Can You Plant Grass Seed in the Fall?

Can You Plant Grass Seed in the Fall?

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Has the Lawn seen better days? Has the summer heat and sun (or the kiddie pool and the new puppy) left some bare patches and thin spots after a summer with too little rain? 

Lucky for you Fall is the perfect time of year to plant grass seed!

A How to Guide for Grass Seed Success!

While it’s alright to plant Turf Grass seed anytime throughout the growing season, there’s something about the cooler weather in the autumn that just makes it easier! Maybe it’s the higherfall leaves on deadening grass rainfall, the cooler air temperatures, the warm soil, or perhaps the sun is less intense. The truth is, it is all of the above!

It’s the same reason spring and fall are perfect for planting perennials, shrubs, and trees. Autumn, might mean the season is winding down, but plants' roots are just gearing up! 

Growth has slowed above ground and once the nights start freezing - it stops altogether. But that doesn’t mean your plants are dead, quite the opposite is happening below the soil's surface as roots are busy storing food for the winter and soaking up that much-needed moisture.

Your Lawn is no different! Grass roots are shallow and the summer heat and droughts take their toll on those surface root systems. Warm soil and cooler air are a great time to overseed the areas that have burned up in the summer heat and lack of!

Now is the time for Northern gardeners to start spreading new grass seeds, and for Southern gardeners to overseed with cool-season grass seeds, for a lush, greener landscape in the spring! It does depend on how far North you are as you will need about 45 days for the seed to develop enough before going dormant for the year. However, in the middle part of the country, there is still enough time before frosts end the season!

Selecting the Right Grass Seed or Grass Seed Mix lawn seed

Many bags of grass seeds have multiple varieties of seeds instead of all one variety. This helps with improved resistance to environmental factors, weather, climate, and drought - ensuring that at least a couple of varieties thrive if another doesn’t. Having multiple varieties of grass also promotes genetic diversity. Playing the field if you will. 

Some types of grass are better at handling heavy foot traffic, establish fast, are better for shade or sun, or are more resistant to grubs.

On the other hand, if you know what works best for your lawn and area (your County Extension Office can help greatly with that!), and already have an established lawn of a certain variety of grass - purchase a specific variety bag of Turf Grass seeds for a consistent looking fill.

Why Cool-Season Grass Seed?

Aptly named, cool-season grasses do better … well, in the cool season! Fine Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass are all seeds that germinate well and thrive in cooler times of the year and get growing sooner.

Warm-season grass seeds, as their name implies, do best in the warmer times of the growing season and germinate later in the year. Warm season grasses are Bahia and Bermuda grass, Centipede, St. Augustine, and Zoysia grass seeds won’t come up in the early spring or fall seasons because the temperatures are usually not there to trigger germination.

Grass Seed 1-2-3’s

For northern cold-season lawn care, thin and bare spots in the lawn, or an entirely new lawn location is made possible in three easy steps!

1. Prep the Area for the New Seed compost maker

Start by removing any dead leaves and old dried grass from the spot you will seed. Give the area a good raking to remove thatch and those surface roots, and dig out any weed roots that are present. If you have other reasons for the grass dying, now is the time to correct them!

If the kids have been stomping all over this area, or something heavy was sitting there, then you need to fluff the soil (tilling, pitchfork, etc.) to combat soil compaction. and bring it back to level. (Be careful if you have underground sprinkler lines!) Still, sunken or have some holes thanks to Fido? Add enough native topsoil to bring it to level with the rest of the area and gently tamp it down.

Then, add a layer of good compost to add organic matter and humus to the area and help hold in moisture. Water the entire area very well to hydrate the soil the seed is going into and let that water soak in, then water again! There’s no point watering one area when the rest of the lawn is thirsty - it will just steal that moisture for the seeds. Poke around in the soil a few inches down to see if your soil is so dry that it became hydrophobic. Often you’ll learn you only wet the top layer. Water again and let it soak in long and slow!

2. Lay on the Turf Grass Seeds!

new lawn starterMix the seed with a granular seed-starting fertilizer if you are not applying some after to save you some time. Start light and apply in layers for the best coverage and for an even application. For smaller areas, you can spread the seed by hand, or using a hand-held spreader. But for larger areas, it’s best to use a broadcast spreader. Don’t rush! It’s best to lay the seed down in a couple of different passes from different directions instead of a one-and-done method.

Gently rake the seed into the top layer of soil, no more than a quarter inch. Or, you can spread a thin layer of compost or enriched topsoil over the seed. Some types of grass seed even come suspended in their own mulch that helps spread the seed out more and then acts as a natural, biodegradable seed mulch to hold moisture and keep the birds at bay.

