Fairway Green, Inc
9 Ilene Ct, Suite 14 Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone: (908) 281-7888

Is Dormant Seeding A Good Idea?

What is Dormant Seeding?

Over the years it has become common practice for some homeowners to spread seed over the lawn during the winter with the hope that the seed will remain “dormant” in the soil, then sprout to life when warmer conditions return the following spring.


Nothing is That Easy

While dormant seeding is a method that can result in some new growth the following spring, there are a lot of disadvantages associated with trying to establish grass with this technique.

The first thing to consider is that seed cannot simply be “spread” over the lawn. If it is to establish itself, there needs to be good seed-to-soil contact. This can only be ensured if the seed is mechanically sown into the soil using a core aerator, de-thatcher, or slit-seeder, or if it is done manually using hand tools. In either case, the overly wet or frozen soil at this time will prohibit homeowners from being able to accomplish soil preparation effectively.

Second, seed selection will be very limited. Most seed blends sold today have high concentrations of Kentucky bluegrass and/or tall fescues. These are by far the two most desirable species of turf, but studies have shown that neither will effectively develop once soil temperatures drop to 50°F. Less desirable blends of perennial rye and red fescues would provide the only real chance for significant growth in the winter-spring transition.

The next thing to consider is the extensive period of time the seed remains exposed and un-germinated, the seed is far more prone to washout and bird-feeding. Much higher seed rates need to be used to try and counter these effects.

Finally, with it being winter, fertilization cannot be done to promote the new growth. Starter fertilizers are vital in the development of newly seeded areas. Here in New Jersey, it is illegal for licensed applicators to apply fertilizer from December 1st-March 1st, and unlicensed homeowners to apply fertilizer from November 15th-March 15th in any given year. The result will be underdeveloped plants heading into the early part of March when snow and frost are still likely, which can kill the fragile seedlings.


Why Bother Dormant Seeding?

As stated at the top, there can be a positive effect from dormant seeding. However, this will only occur when all of the risks associated are taken into account, the site is prepared correctly, and all necessary additional steps are taken.

Dormant seeding can be the best option if the winter is the only time a site is not in use for an extended period. The best examples of this are sports fields used for soccer, baseball, etc. During the more ideal seeding windows of fall and spring, they are in constant use, so winter is the only time that caretakers can effectively overseed.

The same scenario could exist in the case of a homeowner that for whatever circumstances isn’t residing on their property during the fall and spring, but that is the only situation in which the best recommendation would be to dormant seed.


The Real Story

If there are so many factors to consider with dormant seeding, then why do so many people swear by it?

Most homeowners unhappy with the look of the stressed turf at the end of the summer are spreading seed over a lot of grass they perceive as dead. However, it is rare that significant ground cover is lost entirely to the stress of summer. Most of the cool-season grass types commonly established, take a long time to fully recover from extended periods of summer stress. So what the homeowner most often witnesses in spring is their existing lawn fully recovered, not newly established grass that has come up over the winter as a result of the seed they spread at the end of the prior year. But the misconception spreads from one neighbor to the next about the amazing results you can achieve by simply spreading seed over the lawn before winter, and before you know it, everyone is dormant seeding every year.



While there is some merit to the idea of dormant seeding, it is best left in the tool box of sports turf field managers and the like. Most professional lawn care and landscape companies don’t even offer dormant seeding as a paid service. For the vast majority of homeowners, seeding done in the far more ideal times of early fall and spring have a much higher rate of success.

9 Ilene Ct, Suite 14, Hillsborough, NJ 08844 United States | (908) 281-7888
Phone: (908) 281-7888 Fairway Green Inc.