Why my newly seeded lawn failed

I was driving home from a meeting with a new landscape client today when I saw a homeowner in my neighborhood seeding his lawn for the third time this summer.  It got me thinking that there has to be a lot of weekend warriors wasting a ton of  money and energy on marginal results.  I’m sure those same homeowners are wondering why their newly seeded lawn failed to germinate.  Below is a list of reasons that come to mind as common landscape fails homeowners and my landscape clients make that is preventing success in lawn seeding.

1. I’m amazed how many times we see people spreading seed and walking away.  Would you ever drop a tree or shrub on the ground and assume it’s planted?  Seed is meant to be planted, not scattered.  Scratch up the ground, spread the seed and then drag a piece of fence or an upside down rake over the area to ‘plant’ the seed. Better yet, have some extra soil or compost handy for spreading a thin layer of soil over the seed.

2. Trying to establish turf at the wrong time of the year.  Summer is not the correct time to be seeding.  There is really only two times to seed a lawn in New England, before crabgrass starts germinating and after crabgrass finishes germinating for the year.  For best results, lawn seeding should occur no later than 2-3 weeks before Forsythia starts flowering in the spring, earlier is better if possible.  In late summer, you can start as early as mid August.  We like to get our fall seeding completed by the end of September but successful seeding can occur through the beginning of October, under normal weather conditions.  The later into October you go, the more chance you take of a frost damaging the new turf. Depending on the species, seed could take up to 3-4 weeks to fully germinate so you will want to time your seeding long enough before cold or snowy weather arrives.  Cool season grass seed will stop germinating when soil temperatures get below 45 degrees.  As a side note, soil temperatures are usually cooler than air temps.

Most people seed in the spring.  It’s okay but it’s not the best time.  August 15th – September 15th is optimal.  The problem with spring seeding is your newly seeded lawn will be competing with crabgrass which germinates quicker, grows quicker and is more opportunistic.  If seeding in the spring, do it as early as possible.

3. A lack of water.  Grass seed needs consistent moisture for best results.  Once the seed is sown, keeping soil moist throughout establishment is the key to success.  Depending on weather, that could mean watering multiple times a day. Another reason not to seed in the spring.  It will be imperative that a spring seeded lawn has plenty of moisture through the heat of the summer.

4. Too much water.  Watering too much could affect results.  Watering an area to the point of runoff not only isn’t necessary it could wash away seed to another area.  When we seed lawns, we suggest watering each area for only 15 minutes multiple times a day.  That obviously depends on a lot of factors.  You’re looking for consistent moisture without run off.  Shorts cycles multiple times a day is always better.

5. Not rolling the seed.  A lot of seeding fails due to poor soil to seed contact.  After raking the seed under, it is good practice to use a roller filled with water for large areas or walk over the area if it’s a small area.

6.  Not knowing the seeding rates.  If you’re going through all the work of establishing a lawn, applying the proper amount of seed is the easy part.  Read the label!  The label on the bag of seed will tell you how much the bag will cover for a newly seeded lawn as well as how much it will cover for overseeding an existing lawn.  Once you have those numbers, all you’ll know is the square footage of the work area.

Below is a short video of a Toro Dingo with an Aeravator attachment that we use to renovate lawns.

If the above lawn seeding tips are followed, you will have maximized your chances for success. Good luck!

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Richard Schipul
Richard Schipul

For the last 30 years, I have owned the landscape company Designing Eden LLC based in New Milford, CT. We offer landscape designs, landscape installations and garden maintenance services in Fairfield and Litchfield County Connecticut. I am currently the only Nationally Certified Landscape Designer in Litchfield County and sit on the board of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and Mad Gardeners.


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