Best Practices when Seeding in the Fall

Fall is the best time of the year to plant grass seed. The soil is still warm, the temperatures are cool, and the ground is moist. These are ideal conditions for sowing seed – especially grass seed. If you’re planning on seeding your lawn this fall, here are a few pointers from the Lawn Coaches at Heritage Lawns & Irrigation.  

Seed Selection

Choosing grass seed is probably the most important step of all. Many homeowners don’t realize it, but most grass seed contains weed seeds as well. It is well worth your money to pay more for better quality seeds. Cheaper seed has weeds and you don’t want to plant more weeds. Always check the tag/label to confirm the quality. Look for 0% weed seed and 0% other crop. 

The variety of grass seed is also important. It is very important to select a seed blend that will accommodate the growing conditions and environment it is planted in. We suggest that for the Kansas City area you want to have a 50/50 blend of Bluegrass and Turf Type Tall Fescue. This blend performs well in our harsh climate. We recommend that you do not use Rye Grass or Fine Fescue in your lawn as these grass types do not hold up in our hot dry summers. Most lawns already have bluegrass in them as it naturally spreads on its own. Fescue on the other hand is slow to spread and may need to be added every few years to maintain the proper balance. So in short, if overseeding in the Kansas City area use a Turf Type Tall Fescue and if starting over from scratch with bare soil use a 90% Fescue 10% Bluegrass blend.

When to Seed

Generally speaking, the window of mid-August through mid-October is a good time to seed. This gives the new seed plenty of time to germinate and fully establish before heavy frosts and cold winter temperatures come. The longer you wait, the more challenging it will become as soil and air temperatures drop below optimal germination levels. Even when the seed does germinate late in the season, often these young seedlings do not survive winter because they are too young and immature for the harsh  conditions. Heavy frost can also be hard on new seedlings making them less likely to get established.

Fall Dormant Seeding

If you miss your window, there is one other option, although the results are not as impressive. It’s called dormant seeding. You can spread seed later in the season (usually November) when the soil and air temperatures are too cold for germination, but before the ground is not frozen yet. The seed will lie dormant all winter and when the soil temperatures warm up next spring, germination begins. Seed that is left fully exposed to the harsh elements has far less chance of germinating and establishing itself come spring, so covering the seed with a very thin layer of compost or topsoil will greatly increase the success of the dormant seeding. It’s not ideal, but will yield some grass early in the season. Plan to supplement with more seed.

Don’t Forget to Water!

Watering is the second most important step after choosing the right seed. Don’t forget this rule: If the seed dries, it dies. Water is essential and without it the seed cannot germinate. Light frequent watering multiple times a day is the best method. It ensures the seed always stays moist, yet won’t wash any seed away as heavy watering can. Overwatering can also drown the seed.

How Long Will It Take to Germinate?

The speed of germination depends on several factors. After weather conditions, the species of grass makes the biggest difference. Each species germinates at a different speed. However, Fescue and Bluegrass are similar. Under ideal weather and growing conditions, both Fescue and Bluegrass will germinate 14-21 days after seeding and will continue for another 10 days after you see the first blade emerge.  

Caring for New Grass

New seedlings can take several weeks or months to become fully established. As seedlings mature they develop a root system that will enable them to grow healthy and withstand the natural stresses of their environment. Special mowing practices are necessary until they mature. Mow new grass as soon as it is four inches tall to a height of no less than three inches tall. The same general rule that applies to established grass applies to new grass – never remove more than ⅓ of the blade at a time.  If  you mow too low you may damage the crown and kill the grass. 

By the time of the first mowing, you will have probably tapered off watering to once a day. If the ground is very soft, you may want to stop watering for a day to allow it to firm up or you may leave ruts. Resume your tapered off watering schedule. After you have full germination, or ten days after you first see seedlings, you can reduce your watering and allow things to start drying down a bit. Watering one time per day for the next three weeks and then resume your normal watering schedule. 

Fertilization Tips

Adding starter fertilizer is important to give your grass seed a good start. You can add the seed and fertilizer at the same time (in a broadcast spreader) or you can broadcast the seed and fertilizer separately, one immediately following the other. Starter fertilizers emphasize phosphorus, the most critical ingredient for root growth in seedlings.

About four to eight weeks after the seed germinates, add regular fertilizer with a fertilizer that is predominantly nitrogen. Regular fertilizer contains nitrogen (N), potassium (K), and phosphorus (P). Once the grass is 4 to 6 weeks old, nitrogen becomes the most important nutrient for a healthy, attractive stand of grass.

If you’re ready for a healthy lawn, give Heritage a call at (913) 396-6858. We offer lawn care, irrigation, seeding, aerating, sprinkler repair and lawn fertilization services. We turn embarrassing lawns into a lawn that will make you proud.