Too late for a Fall Grass Seeding? Tips for a Winter (Dormant) Seeding – It’s a great option that few know about!

Article Last Updated: 11/04/21

Did you miss the optimum time for seeding this fall?  If you are wondering when that was, typically in our region (Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan) the number 1 very best time to plant grass seed is between August 15 and September 15.

It’s November 4th, 2021 and we are still getting daily customer questions about seeding at this time of year and it’s really too late and would be a waste of time and money. Mother Nature is not going to let your seed grow enough to make it through a frost and our soon-to-come harsh cold temperatures.

Any grass seed planting after September in our region can be risky due to freezing ground temperatures.  Once the seed germinates in anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks (more on germination can be read HERE), it will need a couple more weeks to mature enough to withstand the freezing and often unpredictable Indiana temperatures so planting too late may not be successful.  



Why not step out of your comfort zone and opt for what is often referred to as a “dormant seeding“? Using the method of “dormant seeding” also happens to typically be the 2nd best option timing-wise to plant grass seed in our region.  

“Dormant seeding” simply refers to the fact that if you put the seed down once the ground is frozen for the season, the seed will lie dormant or inactive until soil temperatures are warm enough to germinate in the EARLY spring and give you a head-start compared to doing the seeding in the spring.  

You can use any seed you want to use for this method of seeding.  

Unsure what seed to choose?  Pick a high-quality seed for best results. 

Here are a few options we sell in our store:

Red Hen 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod Blend Seed … 

This sod-quality seed will match our most current variety of Kentucky Bluegrass sod in production. This seed will require some extra attention to establish, but it exhibits the same beautiful deep green color and disease resistance that Red Hen’s sod does.  This seed takes 21 days to germinate and will be very slow to fill in.


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft

Red Hen 90/10 Tall Fescue Sod Blend Seed

Also referred more simply as our Red Hen “Fescue Seed” or “Tall Fescue Seed”, this seed will match our 90/10 Tall Fescue Sod in production. It’s currently comprised of 90% Tall Fescue Seeds with rhizomatous-type roots, and 10% Kentucky Bluegrass. The fescues in this mix provide increased spreading ability, deep rooting, and are drought tolerant. The fescues and Kentucky Bluegrass in this mix provides lower irrigation requirements once established. This seed takes 7-14 days to germinate.  


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 8 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft; /// OVER-SEEDING: 4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Custom Mix Seed … 

OUR MOST POPULAR SEED!  Works well in full sun and light amounts of shade.  This variety contains 3 types of grass seeds and each type will germinate at a different time.  


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Premium Shade Mix Seed …

While no grass loves shade, this blend has varieties that exhibit better growth habits in partially shaded areas. 


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Super Shady Seed …

If you have less than 2 hours of direct sunlight and have tried to other shady mixes with little luck, this may be the grass seed for you!  This mix contains includes 5% Poa Supina bluegrass seed – some of the highest tech shad grass seed on the market.  


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

No-Mow Fescue Seed aka Low-Mow Fescue Seed aka Greenskeeper National Links Seed

Excellent blend of fine fescues ideally suited for low maintenance and shady areas. Superb under low managed conditions with unmatched shade tolerance.


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 8 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Valu Mix Seed

Satisfactory for utility-type general usage areas where economy is important. Truly an all-purpose contractors mix with rapid establishment.


Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

For good timing on a dormant seeding, we typically suggest waiting until December and getting it done prior to March, but it all depends on ground and air temps. Basically, you want to wait until the ground has frozen and will stay that way until spring so that the seed you put down stays dormant the entire time. If we were to have a warm-up spell for a length of time, the seed MIGHT start the germination process a bit, and then become vulnerable to being killed off once the freezing temperatures return.

You will need to make sure your site is prepared for seeding prior to snow fall, as you would a typical spring or fall seeding.  

Starter fertilizer is not needed, since the grass is not actively growing, but be sure to get some fertilizer (without crabgrass or broadleaf herbicides!!!) down after the ground thaws to help give the new seedlings a good spring boost.

