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Grass Seed Failure

May 7, 2012

When folks tell me their grass seed did not grow or did not germinate in some spots, I can usually trace poor germination to one of several reasons:

  1. Sometimes grass seed is spread on a lawn in spring after a crabgrass preventer has been put down by the lawn owner or lawn service.  The result is poor germination.
  2. Personally, I’ve missed an area when I spread grass seed and did not realize it until after I saw no germination in that spot.  This can happen to the best of us.  It is that tell-tale strip or space where the spreader missed (or should I say where the spreader operator missed).
  3. One time I covered the seed with too much soil in one spot.  All it takes is to spread the seed and then spread the Starter Fertilizer, and then make one pass across the newly seeded area with an upside down leaf rake (tines pointed up).  Note: this is a leaf rake, not a garden rake.  The idea is to make sure the seed is in good contact with soil and that it is no deeper than the top 1/8 inch.  It is ok to still see some seed on the surface.
  4. Many times the seed dries out during the critical time when the grass is germinating.  When this happens, you will likely see little to no germination in the sunny areas and good germination where the soil is in partial shade (where the soil is slower to dry).  The Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed Blends, with Water-Smart Formula, really give you an edge when you are trying to keep your new seed moist.  Scotts EZ Seed also helps to hold moisture next to your seed.
  5. A heavy rain can move grass seed to the low spots leaving the high spots with little to no germination.
  6. Years ago when we lived in Ohio, the grass seed did not seem to want to come up next to a wooded area.  I seeded several times.  Then early one morning while using my flashlight to find the newspaper in the dark, I shined it on this area I had seeded to see if my grass seed was germinating and I saw hundreds of small slugs eating my grass seed sprouts.  These slugs crawled from the woods at night and were grazing on my new grass seedlings every time I planted.  They would then crawl back into the woods during the day.  I put down slug bait and finally I got new grass.

Spring seeding takes longer to germinate than fall planted grass because the soil is colder.  With colder soil you can sometimes count on 2 weeks or more before you see new grass spouts.  Also, you will generally see some of the grass seed come up a week or so before the rest germinates because of the different varieties in the seed blend.

A feeding of Scotts Turf Builder one month after seeding will also help your new grass fill-in thin areas.  If you need to reseed some spots, rough up your soil a little before you seed again.

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  1. Sounds good,
    It seems to really helpful post ever, thanks for sharing with us.

  2. pringals permalink

    I just finished regrading and reseeding my backyard lawn this past week. I then top dressed it with a 1/4 of compost. Now it looks like we are in for a long hot dry spell (St. Louis, Mo area). Should I wait until the dry spell is over or should I go ahead and rack up the water bill and water the new seeds 3-4, maybe 5 or 6 times a day at 15minutes? The seeds haven’t seen any moisture yet, but I’m concerned if I don’t water, will the dryness and heat from the sun hurt the Scotts tall fescue seed under the thin layer of compost. I know it’s late in the season for this, but it was the only time I could get a contractor to fix the grade issues. Been trying to get someone since early March.

    • Hi Pringles
      If you do not begin your watering the seed will not germinate and become established before hot weather. Water at least a couple of times a day for 15 min or so. Hoping for a delay in hot weather.

  3. Grandpa Lawn permalink

    How do you know which grass seed to use? We live in Ohio and this summer that grass is turning brown due to the heat. I have narrowed down to 2 of them, Heat Tolerant Blue Mix and High Traffic Mix. Our yard has sun on it majority of the day….Thanks for the articles also as my lawn was catching the neighbors attention until the summer’s heat came. Now it matches theres.

    • Hi Grandpa Lawn
      I had great success with Heat Tolerant Blue when I lived in Ohio, so I recommend this blend with a lot of confidence that you will be happy with the results.

  4. Gen Crowe permalink

    We planted last night when the forecast was 10% for rain but now it is raining in a downpour…should we redistribute tonight after the rain or wait to see where the seed redistributed upon germination?

    • Hi Gen
      I would wait about 10 to 14 days to see if you have areas that got washed away. Lot of this depends on how much slope you have. If your surface is fairly flat, you should be ok.

  5. Tony Ransome permalink

    This was the most informative answer to my question. And even answered some other questions I had. Thanks

  6. Kai permalink

    Hi, Tony, we live in NJ areas, just regraded and seeded my backyard, temp these days are about 50-60, fairly dry and sunny, I water usually from 8-9 am then 5-6 pm. i usually use the “gentle shower” option on spots and the rest i use two sprinklers, however, my concern is in the morning, the ground always get dry so qucickly,I can’t get it stay moist for more than 1 hour, and it had be several days like this. We had pretty heavy rain 3 days ago but the ground went pretty dry within 24 hrs. Are seeds now dead due to lack of water?? Or there is still time(just water more?)Thanks!

    • Hi Kai
      It is going to take 10 to 14 days before you see grass seedlings. Do the best you can keeping it moist. The soil does not have to stay totally moist all the time.

  7. stressed out mom of three permalink

    Yesterday I spent the whole day weeding and raking moss out of my front lawn, ten bags later, I used Scott’s and a seeding rotary then I watered. And then the rain started. So far it has rained all night and all day today lightly. I have a large pine tree in the south front corner of the yard with two large lilac tree/ bushes again on the south side of the yard. Is there anything else I can do to prevent the moss from coming back, and to finally have nice grass?

    • Hi Stressed Out Mom of Three
      Hopefully you will have new grass from all your efforts. The next step is to feed your lawn to help it fill in. If you tell me where you are located and what seed blend you planted and anything else you put down with your grass seed and finally an estimate of how many hours of sunlight you get in this area, I can give you some specific recommendations.

  8. ken permalink


    I have recently had alot of seed put down. It is at random spots in the yard, and some of the areas are very large. I am seeing good germination in some areas but none in others.. It has been 14 days.. are the other areas a lost cause or does it sometimes take longer for seeds to germinate in different areas of the yard.

    Also the grass that was ok in the yard is getting rather high, should i cut it or wait till the grass grows more. If the original grass wasn’t so close to the new grass i would cut it. However the yard is very patchy and i dont want to damage the new grass/

    Thanks Ken

    • Hi Ken
      Grass Seed Blends do germinate at different rates. For example, our Full Sun blend can take about a week longer to germinate compared to our Sun/Shade blend. If you planted the same seed blend everywhere, it is going to germinate fastest where the soil is warmer and the moisture was adequate during the past couple of weeks. If you are getting most of the germination in the partially shaded areas, the soil may have dried out too much in the full sun areas. There are other reasons I cited in my “grass seed failure” blog posting. Regarding the mowing, you do need to mow your existing grass. You will not cause very much lasting damage to your new seedlings unless the ground is wet and the mower wheels do a lot of damage. Good Luck.

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