A Guide to Grass Seed Germination
Once new grass seeds are in the ground, the time it takes to them to germinate and sprout up can feel like a watched pot — as the common saying goes, it never boils, and seeds will keep you in suspense for weeks.
That’s weeks of waiting to see if you planted them right or if the growing conditions supported successful germination.
Seed germination is not a complicated process, but many factors can affect the successful growth of grass seeds. These include conditions like moisture, soil temperature, and light, to name a few.
Depending on the type of grass seed you’re planting, germination takes anywhere from about five to 30 days. In this time, you can use pre-germination techniques and make specific changes to these growth factors to help you speed up the process.
Pre-Germinating Your Grass Seed
Germination is the internal process of a seed breaking through, taking hold of the viable conditions for growth, and then establishing itself enough to begin shooting out of the soil and sprouting up.
Priming your grass seed for rapid growth is a multi-step process. You can improve the conditions that grass seeds rely on, and you can also pre-germinate the seed. This ensures that you give your germination the best chances of taking hold.
Take note of the four main factors that you can alter or perfect to promote rapid grass seed germination:
It takes just the right form and level of moisture for the hull or the hard outer casing of the seed to allow the seed to absorb adequate moisture. During the germination process, a seed will shoot through using epigeal germination or hypogeal germination. Within the seed lies the potential energy stored up, a seed’s embryo, and the ability of the seed to make food through photosynthesis.
Once the seed absorbs the moisture, the seed coat will rupture will make way for the emerging root tip or radicle. The radicle then pushes out through the seed coat, and this marks the official start of the period of germination.
Studies show that the size of the seed can affect how much light it demands for proper germination. Larger seeds tend to be indifferent to their exposure to light, and this may be because they hold much more potential energy than smaller seeds. Research also proves that seeds will use light to tell whether or not they’re beneath the soil, close to other plants, or under a tree’s canopy.
Grass seeds are just as picky. They require burial at just the right depth, or they won’t be able to reach the light and photosynthesize when they try to push through the soil.
Soil quality depends on an adequate amount of nutrients, as well as nitrogen and oxygen. Compacted soil, for example, doesn’t have enough oxygen to support the seed’s growth process.
Temperature is connected with moisture levels and the type of grass seed you’re planting. Cool-season grass types, for example, need to be sown in the fall so they can rest in the ground. This time is crucial as it helps the seeds gather potential energy, and then sprout when the ground reaches the ideal temperature range for germination.
Many seeds display the same kind of behavior: the actual conditions between the time you sow and when the seeds sprout play a significant role in successful germination. If you sow cool-season grass seeds when the ground is too cold, for example, then they won’t grow right away even when the ground temperatures warm up.
How to Prep Grass Seed
Regardless of whether you use cool-season grass seeds or warm-season grass types, it’s a good idea to prep or pre-germinate your grass seed. That’s because many grass seed types use mixes, and some varieties grow slower than others.
To get every seed on the same page, you can pre-germinate grass seed. This is especially useful if you’ve missed overwintering your grass seeds then you can use pre-germination to get a headstart:
- Measure out your seed and wrap it in a piece of cheesecloth. You can also pour the seed mixture into a burlap or cotton bag. Tie the top of the cheesecloth or burlap bag and place it in any vessel with a tight lid.
- Pour water into the container and cover the seeds.
- Store your container in any area, as long as the temperature sits at 70 degrees F. For the next three to five days, keep changing the water every 12 hours until the seed visibly germinates.
- At this point, you can remove the bag and let the excess water drain out. Pour the seeds onto a clean baking sheet or newspaper.
- Now your pre-germinated seeds are ready to go. Plant them right away in your yard and keep the grass seeds moist as it begins to take root. To properly distribute seeds into the soil, you can use a rake to ensure direct contact.
Three Ways to Germinate Grass Seed
Seed germination requires the right combination of water, temperature, light, and oxygen. However, the make-up of the grass seed also makes a difference — some will germinate quickly and easily, while other varieties need a little nudge.
1) By Planting
To plant your grass seeds through regular planting, begin by preparing the soil:
- Loosen the top two to three inches of soil, and then dig six inches deep to remove any debris, such as sticks and stones, and leftover roots. Larger seeds need to be planted deeper into the soil.