Simply broadcast the seed at the rates recommended, sit back (enjoy a hot chocolate) and wait for spring.   

Sound strange? How does it work? When the ground freezes and thaws during the winter months, the earth heaves and cracks, eventually making room for seed to fall into the soil where it will wait in a DORMANT STATE for warmer weather to germinate in the spring.  

Some challenges to consider with dormant seeding (overall, less challenges than spring though!): 

  • Birds love seed and since food is scarce in the winter you may get some visitors. You might try seeding in the later winter months (February or early March) for better results.
  • If we get an early sprig warm-up followed by winter settling back in again, there is potential for snow or freezing AFTER the seed has started to germinate.   
  • You won’t be able to use certain herbicides — such as pre-emergent crabgrass herbicides — until after the new grass’s roots system has grown enough to have been mowed at least 2-3 times.  

Unsure about trying a dormant seeding? Try sodding instead.

We harvest sod well into November and sometimes as late as December. The cooler months give off just the right amount of hydration so little water is needed during this time. As long as the site is prepared, you can lay it on frozen ground, the sod will go dormant, and it will “wake up” and finish rooting in the spring. (Surprising, huh?) 

Read more on seeding and our 2 types of sod at these other Red Hen blog articles:

Late July / Early August UPDATE – The Window of Time for Fall Grass Seed Planting Will Be Here and Gone Before You Know It!

FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Soils for Lawn – Considerations for Seeding and Sodding

Red Hen’s Grass Seeding Quiz

Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Red Hen’s Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Red Hen’s Tall Fescue Sod

Until next time, The Red Hen Turf Farm Crew

FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Better Genes = Better Lawns

……. as of 11/21/18, has not been shared with JC / MS

(This post is adapted from an article originally written by David Millar, Red Hen Turf Farm)

Seeding companies usually put in quick germinating ryegrass and fescue, which in the short run pleases the customer with fast growth, but in the long run will disappoint them if they want a lawn with the best possible genetics.

Part of our job at Red Hen Turf Farm is to choose the grass seeds that we will use to form the sod we sell, so we are very familiar with the grasses that are suitable for the Michiana area. Here, we would like to share our experience of selecting grasses with homeowners so they can get the kind of lawn they want.

  1. The Basics
    The appearance of a lawn is determined by the interaction of three things.
    1.) The genetics of the plant.
    2.) How people take care of the grass. This includes soil preparation before establishment, mowing, fertilizing, and especially watering program after establishment.
    3.) The plants reaction to weather conditions, such as temperature, excessive moisture, and humidity.

The first thing a student in an agriculture class in college learns is to start every crop out with seed that has the best possible genetics. Unlike sports players who can give 110%, the best a plant can ever give is 100%. A plant can only look or perform as well as its genetic potential.

A person can have grass with ultra superior genetics, but if the lawn is not installed properly, or not mowed and watered properly, it will not look good. Also, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A person can care for a lawn perfectly, but if the turf has lousy genetics, it will never look GREAT.

The key to a beautiful lawn is to choose grasses that have the best possible genetics, and strive to make the lawn fundamentally healthy by mowing, watering and fertilizing properly. That way the lawn will be less damaged when it is faced with adverse weather and insect attacks. Fundamentally healthy plants are better able to resist disease attacks too. For example, newer varieties of Kentucky bluegrass will not get dollar spot disease if adequate nitrogen levels are maintained. Dropping nitrogen levels leave the plant open to dollar spot attack.

All important turf diseases are caused by different types of fungi. All turf diseases have a narrow range of temperature, moisture, and humidity at which they grow. A week of high daytime and nighttime temperatures along with high humidity will cause an outbreak of several lawn diseases. If a lawn is fundamentally healthy and has grass with disease resistant genetics, the disease attack will be light or absent. If the lawn has susceptible grasses, the disease attack can be severe.

