If you’ve ever seen the luxuriant results of overseeding on other people’s lawns, you are probably eager to take on an overseeding project of your own. But maybe you don’t have the time to combine aeration with overseeding and top-dressing your lawn. So you may be wondering – can you just sprinkle grass seed on your lawn, water it, and watch it grow? After all, that sounds way easier than the other methods you’ve come across online!
Sorry, but I’m here to tell you that if you want to get great results, you will have to put in some time and effort when seeding your lawn.
In fact, if you just sprinkle seed and don’t follow the right process, you may simply be scattering really expensive birdseed.
So the answer is no, you cannot just sprinkle grass seed on your lawn and consider the job done. If you do this, the majority of your expensive seed won’t germinate. There are certain things you must do so that your grass seed has the correct conditions for growth.
Today I’ll explain why you can’t just sprinkle grass seed on your lawn, and what to do instead.
Why Grass Seed Must Be Covered
Your grass seed really ought to be covered to grow well. There are three primary reasons why:
- Grass seed that isn’t covered will dry out (and seeds won’t germinate unless they stay moist),
- If you don’t cover your grass seed birds, rodents, and other animals are likely to eat most of it, and
- A strong rainstorm can easily wash your seed away if it isn’t covered and held in place.
If you have nice wet conditions when you scatter seed on your lawn it’s possible that some of it could germinate, even if all you do is sprinkle the seed on your lawn.
But the amount of seed you would have to spread to account for poor germination, runoff, and hungry birds would be huge.
Why waste seed (and money), when all it takes is a little time and elbow-grease to get amazing results?
What You Should Do to Plant Grass Seed
If you have the time, energy, and resources – this is the best way to plant grass seed:
- Loosen the soil and remove old dead grass and debris (you could use a dethatcher, and then a leaf rake to do this, or a simple iron garden rake could work).
- Run a core aerator over your yard (I love to pair aeration with overseeding because it improves seed to soil contact, soil structure, and gives great results).
- Spread seed with a broadcast spreader, working in opposite directions (run it around the perimeter of your yard, then work north to south across the whole yard, followed by east-to-west across the whole yard for even coverage).
- Use your spreader again to spread starter fertilizer across the entire yard to encourage aggressive root growth on your new seedlings.
- With the back side of a leaf rake gently work the seed into the loosened soil, helping it fall into core aeration holes as well.
- Use peat moss, screened compost, or fine topsoil to top-dress your lawn with about 1/4″ of coverage, leveling out low areas as you go.
- Water well to keep the soil and seeds moist.
Not everyone is ready to tackle a big project weekend like that.
If you simply don’t have the time (or energy) to loosen your lawn, aerate, and top-dress then rent and use an overseeder (sometimes called a slice seeder) for the job.
This tool cuts slits in your lawn and drops the seeds down into those grooves so that they have great contact with the soil, are protected from runoff and birds.
After that you just have to spread some starter fertilizer and water – much easier!
What to Cover Your Grass Seed With
If you are going to top-dress your seed, then peat moss or screened compost are my preferred options.
There are a few reasons for this, but to be brief – they both hold moisture extremely well. This makes it easier to have good success, even if you get home late from work and the period between watering your seed is infrequent.
If you have access to free or inexpensive compost – it’s a great option. Not only will it serve as a good mulch for your seed, but it also adds vital nutrients to your soil. It’s black gold!
You’ll see a lot of homeowners using straw to cover their seed. While this is an effective mulch for seed, I don’t like it because straw often contains seeds, and you don’t really want that competing with your expensive turfgrass seed.
And if you’re seeding trouble areas (such as hillsides) where erosion is an issue in heavy rain, consider a biodegradable erosion control seed blanket (like this one on Amazon). It will increase your chances of success.
Why You Must Prepare Your Soil in Advance
You won’t have success with your grass seed if you sprinkle it on soil that hasn’t been prepared.
To get your soil ready for new grass seed, you will have to do things such as aeration (getting rid of hard, compact dirt), and possibly amending the soil to change its pH or other characteristics.
Of course, what you will need to do depends on the current state of your soil, your region and its climate, and the kind of grass seed (the species) you are planting.
In almost every case you’ll get the best results if you scratch and loosen the existing soil prior to spreading seed. You can do this quickly with an iron rake (or a rugged leaf rake). Loosening that top layer of soil slightly will allow your seedlings to more easily penetrate with their young roots.
This will improve the results of your seeding project significantly.
You Should Spread the Seed Evenly
Don’t underestimate how important it is to evenly distribute the grass seed over your soil. If you end up with too much seed in one area, you may end up with no grass.
That’s because when there are too many seeds together in one small spot, each growing plant will choke out the others.
It would be like everyone in an office working on different versions of the same presentation, and then when it was time to print there wasn’t enough paper for anyone – and nobody got their project across the finish line.
