Fall Grass Seeding Guide: All About Grass Seed For Fall

A had pouring grass seed onto a green lawn
(Image credit: Elenathewise)

While our lawns thrive and grow green and lush during the spring months, planting grass seed should actually happen in the fall. Fall grass seeding is ideal for cool season turf grasses like bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass. While there is an optimal time for reseeding the lawn in fall, if you’ve missed the window, don’t despair; there is yet another method for laying grass season for fall. Keep reading to learn how to seed your lawn like a pro.

Benefits of Planting Grass Seed in Fall

Fall is the best time for planting grass seed. Why? The combination of the as-yet warm soil and cooler air allow plenty of time for the new grass roots to develop before winter is upon us.

Establishment is the key to a successful lawn installation. The roots must be vigorous enough to survive the upcoming frigid temperatures, withstand harsh freezing and thawing, and also tolerate a lack of moisture.

Best Grass Seed for Fall Planting

As mentioned, cool season grasses are ideal for fall sowing. While most warm season varieties have to be established by another method, these germinate easily from seed.

Cool Season Grasses

  • Fine fescue is one of the best all around turf grasses. It is not only low maintenance, disease resistant and drought tolerant, but it is suitable for many different areas and landscape types.
  • Kentucky bluegrass is another great option for fall sowing. It thrives in moist, shaded areas and poorly drained and acidic soil.
  • Perennial ryegrass is a versatile grass often found on golf courses. Ryegrass also tolerates extreme temperatures.

Choose the Right Grass for Your Yard

While the above grasses are suited to most areas, warm southern regions will benefit from a warm season grass.

Bermuda grass is usually seeded in the late spring. A warm weather grass, Bermuda grass is a good choice for southern climates. It withstands hot temperatures, requires nominal water and can be planted in the fall or winter in warmer regions.

Before you select the type of grass you will seed, be familiar with your soil type. A soil test is a simple test that can help determine the makeup of your soil and if you need to amend it. The site should also be well prepared prior to seeding. Loosen the soil so it isn’t compact, amend if needed, and add in a couple of inches (2.5 cm) of compost.

Consider what your lawn will be up against before selecting your seed. For example, will it be a high traffic area, in full sun or shade? Lawn seed comes in blends of various turf grasses, each selected for a particular benefit. This helps to ensure resistance to factors such as drought or heavy foot traffic.

Tips for Fall Grass Seeding

When you're looking at certified seed, also look at the seeding rates. These are the rates that “x” number of plants can survive in a given space and still prevents any one species from outcompeting another.

Once you have your selected seed, it’s time to sow. There are multiple ways to seed a lawn.

Establishing a New Lawn

The site is prepared, amended as needed and now it’s time to seed the area. The site may be seeded either with a drop or rotary spreader, commercial seeder, hydroseeding or even seeding by hand. The important thing here is even distribution. Sowing from at least two different directions will help achieve this goal. Apply the seed at ½ the recommended rate in one direction, then repeat in the other.

Once the seed has been laid, lightly rake the seed into the surface of the soil, not any deeper. The seed needs to be close to the surface.

To aid in moisture retention, lay clean straw over the top of the sowing area. Be sure the straw is clean and without weeds. The straw will be incorporated into the turf soil after a couple of mowings. Pelletized mulches can also be used, although they are a bit more expensive.

Your newly sown lawn will need to be watered. If possible it is ideal to time the seeding with incoming rain showers but failing that, you will need to be committed to providing regular irrigation to the newly sown grass. Keep the seed moist but not soaked. As the seed germinates, water deeply and less frequently. The goal is to always keep the area moist.

Overseeding a Lawn in Fall

Overseeding is done when the lawn is patchy and thin. Fall overseeding can get your lawn back to a thick, lush state. Lawns are at their thinnest in late August to early October, which makes this the perfect window for overseeding.

The first item on the agenda is to mow the lawn shorter than you normally would and bag the clippings. Afterward, rake the grass to remove any debris. That's all that’s needed to prepare the site unless you have thatch.

If you have thatch, it needs to be removed to allow space for the seed, and so that air and water will be able to penetrate. This can be accomplished by dethatching or aerating.

Next step is to amend the soil. Here a soil test will come in handy. It can tell you if your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, and if you need to raise the pH, work in lime, wood ash, or poultry manure. If you need to add acidity, sulfur would be the amendment of choice. Sandy soil requires compost and clay soil, additions of peat moss.

Load the grass seeds into a spreader and spread them at the rate of around 16 seeds per square inch (6.45 sq cm) of soil. Follow up the seeding with an application of fertilizer either with a spreader of liquid fertilizer in a sprayer.

Keep the site consistently moist, not sodden. Water in the morning if possible.

How Late Can You Plant Grass Seed in the Fall?

So when is the best time to seed grass in the fall? The month of September is prime for seeding a lawn, however, you can still plant grass seed up until October. The important thing is to lay the grass seed down at least 45 days prior to the first potential frost to avoid winterkill.

If you miss the window for seeding don’t despair. A method called dormant seeding can set your lawn up for regrowth in the fall. The time to dormant seed is in November.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.