Grass seed spread on a lawn without proper preparation and soil covering will sprout at a much lower rate than properly seeded grass. Additionally, any seeds that do sprout will struggle to establish themselves. This is true whether you are seeding bare soil or overseeding an established lawn.
For best results seeding grass, mow any existing grass low, rake to loosen topsoil, spread seed, and then rake again to mix grass seed with loosened soil. Once you have seeded, fertilize and water your grass seed to make sure the new grass germinates and grows to maturity.
Table of Contents
Drawbacks of Uncovered Grass Seed
Uncovered grass seed spread on the unprepared ground will not perform at its best. Even in bare or thinly growing spots in your lawn, the unprotected seed will have a hard time taking root, primarily due to poor soil contact or soil that is too hard and compacted. Below are the disadvantages of spreading grass seed without preparation.
- Lower germination rates. A smaller percentage of seeds will sprout.
- Increased risk of grass seed being eaten by birds and other scavengers.
- Grass seed may not have good soil contact (may be trapped in thatch or existing grass) and will not sprout.
- Increased difficulty for new grass taking root in compacted topsoil.
Because such a low percentage of grass seed will grow if spread without preparation, most of the money you’ve spent on seed will go to waste. Not to mention, your work spreading the seeds will not yield the thick lawn you’re looking for.
8 Tips for Grass Seed Success
Preparing your lawn to adequately cover grass seed and ensure the highest germination rates involves simple, low-cost steps and pays off in the form of a much greener and thicker lawn. Few things are more frustrating than seeding and seeing no results. Follow these tips to see a lush crop of new grass, so you can feel like a lawn care pro.
Use the Right Type of Grass Seed for Your Area
There are 2 types of grass: warm-season grass and cool-season grass. Before you buy seed, consult a climate map to see what type is best for your region.
As the name implies, warm-season grass does best in warm southern and coastal areas, although it can be found up through “transition zones” in the United States where climates support both warm and cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses include Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Buffalo grass.
Cool-season grass tolerates lower temperatures, remaining green even as temperatures dip in fall. However, these grasses do not tolerate excessive heat well. They can be grown in areas with cold winters as well as in transition zones. Cool-season grasses include Fescue, Bluegrass, Ryegrass, and Bentgrass.
When buying seed, make sure you get a variety best suited to perform in your region. This will ensure seeding success.
Seed at the Right Time
Seeding grass for the best results depends on the variety of grass you’re planting.
Warm-season grass performs best when seeded in late spring through early summer. Because these grasses experience their strongest growth in peak summer months, seeding early in the year allows the new grass seedlings to establish themselves before fall halts their growth.
Cool-season grass can be seeded in spring or fall, but typically does best when seeded in fall. Brisk temperatures following the summer peak jumpstart growth in these grass species.
Choosing the best temperature for grass seed is important to its long-term growth.
Before seeding, mow your grass to a short height to ensure the seed you spread reaches the ground and won’t be caught in any existing grass. Additionally, bag grass clippings when you mow, to ensure the topsoil isn’t covered. You want your seeds to make contact with the soil, so they can take root.
- When overseeding a lawn that has a tall grass variety such as Fescue, Bluegrass, or St. Augustine, mow existing grass to 2 inches in height.
- When overseeding a lawn with a creeping grass, such as Bermuda, Centipede, or Zoysia, mow to 1 inch in height.
Rake after Mowing
Once you’ve mowed your grass short, use a rake with thin metal tines to rake the area about to be seeded. Even if you’re seeding bare spots or a yard that is completely without grass, follow this step. Raking will help to break up compacted soil, which allows grass seedlings to take root.
If you are raking an area with existing grass, bag up any thatch or grass clippings gathered during raking. It’s important to remove anything that is a barrier preventing seeds from reaching the soil. Thatch and other debris in your lawn reduce seed germination rates. If your thatch is especially thick, it may be time to consider dethatching.
Use a broadcast spreader for large yards, a handheld spreader for small yards, or cast seeds by hand in bare spots. The goal of each method is to spread grass seed evenly, to promote an even, thick yard.
Additionally, follow grass seed packaging recommendations for the volume of grass seed required per square foot. Use the full amount recommended whether you’re overseeding or seeding bare ground.
Seed the lawn first in an east-west pattern, then a north-south pattern. This ensures proper grass seed coverage.
Use your metal-tined rake again after seeding to rake the newly seeded earth. This will help cover seeds and encourage good grass plant root growth. Grass seeds should only be covered by 1/4 inch of dirt. Grass seed buried 1/2 inch or deeper will struggle to sprout. If some seeds are visible after raking, that is acceptable.
If most of your grass seed is still uncovered after raking, apply a thin top dressing of grass seedling mulch. It’s a great way to protect grass seeds from birds and help retain soil moisture after watering.
Fertilize Your New Seed
Grass seeds thrive when fertilized with a grass starter fertilizer that contains phosphorus (for root growth) and nitrogen (for blade growth). Spread a starter fertilizer after seeding to feed young grass. These nutrients are essential for the early stages of grass plant growth.
Grass seedlings need a lot of water. Follow our guide for grass seed watering to make sure your seeds sprout and grow to maturity. Most grass varieties require watering at least one to two times per day for several weeks.
It’s essential to keep the soil moist. Lack of water can kill baby grass plants by drying them out or preventing root development. Those young grass roots need moist soil to dig deep and begin pulling in nutrients from the ground.
Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered?
All grass types will struggle if they are seeded and left uncovered. Sowing seed without proper lawn preparation and leaving it without protection results in poor germination due to lack of soil contact and exposure to scavengers. To prepare your lawn and seed properly, follow these steps:
- Use the right type of seed depending on your region.
- Seed at the right time for your grass seed type.
- Mow existing grass low and bag the clippings, so the seed can reach the soil.
- Rake your lawn to loosen soil and remove thatch.
- Cast seed by hand or with a seed spreader.
- Cover seed with 1/4 inch of soil or top dressing.
- Use a starter fertilizer to provide new lawn nutrients.
- Implement a grass seed watering plan to keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout.
By improving soil conditions and getting rid of barriers that keep seeds from reaching the soil, you lay the groundwork for success. Covering grass seed with soil or a top dressing is essential for giving grass seed what it needs to grow to maturity. Do not skip this important step and do not leave grass seed uncovered when seeding your yard.