using a hose-end sprayer and walking around the perimeter.
For large lawns, plan ahead by setting up oscillating sprinklers before seeding that cover the entire area. I recommend arranging and testing your irrigation system before laying down the seed. This will ensure you won’t need to walk across the freshly seeded soil to fix the sprinkler setup later on.
Don’t Be Tempted To Mow Too Early
The damage from mowing the grass too early is twofold. First, the grass will be harmed by the weight of the lawn mower (and your footsteps, if using a walk-behind model). Second, the blades themselves can’t handle the trauma of being cut by mower blades until they are several months old.
When Can You Walk On New Grass
You can start lightly walking on grass 4 weeks after it is planted. By that, I mean you can walk across the area to get to your garden shed or firepit.
I do not recommend letting children or pets play on the grass at this time. Avoid rolling anything across the grass — i.e., wheelbarrows, rolling furniture, grills, etc. — and carry it instead. You should not leave anything, no matter how lightweight, sitting on the grass.
For routine foot traffic, I recommend waiting at least 6 to 8 weeks. By this time, the grass should have grown enough to have been mowed three times.
As with fully established grass, it’s especially important to keep traffic to a minimum when the soil is damp from rain or sprinklers. Personally, I won’t walk on damp grass until at least 8 weeks after seeding.
Let The Seeds Develop Deep Roots
A mature, healthy lawn’s roots extend between 6 and 24 inches into the soil. This root system is largely responsible for keeping grass alive throughout winter freezes and summer droughts. Of course, it takes time for new grass seeds to root, especially when producing such fully mature long roots. And in the interim, it can’t handle routine stressors like heavy foot traffic, mowing, or extreme weather.
I believe that watering deeply is the secret to encouraging deep grassroots. Grassroots will naturally penetrate the soil to access moisture and nutrients. When you only saturate the top inch or two of the soil, however, your new grass has no reason to extend past this very shallow depth.
It’s also important to loosen the top several inches of soil so that the roots can easily penetrate into the ground. So don’t be tempted to skip proper soil preparation in your rush to grow a lush, green lawn.
Let The Grass Grow To 3-Inches Before Mowing
It’s best to gauge your new grass’ progress by its height rather than the amount of time that’s passed since seeding. I recommend letting the grass grow to at least 3 inches tall before getting out of the mower.
For the first mow of your new lawn, be sure to adjust your mower blades to their highest setting. You should not be cutting very much of the grass at all the first couple of times you mow.
If you have access to one, use a walk-behind mower on young grass. These mowers are much lighter than ride-on mowers and will do less damage to the grass as a result.
Mow 3 Times Before Walking On New Lawn
A good rule of thumb is to keep off of new grass until you’ve had a chance to mow it three times. This guideline is more about timing than the act of mowing itself. Once the grass has grown tall enough to necessitate mowing multiple times, you can be sure that the root system is developed enough to sustain regular foot traffic.
The one exception to this rule is, of course, the amount of walking you’ll need to do in order to mow the grass. Be sure the turf is dry before walking across it with your lawn mower. I also suggest wearing lightweight shoes that will do minimal damage to the grass underfoot.
Mow With A Sharp Blade
You should always mow with a sharp set of blades. Sharp mower blades cut the grass very cleanly, resulting in a better-looking lawn and less damage to the grass itself.
If you mow with dull blades, the grass can be torn instead of cut. Torn grass blades are more susceptible to disease. Extremely dull mower blades can even rip the grass out of the ground. In my opinion, this is more likely to happen with young grass that hasn’t developed extensive roots yet.
The exception is new lawnmower blades, which feel dull to the touch due to the powder coating finish. Do not sharpen new mower blades. Simply fit them and use them as they are and they will bed it, removing the powder coating in the process.
Taking your time when mowing is one of the best ways to ensure your grass is cut clean rather than torn. The duller your mower blades are, the more important it is to take things slow. According to Consumer Reports, the ideal mowing speed is about 3.5 miles per hour. Keep this in mind if your lawn mower features a built-in speedometer.
Bag Grass Clippings
While bagging cut grass isn’t always necessary, I definitely recommend bagging clippings when your lawn is still young. There’s a good chance that grass clippings will smother newly sprouted grass seeds. Leftover grass clippings can also create the perfect home for fungi and disease.
Once your lawn is established, I only recommend bagging grass clippings that are over 1 inch long. Shorter grass clippings can be left behind, where they will break down and add organic matter to the soil.
Will Walking On New Grass Seed Kill It
Some light foot traffic will rarely kill new grass outright. However, it is very likely to damage the young seedlings and stunt their growth. Walking on grass before it is ready may create bare patches that will fill in slower than the rest of the lawn.
Excessive traffic can and will kill grass seeds that have not yet developed deep root systems. Walking on new grass is more likely to cause permanent damage if the seeds have recently germinated.