January 10, 2022
Does dormant seeding work on a farm lawn? Traditionally, lawns are seeded in either spring or fall. But increasingly, turf specialists are recommending dormant seeding.
With this method, the area is prepared in fall, but the seed is not distributed until after the growing season. Seed remains in place, but does not begin to grow until soil temperatures are warm enough for germination in mid-April.
Dormant seeding has several benefits. Soil preparation can be done at your leisure during dry fall conditions. There’s no rush to get the work done in a short window of time in spring between frozen soil and wet soil.
Dormant-seeded turf grows well and fills in during cool spring weather, preventing much of the potential invasion by weeds. Plants have more time to develop vigor and hardiness before hot summer conditions, making them more able to tolerate summer stresses.
The actual process of seedbed preparation is the same as other times of the year, but dormant seeding is most effective when core-aeration, power-raking, tilling or any other form of cultivation is done in fall.
Simply broadcasting seed and allowing it to work into the soil naturally through frost-heaving may work to some extent, but having soil preparation done first to improve seed-soil contact is important for success.
Prepare small areas by hand raking to remove excess dead top growth and loosen the soil surface. Aerating is the best technique for preparing larger areas. It opens up the soil and provides a good surface for germination. Seeds that fall into the aeration holes will germinate and grow well. There is no need to topdress or fill in the holes before seeding.
Power raking can also be used to prepare the site, but it is more damaging to existing turf. The only benefit to power raking over aeration is it can help reduce excess thatch if more than a half-inch of thatch layer is present. If power raking is used, go over the turf lightly — only deep enough to penetrate the top quarter-inch of soil.
Once seedbed preparation is done, dormant seeding can take place from mid-December through mid-February. Ideally, soil temperatures should be 40 degrees F or below to ensure seeds will not germinate. Since the seed needs to have good soil contact, don’t apply seed over snow. Dormant seeding should be done no later than March 15.
The seeding rate for new, bare lawn areas for Kentucky bluegrass is 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet, and for tall fescue, 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
The amount of seed applied when overseeding into a thin lawn is usually half the amount used for a new seeding. When working with small amounts of seed, mix sawdust, dry sand, organic fertilizer or any other suitable material with the seed to aid in obtaining uniform coverage.
Applying a preemergent herbicide for weed control can be done with new seedings, but use only the preemergent herbicides mesotrione (Tenacity) or siduron (Tupersan). These herbicides provide good control of annual grassy weeds such as crabgrass and foxtail, yet still allow the grass seed to germinate.
Apply preemergent herbicide between mid-April and the first week of May. Several days of soil temperatures 55 degrees or above are required for crabgrass and foxtail seeds to germinate. Be sure the preemergent herbicide is in place before that time. Monitor your local soil temperature at Nebraska Extension’s Hort Update.
For new seedings, use the lower recommended rate and repeat the application one month later.
Don’t rely solely on spring rain for germination of your new seeding. Begin watering the seeds 2-4 times per day in late April to ensure good germination.
Base your watering schedule on weather conditions and how fast the soil dries. Water frequently enough to keep the top half-inch to 1 inch of soil moist, but avoid overwatering and saturating the area.
Watch winter conditions
One risk with dormant seeding is warm winter and early-spring temperatures. If conditions cause seed to germinate and are followed by a cold period, seedlings may be killed.
Continuous snow cover provides the best protection for seeds. Monitor seeded areas in midspring for the need to do additional overseeding, but give the seeds plenty of time to germinate.
Browning is a Nebraska Extension educator in Lancaster County.
Email your Farm and Garden questions to [email protected].
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