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Grass Seeding Tips

September 16, 2013

Most grass seeding tips stress suggestions like:  rough up the top inch or so of your soil, make sure the seed comes in contact with your soil, feed your new grass a starter lawn food and keep your new seed moist until your new grass is established.  These tips are fine, however I would like to take a different approach and tell you about situations I have personally seen where folks think they did all those steps right, however they did not get good grass seed germination and growth.

  1. You can expect old seed that has been stored in a garage causing it to experience big temperature changes to germinate poorly.  It is best to buy fresh seed and use it all that season.
  2. Sometimes grass seed is spread on a lawn in spring or fall after a crabgrass preventer has been put down by the lawn owner or lawn service.  The result is poor germination.  The rule of thumb:  If you prevent weeds in spring, seed in fall; if you prevent weeds in fall, seed in spring.  There is a special crabgrass preventer for spring use that is compatible with grass seed.  (Click here to read more about this product.)  Anytime you use a weed killer and plan to seed, check the label to see what the waiting period is before you can plant grass seed.
  3. Personally, I’ve missed an area with my spreader when spreading 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).  If you are spreading grass seed and starter lawn food on the same day, spread the grass seed first so you do not get confused over which spreader wheel track is which.
  4. 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 Lawn Food, 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.
  5. 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.
  6. A heavy rain can move grass seed to the low spots leaving the high spots with little to no germination.
  7. 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.
  8. Fall seeding germinates faster than spring planted grass because the soil is warmer.  With colder spring soil you can sometimes count on 2 weeks or more before you see new grass spouts.  In fall this time can be cut down to 7 to 14 days.  Also understand that no matter when you seed, you will generally see some of the grass seed come up a week or so before the rest of your seed germinates because of the different varieties in the seed blend and their different germination times.  This is why it is important to keep up your watering a week or so after you begin to seed new seedlings.

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. Yvonne Goodrich permalink

    I did not “Weed and Feed” my lawn this spring because I had a new puppy. Now I have a tremendous amount of various weed types growing in my lawn. Please instruct me on what I should apply now (this Fall) to get rid of those weeds and what is safe for dogs. Thank you. Yvonne Goodrich

    • Hi Yvonne
      For most areas of the country, except the far south where the grasses and products are different, you can use Turf Builder WinterGuard Weed & Feed. Apply to moist foliage when rain is not expected for 24 hours and keep your dog off the lawn that day. Water your lawn the next day and when the grass has dried it is safe to allow your dog to go on the lawn.

  2. Brian permalink

    Hi Ashton,

    If I am seeding over a well established lawn(I think this is called overseeding), I assume we wouldn’t want to rough up the top inch right? Can we just drop the seed and rake it in and water? Will that be effective?

    • Hi Brian Seed that does not get good contact with the soil has very little chance of rooting once it begins to germinate. In the situation you describe, some seed will make it to the soil and have a chance to grow. Another method to seed into an established lawn is to use a Slit Seeder. This is a machine that “plants” the seed in shallow grooves that the machine cuts into the soil surface.

  3. Janelle dalstra permalink

    I am having a hard time growing grass in a partially wooded area with pine trees. It started out growing well, then the grass began to die. So i started to rake the pine needles out. But the grass still died. I even vacuumed them out, nothing seemed to work. What is the best approach with growing grass in a yard like this? I am considering reseeding it this fall and would like some advice. I’m not sure if the pine trees killed the grass or if it was my raking. I started to rake after the grass had grown and had been cut three times. I planted the grass in the middle of April in Michigan and by the beginning of July it started to die, it thrived in the beginning then slowly week by week it died. Help whats the best advice to get this to grow?

    • Hi Janelle
      If the area is getting at least 3 or 4 hours of sunlight a day, I would seed this fall. Seed with Scotts Turf Builder Dense Shade Grass Seed Mix and put down Turf Builder Starter Lawn Food the same day. Keep the area moist until your lawn becomes established. Feed your new grass again with Turf Builder WinterGuard about 4 to 6 weeks after seeding. You will have a better chance of getting more root growth this fall than you did in spring. The pine needles are not likely the real reason your grass is thin. Your thin lawn is more a function of low sunlight and your trees stealing the moisture during dry weather. You can rake the needles up after your grass is more established. If your lawn does not live up to your expectations this time around, you may need to consider a ground cover for that area like Pachasandra or Vinca Minor (Periwinkle).

  4. Bob O'Rourke permalink

    How short should I cut my grass prior to overseeding?

    • Hi Bob
      If your existing grass is in fairly good shape, drop your mower no more than 1 notch. If you have killed off your existing grass prior to seeding, you can drop your mower as low as it will go without stalling out in the dirt.

  5. Your grass seeding tips are all spot-on. You even included even one of the simplest but often overlooked problem like using old seeds that are being stored in the garage. Some may think that using those will just result fine like the new ones but they don’t. Thanks for sharing. Very helpful.
    grass seed spreader

    • Hi grass seed spreader
      Glad you found this blog posting useful. Sounds like you know your stuff when it comes to planting grass seed. Good luck with your lawn.

  6. I like your fourth tip about what rake to use. My wife and I are thinking about planting a lawn ourselves, but I don’t have a leaf rake. It’s good to know the materials I’ll need, that way I can prepare for the job. Thanks!

  7. Hi Arthur DeMarco
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I was using the wrong kind of rake when I seeded the first time as I thought I needed to cover the seeds for them to grow. An upside down leaf rake one time across the seeded area is enough to just make sure the seed has made good contact with the soil. Good Luck with your seeding.

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