There are four types (species) of grasses most commonly used in this area. Each species has its own set of unique genes that cause the grasses to look and perform quite differently under the same conditions. Here is how each species can be described.

Kentucky Bluegrass:

  • Has the most “sex appeal” of all grasses. It has the darkest green color, most pleasing texture, and thickness people like.
  • Has the widest range of disease resistance of all grass.
  • Looks much better after mowing.
  • Takes about 21 days to germinate and grows slowly for about 6 months.
  • Is not very shade tolerant.
  • Current varieties resistant to red thread.
  • Red Hen’s sod that we grow, harvest and sell the most of if by far our 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod


  • Is the group name for several species of fescues, like tall, fine, creeping red, chewings, and hard.
  • Are light green in color and have a narrow leaf blade.
  • Are like the P Ryegrasses in the fact they are more easily affected by diseases (red thread) that are very common during periods of hot weather and high humidity.
  • Generally are believed to have the best shade tolerance of these four grasses.
  • Red Hen grows, harvests, and sells a Red Hen 90/10 Tall Fescue Sod (aka Fescue Sod or Tall Fescue Sod) that has a deeper root system than our Kentucky Bluegrass Sod.  Read more about the differences HERE – Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Red Hen’s Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Red Hen’s Tall Fescue Sod

Perennial Ryegrass (P ryegrass):

  • Has a pale green color.
  • Very susceptible to often-occurring summer leaf diseases like red thread.
  • Very susceptible to a new disease called “gray leaf spot.”
  • Mows poorly. Lawns look almost white after mowing, especially after seed head stage.
  • Germinates fast and grows fast.

Annual Ryegrass:

  • Is a very pale green, ugly, short-lived plant whose only positive attribute is that it germinates quickly.
  • Is a major component of cheap grass seed.

Interpreting the Basics:
Once you understand the basics, you can apply your new knowledge to your lawn.
If I were to establish a plot of each type of these grasses, and have a group of people evaluate them every day of the year, the overwhelming winner would be Kentucky Bluegrass. If the same group were to look at the plots for problems every day, the grass with the fewest complaints would also be the Kentucky Bluegrass.

Kentucky Bluegrass and fine fescues are susceptible to summer patch. Summer patch is a disease caused by the people who care for the lawn because they have caused the lawn to be shallow rooted. Shallow rooting is caused by poor soil preparation, frequent and shallow watering, and improper fertilization. Since there is no perfect grass, selection comes down to this point: Do you want a grass that looks great (bluegrass) and is resistant to a wide range of diseases you cannot prevent and susceptible to a disease you can prevent? Or do you want a poorer looking grass susceptible to a wide range of diseases?

On the right is Kentucky bluegrass, and on the left is a mix of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue. Note how much darker green the bluegrass is. Note the disease spots on the mix of grasses and the absence of disease on the sod.

It is funny how the selection of the species of grasses gets lost in the method of establishing of lawns. In this locale, there are three methods of establishing a lawn, dry seeding, hydroseeding and sodding. For people who are very interested in their lawn, the issue should be in the selection of the species, not the method used in establishing. But, because sod is generally 100% bluegrass, and seed or hydroseed is generally a mix of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue, the method becomes the selection of the grass.

This is a close up of the disease in the seed mix. It is usually not fatal, but is not pretty and appears often.

Sod growers in this area primarily sell bluegrass because it is what most people want.

A hydroseeding company selling a 100% bluegrass blend has a real challenge trying to please their customers. Bluegrass requires a long period to germinate and as a seedling, looks very fragile. These traits do not inspire customer confidence or satisfaction even though the end result would be a beautiful lawn. Seeding companies usually put in quick germinating ryegrass and fescue, which in the short run pleases the customer with fast growth, but in the long run will disappoint them if they want a lawn with the best possible genetics.

The way to have your bluegrass “cake and eat it too” is with sod. Let the sod grower do all the hard work of growing bluegrass, and you can take the credit for knowing how to select a beautiful lawn.