We tend to think of spring or fall as the time to put down grass seed, but seeding over the winter, called dormant seeding, is another option that may be easier and result in established grass earlier in the year.
Mid-August through late September is generally considered the best time to seed a lawn because soils are warm but air temperatures are cool enough to not scorch seedlings. Seeding in the spring can be successful, but weeds often take over before seedlings can establish, and wet weather conditions may not allow for seeding until late in the spring. A third option, dormant seeding, mimics the natural cycle where seeds are produced in the fall and remain dormant until soil temperatures are high enough in the spring to allow for germination. There is a risk of seedlings dying off if a hard frost occurs after germination, but generally dormant seeding allows for earlier establishment of grass. According to research done at Kansas State University with plantings completed in December through March, February seeding resulted in the best grass cover in April.
Typically, less ground preparation is involved for dormant seeding and it may result in better soil contact, since seeds settle deeper into the soil during precipitation and freeze-thaw patterns throughout the winter. Seeding after a snowfall of half an inch or more allows the seeds to be carried into the soil as the snow melts. Raking or light tilling can be completed prior to seeding to establish good soil contact. If soil is not frozen, slit seeding or other mechanical seeding methods can be used. As with any time of the year, seeds will not germinate if they have inadequate or excessive moisture or are not settled into the soil.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) suggests that either warm season or cool season grasses can be planted in the winter, but warm season grasses may especially benefit from the freeze-thaw cycles leading up to germination. NRCS also advises increasing the seeding rate by 25% for dormant seeding.
If autumn seeding is not an option, dormant seeding may provide an alternative to waiting out a muddy spring season for seeding. An article titled “Dormant Seeding May Be Your Best Bet” from NRCS discusses more benefits and recommendations regarding dormant seeding.
To learn more about the work of the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District, please visit our website at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us or call us at 740-368-1921.
Julie Watson-Ables is resource conservationist at the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.