When you are covering new grass seed, the best straw alternatives are:
- Grass Clippings
- Coconut Coir
- Jute Germination Mats
- Peat Moss
The options at the top of this list are the best choices due to the fact that they boost grass seed germination rates. Although all the options will work to protect your grass seed, the options toward the bottom are slightly less effective or may have negative side effects.
Is it Necessary to Put Straw Over Grass Seed?
It is very important to cover new grass seed, but you don’t need to use straw to do the job. Uncovered grass seed can easily become dehydrated, washed away, moved by the wind, or devoured by birds. Each of these unfortunate events can destroy your reseeding efforts. But, choosing the right seed covering can prevent these outcomes.
- Straw is not the only material that works well for covering new grass seed.
- It is always worthwhile to cover grass seed.
- Uncovered seed can dry out and die, be moved by weather, or can be eaten by animals.
- Covering grass seed increases germination rates and promotes a healthy lawn.
When choosing a covering for your grass seed, it helps to know what to look for. First, your grass seed needs moisture to encourage germination and prevent grass seedlings from drying out. Second, the covering should provide benefits for the soil, so your new grass gets a growth boost. Finally, the covering must protect your grass seed from wind, rain, and scavenging animals.
Ranking the 7 Best Straw Alternatives for New Grass Seed
When you are reseeding your lawn, it’s an excellent idea to think about the material you will use to insulate and protect your grass seeds. Here are our top choices—ranked from best to worst—so you can choose the right material for your lawn.
Compost is our number one choice for covering grass seed because it delivers everything your lawn needs. Compost holds moisture extremely well, which encourages grass seeds to sprout and prevents them from dying of dehydration. It also contains an abundance of nutrients that fuel the early stages of new grass growth.
- This organic compost is the best choice for covering grass seed.
- Compost is great for locking in moisture, providing grass-boosting organic material, and shielding your grass seed from the elements.
- Use properly-rotted compost—not manure.
It only takes ¼–⅓-inch (6–8 mm) of compost to adequately protect and insulate your grass seed, so you can cover a lot of seed with a single bag of compost. In fact, it’s a great idea to spread a ½-inch (13 mm) layer of compost on your lawn, spread your grass seed, then rake the compost to gently cover the seed. Water your new seed and your grass sprouts will thrive.
Grass clippings are an excellent, low-cost covering for grass seed. It’s a great idea to mow just before you overseed, so your new sprouts aren’t smothered by tall grass. When you mow, bag and save the clippings, then use them to cover the seed. It doesn’t take a lot of grass clippings—just enough to cover the seed ¼-inch deep (6 mm).
- Use grass clippings for a super low-cost seed covering.
- Cover new grass seed with ¼-inch (6 mm) of grass clippings.
- Grass clippings decompose quickly, so you won’t have to remove the covering.
- Decomposing grass clippings return fertilizing nutrients to the soil.
Grass clippings decompose in weeks, which means they’ll disappear just as your new grass no longer needs a protective covering. As they break down, grass clippings return 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium, and 1% phosphorus to the soil. Essentially, grass clippings transform into a new lawn fertilizer as they break down. This will boost the growth of your seedlings.
Coconut coir (also known as coco coir or coco peat) is a natural, sustainable choice for protecting your grass seed. It is made from the fibers of coconut husks. Purchase bricks of coco coir and crumble them up. Then, cover your grass seed with ¼–⅓-inch (6–8 mm) of the material. Coconut coir is amazing for retaining consistent moisture, which grass seeds crave.
- This coconut coir will create a moisture-holding topsoil to protect grass seeds.
- Unlike peat moss, coconut coir is a sustainable resource that can be used for lawns.
- Allow coconut coir to break down to help loosen compacted soil.
Although coco coir does not have quite as much fertilizing material as compost, it can still help to aerate and loosen compact, clay soil. So, it’s a great idea to leave the coco coir on top of your lawn as your new grass grows. The coconut fibers will improve your soil as they break down.
¼–½-inch (6–13 mm) of sawdust makes a good protective barrier for grass seed. Sawdust holds moisture well and will prevent grass seed from getting disturbed by wind, water, and wildlife. However, sawdust won’t provide much benefit to your soil, so it’s not the best choice for the job. On the bright side, it does not contain weed seeds, which is a frequent problem with straw.
- Sawdust holds moisture well, which helps with grass seed germination.
- It is unlikely for sawdust to introduce weed seeds to your lawn.
- Your soil will get very little benefit from sawdust.