- Break up any clumps of soil and level out any areas where excess water might pool.
- Mix in some seeding soil to the top of your existing soil and smooth the two out with a rake. You can also use grass fertilizer instead of seeding soil and place this on top of the existing soil with a spreader.
- Before you sow your grass seeds, mix well-rotted manure or compost into the soil and fill up any existing holes. Smooth it all out with a rake, and you’re ready to go.
Prepping the soil also ensures that when the grass seeds are ready to be planted, they’ll make direct contact with the right nutrients, moisture, and conditions.
2) Using Cold Stratification
Some homeowners, especially those located in transition zone states, will use a blend of cool-season and warm-season grasses. Perhaps you have many shaded areas and trees on your property, which keep certain parts cool. In these cases, you may need to use cool-season grasses even though your climate is more well-suited to warm-season grass types.
To accommodate the right growing conditions for transition zone states, use cold stratification as a viable germination method.
- Wrap cool-season grass seeds in moist paper towels and place these zip-lock bags.
- Store these bags in the refrigerator for anywhere from 30 to 120 days. Remember that you’re trying to mimic the overwintering cold season conditions that cool-season grass seeds need before germinating in the spring.
- Once this period is over, remove the seeds and plant in prepped soil for germination.
3) Through Scarification
In grass seed mixes, some seeds are tougher than others. This hardened, outer coating makes it difficult for a growing shoot to break through. You can damage the outer coating with a piece of sandpaper or by nicking the outer shell with a sharp knife first.
How Much To Water Your Grass Seed
The second most significant aspect of successful grass seed germination is watering. The amount of water you use is directly related to the reason why you’re seeding. Generally, new grass seed responds to and requires plenty of moisture — but not in excess. To get this balance just right, you should begin watering a few days before seeding. This will help prep the soil to optimal conditions for germination.
- Two to three days before planting: Water the area up to a depth of six to eight inches deep, once a day
- Right after planting: Water up to a depth of only three to four inches deep, once a day, and no more than five to ten minutes at a time.
- Until germination ends and seeds sprout: Water to a depth of one to two inches, twice a day
- Once seeds sprout: For established lawns, you only need to water to a depth of an inch per week, including rainfall.
These are the general rules of if you want to keep germinating grass seed moist and healthy. However, particular conditions call for their own requirements. These include overseeding, seeding for patch lawns, and seeding to establish completely new lawns.
Overseeding your lawn is an effective way to thicken your lawn for the next growing season, just after the summer season comes to a close. You can use overseeding to repopulate a thinning or patchy lawn. As the method’s name suggests, overseeding requires you to seed over an already-established lawn.
In the areas where you use new grass seed, water twice daily until the new grass blades start to shoot up. After a week of this schedule, reduce your watering to once a day.
2) Patchy Lawns
The amount and watering technique you use depend on how big these “patches” are. If they’re considerably large, revert to overseeding. But if you’re simply filling in small patches of burnt out or dead grass, you can use hand-watering rather than lawn sprinklers. Keep the new seed moist by water with a can twice daily.
3) New Lawns
New lawns sown with grass seed should follow the full schedule of watering with soil preparation, post-planting irrigation, and then germination irrigation. Don’t water a new lawn any longer than three to four minutes at a time, or you could risk overwatering. If there’s a puddle forming or some run-off because you’re on sloping ground, these are signs that you’re overwatering your lawn to its detriment!
There’s one more factor to consider when you aim for successful germination: the quality of grass seed type. Not all grass seed varieties and mixes are created equally.
Every high-quality grass seed package should seed at a 90-95% germination rate, which means that 90-95% of the seeds are viable and will take hold. However, many low-quality grass seed types have only a much lower germination rate, so, for every 100 seeds you plant, only half may properly germinate.
At Nature’s Seed, we offer homeowners and agricultural specialists high-quality grass seed mixes designed to germinate rapidly and effectively.
From mixes designed to restore wetlands, to erosion control blends, and our hearty lawn seed blends, you’ll always know exactly what’s in the bag when you choose Nature’s Seed range of grass seed mix.
Now that you know how to plan and prepare for successful germination, you can use Nature’s Seed grass seed types to give your lawn the best chance at thriving.