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

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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.

Today, as we write this article, it’s October 23rd 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.  

TOO LATE AND NOT FEELING GREAT ABOUT WAITING UNTIL SPRING? THERE’S A SOLUTION!

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:

100% Kentucky Bluegrass Seed … 

This sod-quality seed will match our most current variety of Kentucky Bluegrass sod in production. This seed takes 21 days to germinate and will be very slow to fill in. This seed will require some extra attention to establish, but it exhibits the same deep green color and disease resistance that Red Hen’s sod does.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft

Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) Seed … 

This seed will match our No Net Rhizomatous Tall Fescue sod in production. This seed takes 7-14 days to germinate.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 6-8 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft; over seed 3-4 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.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 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. AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rates: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

Greenskeeper Super Shady Seed …

NEWER PRODUCT we started carrying in 2018! 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.  AVAILABLE PRICED BY THE POUND. Rate: NEW SEEDING: 4-6 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft /// OVER-SEEDING: 2-3 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.

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 here: 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

Until next time, Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!

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