Gardening: Now is time for dormant grass seeding

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

As I sat down to write this column, I really had no idea for a topic until a friend suggested this: winter seeding of your lawn. Thanks, Steve Sharp! I needed this.

Seeding your lawn in the winter may seem like a bad idea. Won’t the seed freeze? Won’t it die? The answer is no. Winter or dormant seeding is highly recommended if you didn’t get it done in the fall.

A good friend of mine, the former owner of Green Velvet and an expert in growing turf, always said a bad winter seeding is better than a good spring seeding.

While fall is the best time of the year to seed your lawn, winter is the second best. Grass seed germinates when soil temperatures are between 59 and 86F, depending on the species. In the fall, the soil is warm, and we typically have rain to help the process.

Seeding a lawn in the spring and summer is quite a challenge, but it can be done. There are a lot of environmental variables to manage, and watering is the most challenging if it’s hot.

If you notice bare spots in the lawn, you still have time for dormant seeding. Purchase a similar type of grass that you already have in the lawn if you are spot seeding.

This might be one of your biggest problems. If you have a Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass blend and you spot-seed with a turf-type tall fescue blend, the spots will stand out.

The above grasses have two very different types of foliage, with the first being thinner than the turf-type tall fescue. Once you have selected the right seed, there is no soil preparation like there is during the other seasons.

A critical factor to success is seed-to-soil contact. In the other seasons, you need to work the soil so it’s loose enough for the seed to get into the soil. Seeding on top of a compacted soil surface won’t be as successful.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

In dormant seeding, Mother Nature does this work for you. As the soil freezes and thaws during temperatures going up and down, the seed is worked into the soil, providing good seed-to-soil contact.

A key point to keep in mind is that seeding should be done when the soil is not frozen. The best time to do this is in late November, before the soil freezes. A good winter snow cover also helps.

However, you are still likely to be successful now if we have a slight warm-up and the top layer thaws. Or if we get another good snow cover for a period.

If you wait too much longer (into March) dormant seeding success drops and you need to go to a spring seeding.

The seed won’t germinate until the soil reaches proper temperatures in the spring. Once it germinates, you may have to water it if it’s dry. However, typically we have enough April showers that you don’t have to water.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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