- It is likely you will have to remove the sawdust once your grass is mature—since sawdust decomposes slowly.
Because sawdust breaks down fairly slowly, you will most likely have to remove it once your grass seed grows tall enough to be mowed. This can be tricky, since raking can kill your new grass. It’s worth using a bagging mower to see if you can suck up some of the sawdust once your new lawn is ready to be mowed.
Jute Germination Blankets
To quickly cover grass seed with a biodegradable material, consider using jute germination mats. Large jute mats come in rolls, so you can quickly unroll them on your lawn to cover large newly seeded areas. The jute is tightly woven enough to hold moisture and protect the seeds, but still loose enough to allow the seedlings to sprout up through the jute.
- These jute mats unroll quickly to protect grass seed in large yards.
- Jute is excellent for incubating new grass seed.
- A major drawback is that jute decomposes slowly, which makes removal a must.
- You must remove the jute mats to allow for mowing, otherwise, you risk a jute mat getting tangled in your mower blade.
The largest drawback of jute germination blankets is that they decompose slowly. Sometimes, it can take 2 years for jute to break down naturally. Since mowing a lawn covered with jute blankets is a recipe for getting a blanket tangled in your mower blade, it’s best to remove the blankets once the grass is a few inches tall. This can sometimes be tricky to do without uprooting your new grass, which is why this option is low on our list.
A thin layer of rich, dark topsoil works well as a grass seed covering. Although it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of topsoil vs compost for overseeding, topsoil can provide a lot of benefits. Good soil holds moisture well and contains some nutrient-rich organic matter. Plus, it provides new grass seed with a place to take root. Just add a ¼-inch layer of topsoil over your seed after planting.
- Add a ¼-inch (6 mm) layer of topsoil on top of your grass seeds to insulate them.
- Choose a dark, crumbly topsoil with no weed seeds.
- Poor soil may not contain enough nutrients to boost grass growth.
When choosing your topsoil, make sure it comes from a high-quality supplier. Low-quality topsoil may be poor in nutrients. It could also be filled with weed seeds. Since weed seeds are a common problem associated with straw, you won’t want to deal with the same issues in your soil.
Peat moss is a common material for covering grass seed, but it has surprising drawbacks when you compare peat moss vs straw for grass seed. First, peat moss is acidic and antimicrobial. So, it can slightly raise soil acidity and reduce the population of helpful soil microbes. This can strangle your lawn, preventing it from pulling soil nutrients. So, adding peat moss can do some long-term damage to your lawn.
- Peat moss is good for locking in moisture and protecting grass seed, but has several drawbacks.
- The acids in peat moss can negatively affect soil health.
- Harvesting peat moss is unsustainable and contributes to environmental destruction.
Peat moss should be avoided because it is a non-renewable resource. Wetlands are drained to harvest peat moss. Since the moss grows only 1 millimeter per year, when it is harvested thousands of years of growth are destroyed. To protect the planet, do not use peat moss products for your lawn.
How Long Should You Leave Straw on Grass Seed?
Leave a layer of straw or other covering on top of your grass seed until the new grass is 2–3 inches tall (5–7.5 cm). If you are using a fast-decomposing covering—such as grass clippings or compost—the covering will break down as the grass grows. You won’t have to remove a covering that breaks down quickly. This can significantly reduce the workload of growing new grass from seed.
- Allow new grass to reach a height of 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) before removing straw or another covering.
- Carefully lift the straw off the grass with a pitchfork or scoop—do not rake it aside.
- Some naturally decomposing seed covers (such as grass clippings and compost) break down as the grass grows, so you won’t need to remove them.
If you have to remove piles of straw or germination mats from your new grass, lift them straight up from the lawn. Raking or pulling the covering off will destroy your new grass. Instead, use your rake like a pitchfork to pull the covering up so it can be trashed or composted.
What Can You Put Over Grass Seed Instead of Straw?
Compost is the best choice for covering grass seed. It keeps grass seed surrounded by constant moisture, provides soil nutrients, and protects the seeds from the elements. Grass clippings are another great choice, since you can get them for free by mowing. Coconut fibers work well for grass and work to improve soil aeration as they decompose. Alternatively, you can use sawdust to cover your grass seed, or you can choose seed germination mats made from jute. You can use topsoil to cover grass seeds but it will provide fewer soil nutrients than compost. Finally, peat moss is a poor choice for covering grass seed since it acidifies your soil and it is not a sustainable natural resource.