Other options are to mix the seed with Peat Moss or compost to more evenly distribute them and protect them, or apply a layer of straw or sawdust over the top after it’s been strewn. There’s even shredded newspaper or shredded clean dry leaves that can be used on smaller areas. 

If you didn’t add it during the application, spray on or broadcast some seed-starting fertilizer to give those seeds a much-needed boost

3. Water It In! lawn sprinkler

As above when prepping the area, water your seed in again to help settle the ground, work the seeds into the soil and help everything level out. Water slow and steady, that way the ground (especially parched soil) has time to soak it up! Watering too hard or too much at once will dislodge seeds or cause the water to pool - letting seeds float away. You want an evenly moist - not soggy - area that is well-hydrated a couple of inches below the surface.

Avoid walking on the soil and especially avoid rolling your lawn

Now the hard part… You have to wait.

After Seeding Lawn Care

Block off areas that kids and dogs might get into and keep foot traffic away while the new seeds are getting established. Grass seed germination can take from a few days to a few weeks! It all comes down to moisture availability, temperatures and what Turf Grass seed you’ve used.

frosted leafKeep watering every day to every other day until you see green sprouts. It’s important to not allow the new seedlings to dry out at all. After you see them turning green, then you can back off and water every other day to 2-3 times a week. This is of course if your area hasn’t had a good heavy, extended rain. Keep watering one to two times a week if the top inch of the soil is drying out. Water until the ground freezes if you are in the North, or periodically all winter if you are in a Hardiness Zone with mild winters and no ground freeze.

Once you do start seeing some green sprouts, you’ll know if you need to reseed any areas that either didn't take or where the seeds moved before they could take root. Maybe a bird got to them … anything! If you have a few weeks before the anticipated ground freeze in your area, go ahead and reapply in those thin or bare spots if you can reach them. If you can’t reach them without smacking down new growth or you have freezing temps, wait until spring to fill in the gaps.

Mow your new grass as soon as it reaches 3-inches in height or so, this helps keep the roots growing strong and trains the grasses to spread and fill in faster rather than try going for height. Mow regularly to continue encouraging this for as long as your grass is growing this autumn! Depending on your climate or timing, this first mowing may not be until spring, and that’s just fine!

Reseeding an Existing Lawn infographic

In Southern climates and mild-winter locations that already have a nice green lawn but have some areas that are getting a bit thin, spring and fall are great times to overseed your turf with new seeds to revitalize and fill in the gaps. Replenish your lawn with a pick-me-up of fresh seed! This also gives you a chance to integrate seeds that may be more resistant to drought, correct that shaded area, get ahead of potential diseases, or better prevent potential insect damage that your current turf grass may be struggling against.

1. Prep the Area

Prepare the area by raking or dethatching to remove any built-up debris that may inhibit the seed from getting to the soil layers. Take any steps needed to rectify problem areas, and low spots, fill holes, remove rocks, or fix compacted soil. Some suggest aerating the lawn as well to help give the seeds a hidey-hole to drop into and germinate through the existing turf.

2. Spread the Seeds

Either with a seed mix specific to what problems you see arising for your lawn or just to boost the quantity and quality of a specific type of grass already present, it’s up to you and your lawn's particular needs. 

Broadcast for large areas or hand spread for smaller ones, it’s up to you! It’s free exercise and you are spending time outdoors so it doesn’t have to be considered a laborious chore! Then apply a layer of compost or topsoil with some seed-starter fertilizer that will support the existing turf and help the new seeds sprout.

Rake it in gently to distribute the seed evenly and help work it deeper into the soil layers without disturbing existing root systems.

3. Water!

Turn on the sprinklers and give everything a good gradual soaking. You won’t have to water as much since you already have a good layer of growing grass cover that will protect and shade the new seed, and shade the soil to prevent evaporation as you would if you were starting with just bare ground.

Water twice a day in the heat, or at least once a day. You can skip if your area had extended rain. Back off to 2-3 times a week once you see new growth. 

Avoid walking on the worst areas and keep the mowing to a minimum if able. After a couple of weeks of growth, you should be able to return to your usual lawn maintenance routine. Water once a week during the winter so long as your ground isn’t frozen.

Green Days Are Ahead!

Get ready for greener pastures next spring and the promise of warmer weather with a freshly seeded lawn! Order everything you need from Nature Hills Nursery today to get started on keeping your grass greener than the other side!

Happy Planting!

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