Dormant Seeding Sooner is Better than Later

The basic rule is simple. Homeowners who put on a sweater today and get their spring lawn projects started now will be months ahead of their neighbors who wait for short sleeve weather.

Grass seed varieties sown in late November to March will have a head start on the weed and insect season, which begins in earnest in mid-May. Bugs and weeds prefer hot weather. Insect eggs hatch, weed seeds sprout, thicken and spread as soil and air temperatures rise.

Thin areas and bare spots will show up quickly as the rest of the lawn begins to turn green in March. Dead crabgrass and foxtail form brown patches and bare spots in the otherwise green turf. Heavily shaded areas, new construction around patios, and driveways, as well as larger open areas, are barren and in danger of erosion. All these areas need prompt attention if they are to be seeded and well-established before hot summer weather arrives.

Many mid-west lawns are hybrid forms of bluegrass and perennial rye grass. These grass varieties prefer cool soil and air temperatures. During cold winter months, their root systems continue to grow. As spring comes, these deep root systems help the grass thicken and send up new plants. Early spring fertilizer helps fill in bare spots before air temperatures increase and weeds become aggressive.

Related: What is Dormant Seeding?

New generations of perennial rye varieties found in Stadium Special perform particularly well in this region. These hybrids sprout quickly in cold soil, can survive hot summer weather and blend well with bluegrass or fescue lawns. For best results in dormant seeding, rake and top dress all bare spots using PrimeraFC or sphagnum peat. But, if soil is too wet or weather does not permit, these seed varieties may be sown directly over the lawn or a light snow cover. The seed itself is large and has a food reserve that allows the grass plant to sprout and survive without ideal soil contact.

Dormant seeded bluegrass varieties found in Blue Wave require more time to germinate than Stadium Special containing hybrid perennial rye varieties. Dormant seeding exposes seed to natural freezing and thawing cycle of early spring. This swelling and drying help crack the outer shell of the seed. Soil temperatures become warm; the bluegrass plant is ready to sprout. Seed sown in this fashion will come up two to three weeks sooner than bluegrass not sown until warm weather arrives. Common bluegrass varieties should be avoided especially in the spring. Hybrid perennial ryes blended with elite bluegrass varieties found in Estate Mix will develop more quickly and are better able to survive the summer heat.

Turf-type fescue does not like cold weather. Fescue lawns often stay a muddy brown even after their bluegrass neighbors have started to show a bright spring green up. Early season dormant seeding with Macho Mix, which includes five percent hybrid perennial rye will have the best results for a drought tolerant fescue lawn. Turf fescue seeded in this fashion sprouts one to two weeks sooner than fescue held until warm weather before sowing.

The biggest enemy of dormant seeded fescue is brown patch disease that comes in May and June. New seedlings are more susceptible to brown patch than older more mature grass plants. Turf-type tall fescue blends such as Heat Wave show excellent resistance to brown patch. Granular Fungus Fighter may also be applied in mid-May to help young plants through this critical period.

A Golf Course Starter fertilizer applied to the new seed in March will encourage the seed to establish quickly. An April application of Tupersan will assist in preventing crabgrass and foxtail in newly planted areas as the grass plants mature. Avoid using broadleaf dandelion weed killers until the new seed has grown enough to have been mowed two times.