Believe it or not, winter is just around the corner. Many parts of the country are experiencing frost and below freezing temperatures, while other areas have already seen their first snowfall. By this time, most garden activities are focused on cleanup and preparation. Homeowners should be devoting the next couple weeks to leaf removal, garden cleanup and irrigation system winterizing. As for planting grass seed, your window of opportunity is quickly closing. With the exception of the southern parts of the U.S., grass seedlings germinated this late in the season are prone to die when exposed to below freezing temperatures. Yet there’s still one more chance to sow seed before the snow flies through the practice of dormant seeding.
What is Dormant Seeding?
Dormant seeding is accomplished by sowing grass seeds over bare, thinning areas of your lawn while the grass is dormant. This can occur before or after the ground is frozen, as long as temperatures are low enough to prevent the seed from germinating until the following spring. Depending on your area of the country, this could be anytime from November to February. While generally not as successful as early fall or spring planting, dormant seeding has a few unique advantages of its own that make it something worth considering.
Benefits of Dormant Seeding
Seed sown in the late fall and winter dormancy months will have a head start come spring. In fact, dormant seeding can produce grass a half month sooner than seeding in the springtime. While this head start might not seem significant, it can play an important role in suppressing weeds. Dormant seeding is also ideal for areas where irrigation is limited. By allowing the seed to overwinter in the soil, all the necessary moisture for germinating is present once temperatures begin to warm up and snow starts to melt. Dormant seeding also solves the problem of sowing grass seed in spring mud.
Tips for Dormant Seeding
Apart from the time of the year, the dormant seeding process is not much different than conventional overseeding methods. Before sowing, it’s important to select the appropriate high-quality seed blend. Both warm-season and cool-season grass species can be dormant seeded, although warm-season grasses won’t germinate until late spring or early summer. Prepare the soil by raking the bare and thin spots to establish proper seed-to-soil contact. The freezing process will also help the seed-to-soil contact by cracking and heaving the soil. For best results, try to time dormant seeding prior to snowfall. Snowfall provides excellent cover for the seeds and protects them from birds, wind or washing away. Don’t sow seed directly on top of snow.
While dormant seeding has some unique benefits, it also carries some unique risks. An early spring warm-up followed by a hard freeze could kill the seedlings. Seeds also risk being washed away if snowmelt is excessive in the spring. Dormant seeding should not be implemented on sloped areas that are prone to erosion.
Even though dormant seeding is not the most preferred seeding method, when conditions are right it can achieve some great results come spring. It comes with some risk, but when working with Mother Nature, doesn’t everything?