That said, you don’t want to spread your seed too thinly either. If seed is too far apart, that leaves room for weeds to take root and get established. And once weeds get in and become a problem, your lawn and the health of your grass is compromised.
Because it’s so important for grass seed to be evenly distributed, I don’t recommend that you just sprinkle it over your lawn and hope for the best. Use a quality broadcast spreader and get everything even.
How Much Seed You Use Matters Too
And make sure you’re ordering and spreading the right amount of seed for your property. If you have a 1/2 acre lot, you don’t need a 1/2 acre of seed. After all, part of your property is your house, patio, driveway, garden beds, pool, etc.
Use my free lawn size measuring tool to get an accurate measurement of the lawn areas of your property, and use that information to spread the perfect amount of seed (the bag will guide you).
My final tip is that after you spread your seed, work over the entire lawn with the back side of a plastic leaf rake. This will help work the seed into the soil, and help ensure that you have even distribution.
It’s easy work too, because you’re not moving anything other than light rake.
Types of Spreader
Understanding lawn spreaders and which kind you need is key to any successful grass seeding project.
When looking at spreader types, you will notice there a drop spreaders (which drop the seed directly below the seed hopper) and broadcast spreaders (which throw the seed out far beyond the hopper).
Some people call broadcast spreaders, rotary spreaders.
Making things even more complicated is the fact there is more than one kind of broadcast spreader.
There are both hand-held and walk-behind broadcast spreaders available.
The Spreader I Use & Recommend
I’ve owned and used a number of different broadcast spreaders, and if you want the best one available, I recommend The Andersons Yard Star spreader. It is American made, can hold 50 pounds of material, rolls smoothly and easily, and is the most accurate spreader I’ve ever used.
Handheld Spreaders are Fine for Small Jobs
Hand-held spreaders are inexpensive, and just fine for most small jobs. The best ones use a hand crank to spread the seed from a small hopper you hold in your other hand.
But for jobs of any size you’ll want to purchase a walk-behind spreader. They start at around $30 at your local box store.
The hopper is the place where the seed is held in any seed spreader. There should also be an opening that you can adjust, and this will give you control of how much grass seed you are putting down, or your application rate.
Drop Spreaders Work for Level Lawns & Medium-Sized Jobs
If you have a small property, you might be able to make do with a drop spreader. Specifically, your lawn should be smaller than 5,000 square feet if you want to use this simpler kind of spreader.
They work best on very level lawns as well (bumpy lawns can give you less desirable results with this style).
Even though it’s a bit of a simpler design, a drop spreader is great for making the seed coverage on your lawn exact and precise. In other words, it gives you great control.
Broadcast Spreaders are My Preferred Tool for the Job
If you have a larger property, you will need (and want) a broadcast spreader. When you use a broadcast spreader to apply your new grass seed to your lawn, you’ll notice that it throws your seed in a shape similar to a fan.
With a broadcast spreader, you can spread out the grass seed much faster and more efficiently than you can with a drop spreader or hand-held spreader.
Tip: Look for one with an edge-guard so you can work around the perimeter of your lawn without broadcasting seed into your driveway, garden, and onto the street and sidewalk.
Grass Seed Needs Fertilization
Yet another reason you can’t just sprinkle and go is the fact new grass seed needs fertilization, and not just any fertilizer will do.
Your new grass seed needs the right balance of the three macro-nutrients (N-P-K) to fuel its early root growth and healthy development.
Timing is extremely important, too. You should put down an appropriate fertilizer at the same time you spread your grass seed, working both in with the back of the leaf rake, and then watering everything in all at once.
This way your lawn starter fertilizer is in the soil and available to your seedlings once germination occurs.
You can find a full list of my recommended starter fertilizer products right here.
Provide Appropriate Watering
After you’ve spread your seed, starter fertilizer, and covered it with a seed blanket or a thin layer of peat moss or compost, it’s time for the most important step.
It’s critical to keep your seed moist (but not soaking wet) in the early going to aid in germination.
You should be especially conscientious about watering in the few days after you put down the seeds, and after germination you’ll want to gradually water less frequently, but more deeply to encourage deep root growth.
You can read more about how and when to water grass seed in this article.
Now You Know What to Do Instead of Just Sprinkling Grass Seed on Your Lawn
As I’ve explained, you can’t just sprinkle grass seed haphazardly on your lawn and hope it will grow (well you can, but you shouldn’t expect much).
There are certain things you need to do beforehand and afterwards (including covering the seed to protect it, prevent run-off, and ensure it isn’t eaten by birds).
Taking these steps will ensure that you get the best performance from your seed and achieve the results that you’re looking for.
I hope these tips help you with your upcoming seeding project!
My Favorite Grass Seed
Patented, Proven, Performance Grass Seed.
I use and recommend Jonathan Green’s elite grass seed product line. It’s the best choice for most northern and transitional zone lawns, and it’s what I overseed my lawn with every year.
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