It’s best to use cool-season grass seed when seeding your lawn during the winter months. The best grass types for dormant seeding are:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Tall Fescue
- Fine Fescue
- Perennial Ryegrass
By spreading these varieties of grass seed in late winter, you’ll experience the highest volume of new grass sprouts in spring. Other varieties of grass, especially warm-season grasses, do not respond well to cold-weather seeding.
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What is Dormant Seeding?
Dormant seeding, also known as “snow seeding,” is the process of planting grass seed during winter. By spreading grass seed early, you ensure that the grass sprouts as soon as the weather warms up enough to encourage seed germination. This allows your new grass to get a foothold before spring weeds have taken over your yard.
- Dormant seeding is the practice of seeding your lawn while the soil temperatures are still too cold for grass seed to sprout.
- Dormant seeding encourages grass seed to sprout earlier, helping your lawn green up more quickly in spring.
- The natural thawing process of the ground helps dormant-seeded grass get good soil contact and sprout vigorously.
Dormant seeding is also a time-saving way of seeding your lawn. Spreading grass seed during winter pulls the grass seed down into the soil as the ground thaws and snow melts. This helps establish good seed-to-soil contact. You’ll get excellent seed germination rates with relatively little effort on your part.
The 5 Best Grass Varieties for Dormant Seeding
If you’d like to try your hand at dormant seeding, it’s best to use one of the hardy varieties of cool-season grasses. These grass species have seeds that will survive well in winter conditions and sprout at a high rate in spring. The top choices for grass varieties when dormant seeding are:
Kentucky Bluegrass, known affectionately as KBG, is an excellent choice for dormant seeding. It can be seeded in cool temperatures or even when snowfall is still on the horizon. For best results, seed 3–4 pounds of Kentucky Bluegrass per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
When spreading Tall Fescue during the winter months, you’ll need to spread about three times the weight of seed per square foot than you would with Kentucky Bluegrass. This is because Fescue seeds are much larger than Kentucky Bluegrass seeds. So, you’ll be spreading roughly the same number of seeds with both grass types. However, you’ll need to spread 10–15 pounds of Tall Fescue seed for every 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Fine fescues perform just as well as “Tall” Fescue varieties when seeded during the dormant season. Follow the same poundage rates you would use for Tall Fescue and spread 10–15 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. This same rule applies to seed blends that contain both Tall and Fine Fescue.
Perennial ryegrass is an excellent choice for cool-season lawns in areas with hot, dry summers. It resists drought better than KBG or Fescue. It also responds extremely well to dormant-season seeding. Spread 10–15 pounds of Perennial Ryegrass seed per 1,000 feet of lawn for best germination rates and soil coverage.
Kentucky Bluegrass Mixes
In some cases, you will find seed mixes that include Kentucky Bluegrass alongside Fine or Tall Fescue and/or Ryegrass. These blends often work beautifully, providing your lawn with several grasses that thrive in different levels of shade and soil moisture throughout your yard. When winter seeding with one of these mixes, spread 3–4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. In most cases, these mixes are 80–90% Kentucky Bluegrass seed, so it’s safe to treat a seed mix similarly to pure KBG seed.
What Grass Seed is Not Good for Dormant Seeding?
As a rule, warm-season grasses are not ideal for dormant seeding. They can be damaged by cold or may rot during a cool, wet spring. Unlike cool-season grasses, they don’t experience strong growth in early spring. This means that warm-season grasses typically have a weak response to winter seeding. Grasses you should avoid seeding in winter include:
- Bermuda grass
- St. Augustine
- Centipede grass
- Buffalo Grass
Instead, plan to seed your lawn with these grasses in spring. Because warm-season grasses experience their strongest growth in the peak summer months, you may even be able to seed them a little later in the year than cool-season grasses.
When Should You Plant Dormant Grass Seed?
The best time for snow seeding is in late winter. February and March are typically considered the best months for winter seeding. Grass seed spread on properly prepared ground at this time sprouts at about a 73% rate. In contrast, seed spread during December and January only germinates at a 50% rate.
- Dormant seed your lawn in February and March for a 73% seed germination rate.
- If you spread grass seed in early winter (December and January) it will only germinate at a 50% rate.
- Once your grass seed sprouts in spring, keep an eye on the weather and protect grass seedlings from frost.
Although your grass seed will sprout early in spring, it’s important to note that a late-spring cold snap is dangerous to grass seedlings. Once your grass seeds sprout, take measures to protect your new grass from frost.
Will Dormant Seed Germinate?
Grass seed is adapted to remain dormant in cold temperatures and then germinate when spring rains and warm weather arrive. Don’t worry, you can get great results from planting grass seed in winter if you use the right techniques.
- Grass seed that is forced into dormancy by cold weather will germinate once average lawn conditions rise to a safe temperature.
- Do not spread pre-emergent herbicide or “crabgrass preventer” if you have seeded your lawn in winter—these products kill grass seed.
Although patience is needed in order to see the results of dormant seeding, it’s also essential to make sure you do not undo your efforts. If you’ve seeded your lawn during the winter, do not spread crabgrass preventer or any other pre-emergent herbicide in spring. This will kill your grass seed as it finally attempts to sprout.
What Are the Best Grass Types for Dormant Seeding?
The best grasses to seed during winter are cool-season grasses. The top choices are Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass. Warm-season grasses like Bermuda and St. Augustine respond poorly to winter seeding. If you wish to use the “snow seeding” tactic to grow grass from seed, wait until late winter to spread the seeds. Grass seed spread in February or March sprouts at a higher rate than seed spread in early winter.