Eager to garden? Here’s how dormant seeding works

Courtesy Johnson County Extension

Many of us dream of spring and lush green grass. But Mother Nature’s unpredictable weather makes it difficult to achieve the perfect outdoor oasis.

The best time to sow a bluegrass or tall fescue lawn is a narrow 4-6 week period from September to early October.

Last autumn was hot and dry, making it difficult for the seeds to take root. I am often asked if bluegrass and tall fescue can be planted at different times. Dormant sowing, or sowing when the plant is inactive or not growing, is also an option.

Dormant seeding may be ideal for filling small bare areas, but it is not the best option for overseeding large areas. It requires more thought and work than just trying.

The key to successful grass seed germination is making sure the seeds are in contact with the soil. Prepare Small areas can be roughed with a rake.

Seeds penetrate the soil through the natural freeze-thaw cycle. The cycle creates fissures in the soil through which seeds can move. This movement is enhanced when it rains or is lightly snowed, as moisture helps the soil swell. You can increase seed-to-soil contact by covering lightly with soil. This will prevent the seeds from being blown or washed away.

Cool season grasses will begin to germinate when soil temperatures reach the high 50s. Don’t expect signs of growth until late winter or early spring.

Dormant sowing can be done anytime from December to March. A few years ago, the K-State Extension conducted a survey to sow dormant areas monthly from December to March. Plot coverage was assessed in mid-May. Plots sown in February and March had approximately 80% coverage, while plots sown in December and January had 60% coverage.

Don’t expect signs of growth until late winter or early spring. Seedlings have limited roots and are susceptible to stress. Timely watering helps, but may not be enough under stressful conditions.

Spring weeds are also a problem. Crabgrass prevention is difficult as many products are labeled for more established lawns.

In my experience, dormant sown grass dies in the summer and must be sown again in the fall. Helps temporarily alleviate loose soil conditions.

Success depends on winter weather patterns. Dry, rained, snowed? Good soil moisture, fluctuating temperatures that loosen the soil crust, and a pleasantly cool start to spring are ideal. This may be a good time to try dormant seeds. Come spring, the green carpet may be back.

Dennis Patton is a horticultural agent for Research and Extension at Kansas State University. Have questions for him or other university extension professionals? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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