Spring: To Seed or Not To Seed

By Allyn Hane - "The Lawn Care Nut"
April 20, 2017

Now that most of the country’s lawns have woken up from winter slumber, undoubtedly you are noticing areas of the lawn that are lagging or struggling. Perhaps you are even seeing damage caused by freeze/thaw, heavy winter foot traffic (building that snowman out front has consequences!) or even rodent damage.

And for many homeowners, the first thought at the sight of these or other problems is “I’ll just seed my way right through this and be fine!”

However, I caution against this.

Hands holding grass seed

In general, I’m not a fan of the spring seeding. Reason being is growing new turf in the lawn basically shuts down your ability to prevent and tackle bigger problems that could cause larger bare spots down the road, in spite of your successful seeding efforts. I’m primarily talking about problem grasses like crabgrass, and broadleaf weeds.

In typical home lawn situations, it’s advisable to apply a pre-emergent herbicide to the lawn early in the growing season (timing varies by region). These herbicides target very young plants below the soil line and disrupt them before they can grow, thus preventing the problem. The challenge here, however, is those same herbicides will also prevent your new grass seed from growing.

So you have a decision to make then: Do I want to speed up the repair of these bare areas by seeding and potentially battle more crabgrass and weeds down the road?... Or do I want to take another route?

My Recommendation:

I always tell folks to look back at past “lawn data” as an indicator of future lawn results and use those to determine what course of action is best. You see, lawns almost always look bad after winter, no matter how healthy and vigorous they were the previous growing season. But you know what? They always wake up at some point and start to grow again. Even grass growing along the interstate is green in spring, and no one gives it any love.

So the first question to ask is: “What did my lawn look like last year in the fall?”

If it was pretty green, sufficiently thick, and there were no major issues, then you can rest assured it will probably recover just the same way this season. Sometimes we are just a little too impatient and want it to wake up faster than nature intends it to. If you have lingering brown areas, get out the rake and do some light pulls through those spots - idea there is to create some additional air flow and hopefully jumpstart growth.

Secondly, take note of the troubled thin areas. Are the damaged areas bigger than the size of a basketball? If not, then Spring rains coupled with a good dose of Milorganite and consistent regular mowing will help them close back in rather quickly, most oftentimes in just a few weeks.

Lastly, let’s strengthen what we have, rather than spend money on adding something new. That’s where our pal “Milo” comes in. I like to get an early start on dominating my neighborhood with that rich blue-green color I get from Milorganite, but there is more to it than just that. I like laying down a full strength dose of Milorganite right alongside my early season pre-emergent application.

(I recommend pre-emergent applications that are NOT mixed with fertilizers)

Bag of Milorganite Fertilizer in a spreader in lawn

This way, while I’m preventing crabgrass, I’m giving my soil and in turn turf roots, organic matter and nutrients to help stimulate early spring growth and vigor, and of course, neighborhood domination. Getting an early start also allows me to take full advantage of Spring rains that in-and-of-themselves bring natural nitrogen from the air that plants just love. Additionally, there is no irrigation system or impact sprinkler that can do a better job of wetting your lawn than a good rain can.

Getting started a little earlier with your Milorganite treatments is, in my opinion, a better option than slogging grass seed all over the place and hoping the birds don’t eat it while the crabgrass takes over.

Above all: have faith in your lawn. Barring major issues with insects, disease of mechanical damage (thanks snow plow guy!) turf is very resilient and just needs a little help from its friends Milo and Mother Nature to really fill in thick in spring and look beautiful all season.

Author’s Note: Yes, of course, there are pre-emergents that are safe for seeding, but that’s more “deep-end-of-the-pool” stuff and not applicable to the masses - who this article is written for :)  When it comes to the average home lawn, it’s always best to keep it simple.

Spring Lawn Care : Recovery Program Step #1