While it is possible to seed and repair a lawn at other times of the year, fall provides the optimal conditions for greatest likelihood of success. Let’s talk about why that is, and how to make the most of it now to help your lawn look better later.
What’s so great about fall?
The optimal conditions that fall provides include cooler temperatures that make for a friendlier growing environment for young plants, while still offering warm soil (which is also necessary for a seed to sprout). The fall temperatures also help keep the seeds moist during germination. Most weeds and diseases are under control so they are not competing with the little guys, and you can not spray chemicals on new grass either—it’ll kill it for sure. Planting in the fall also gives the young grass time to mature and grow strong before the summer stress hits (extreme heat, high traffic, weeds, disease, etc.) All of these conditions increase the chances of more seeds germinating and growing, too, so it is more efficient and cost effective to seed and repair lawns now.
Well, then, what do I do now so my lawn looks great later?
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. The first thing you can is do is resist the urge to just go buy a bag of seed and throw it down. We are talking about how to optimize these ideal conditions for planting, so by putting a little bit of energy into making sure you are ready, you will increase your chances of success. This includes:
- Eliminate any pest or disease problems, because this will also fight your efforts to grow seed.
- Make sure weeds and undesired grasses are gone to remove competition with more aggressive species. Be sure to use non-selective, glyphosate type killer and wait a week or more between treatment and seeding.
- Prepare the soil. In patches you should loosen the soil (our Original Garden Weasel tool can help you do this easily) and add amendments if needed. You may need to do a soil test so you know what is needed.
- It may seem like a luxury, but installing a sprinkler system now will help make water maintenance a lot easier, and now is the time to do it. Or, if you already have one, investigate to make sure it is properly distributing water to your lawn-it could be that patches are caused by lack of water. If a sprinkler system is not in the cards, make sure you have the equipment you need to properly water your newly seeded areas: plenty of hose, good sprinklers in working order.
- Other equipment – you’ll want to have some type of spreader other than your hands to disseminate the seed evenly, especially if you have a large area to cover. You might want to consider purchasing a law roller, too, if you decide to include that step in your process.
- Seed – determine the type of seed you need to purchase and calculate (not guess) how much and have your supply ready to go before you start the project, too.
Plant. Grass seed can be sown by hand, but I prefer to use some type of spreader (hand-held or on wheels). It is easier to control the amount of seed you distribute if you use a spreader, and effective coverage is part of the equation for your success. Ideally, to get a thick lawn, you need to sow 12 to 16 seeds per square inch, so set your spreader accordingly. Then, do two applications, don’t try to get it all done in one.
Rake. Don’t just stop at spraying the seeds around. You want to improve the odds of seed germination by making sure the seeds have good contact with the soil. Raking helps accomplish this by mixing the soil and seed up. Seeds shouldn’t be more than a quarter inch deep, though.
Roll? Though it is optional, we’re talking about optimal in this post, so that is the next step if you’re trying to best the odds. The purpose of rolling is to ensure the best contact with the soil. The goal is not to totally compact the soil, you just want to press the seed into the soil. If you skip this step, it won’t be the end of the world. Just make sure you raked, mulch and water frequently.
Cover. This step can do a lot of things to increase your odds of success: helps retain moisture, protect from birds and limit movement. Your options for cover include fine screened compost, manure (be sure it is weed free) or straw (NOT hay).
Water, water, water and more water. Your first watering should be the heaviest to ensure everything gets moist and there is enough water for the seed to soak up. After that, you don’t have to water so heavily. Do avoid creating puddles and runoff. Water frequently in the beginning – this is essential.
(Notice how we didn’t say “fertilize” – that is because you can kill the seeds with fertilizer. That’s an important thing for grass, but it’s for later.)
Seeding and repairing can be a big job, but it’s one that is worth the investment. And because it IS an investment, take these tips seriously so that the time, energy and money you put into it will reap rewards for you in a few months when spring comes and brings you the benefits of a thicker, lusher lawn.
For a demonstration, check out our YouTube video below on using the Original Garden Weasel for lawn repair and seeding projects.