Fall is the best time of year to plant quality grass seed because temperatures and conditions are ideal for nurturing new growth. That is, with the right preparation and seed care.
The answer to the common question, “can I grow grass in the Fall?” is absolutely, and we’ll explain why. With the right pre-seeding lawn care, your grass seed has the best chance of reaching the nutrients it needs and out-competing other plant species for those nutrients.
We’ll teach you how to grow grass in Fall in 4 simple steps, and give you some helpful tips, tricks, and insights for growing grass in the Fall.
But first, when is the best time to plant grass seed in NJ?
Actually, Fall is the best time to plant your new grass seed (or late Summer), followed by Spring. If you’ve missed the window. We will also discuss “dormant seeding” later in this article.
Fall and Spring usually bring us the best grass growing weather, especially for cold weather grass. Cool-season grasses like Tall Fescue grow best in colder weather, which is why we recommend it as the best grass seed for northern NJ.
As cooler temperatures begin to roll in, we tend to use our lawns a little less than their peaks in Summer and late Spring. The traffic reduction, especially combined with a good raking and aeration, gives your green grass some relief from heavily compacted soil. This means it’s a great time to get new grass roots burrowing into loosened soil, especially if the soil is balanced and well-hydrated.
Grass seed for northern climates prepares for dormancy in late Fall and into the Winter, which is why grass slows, then stops growing. Planting in early September is often the best time to plant grass seed in NJ. It’s also a time when weeds are dying or preparing for seed dormancy, too. This means grass will have to compete less with weed seeds and established lawn weeds.
4 Simple Steps For Growing Grass in the Fall:
1. Be sure to prepare your soil. If your lawn has a lot of dead spots or is heavy in thatch, use a power rake to dethatch your lawn and loosen the soil surface. Clear the soil surface of any debris and aerate the lawn before reseeding. Core aeration is best for deeply rooting new grass growth and allowing your grass seed the most soil contact possible. However, you can manually rake your lawn with a durable garden rake and use a pull-behind aerator if you’re doing these jobs on your own.
2. Get the right grass seed and plant at the right time. The most important factor in choosing your grass seed is the amount of sun-shade mix you get throughout your yard. The best time to plant is in early to mid-September and into October, but we’ll give you some tips below in case you missed that window. For more on choosing the right grass seed, check out our recent article here.
3. Water, water, water. New seeds may need more frequent watering as they grow. Water until the soil is saturated to about 6 to 8 inches deep (you can check this by pressing a screwdriver into the soil surface). Immediately following seeding, you should consider watering more frequently and less deeply than usual while seeds begin to sprout. Watering 2-3 times per day will help support new growth in the beginning. Sprouts should appear within 2-3 weeks. Once sprouted, you can water your lawn more deeply and less frequently, as long as you don’t flood the new seed.
4. Protect and nourish your grass seedlings as they grow. Reduce traffic to areas with new seed and don’t cut your new grass unless it reaches more than 3 inches tall. If your new grass seed is planted on a slope or an area that gets a lot of rain water runoff, you might consider laying a fine layer of hay over the ground to protect seeds from water flow and birds. Be sure not to apply too much; the light should still be able to reach the new grass seeds. Finally, if your pH is imbalanced or your soil needs added nutrients after a long growing season, choose a natural fertilizer or compost top dressing to blanket your seedlings in healthy carbon and nitrogen. Your application of fertilizer and weed control products will help protect and nourish your seedlings as they grow.
Sometimes life gets busy and we miss the ideal window for grass growing. Some scientists and academics have studied a method called “dormant seeding,” which occurs late in Fall.
Grass plants will not begin growing if the seed has already entered seed dormancy. During the coldest parts of the winter, seeds and plants are inactive, do not grow, but are not dead. If air temperatures and soil temperatures have dropped low enough, it’s unlikely your grass seed will sprout at all this season. But, there’s still a good reason to plant according to our 4 simple steps (minus the watering).
Dormant seeding is the practice of applying seed in late November, to help mitigate some of the work you’ll need to do in the Spring. This method was studied by Bob Mugaas and reported by Sam Bauer of the University of Minnesota, and was shown to help introduce new grass to lawns better than doing nothing at all, and waiting until Spring.
Dormant seeding is especially effective for bare spots in the lawn and still requires the same soil preparation mentioned above. The difference is, you should lay your seed with the intention that it will not sprout until Spring. New seedlings are vulnerable during the winter, so dormant seeding should happen when the ground is too cold to grow grass, but not yet frozen. Harsh weather conditions during the Winter will likely kill or damage any new growth this late in the season, so be sure that the air and soil temperatures have cooled enough to prevent sprouting.
This practice is best used only when you’ve missed the opportunity to prep your lawn for the Fall and Winter and is not ideal. However, it can be an effective alternative to doing nothing at all and waiting for Spring to start planting.
There’s Still Time to Get Your Fall Lawn Growth
Early October is not too late to start setting beautiful lawns up for success. No matter what the challenge, we have the Fall lawn care package that can get you ready for thick growth next Spring.