Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered by Soil or Mulch? - Lawn Chick (2022)

July 13, 2020 Sarah The Lawn Chick

It can be tempting to simply spread some grass seed in your yard and be done with it, but this is not the ideal way to seed your lawn. Yes, some of the grass seed will grow without any other steps. However, you’ll likely end up throwing money down the drain when most of that grass seed doesn’t germinate and is food for the birds. In this article I’ll answer the question “Will grass seed grow if not covered?” and explain the best way to successfully grow a lawn from seed.

If you are reseeding bare patches of your yard, then adding some mulch to cover your grass seed will be important. Without protection from existing grass, seed will be vulnerable to the elements.

If you do have some existing grass, then the seeds might be slightly more protected as long as the lawn is not too sparse or dry.

So, Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered?

Grass seed can grow if not covered, but it is usually beneficial to add a layer of compost, topsoil or straw mulch over the top of your seed to keep it moist and help with germination.

Why Seed Should Not Be Exposed to the Elements

There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t just sprinkle grass seed on your lawn and leave it exposed to the elements.

Germination is the process of a seed sprouting and it can take a few days, to a few weeks to occur. In order for any type of seed to germinate, it needs certain things. Not only do you need your soil to be the right temperature for germination, the most critical component of germination is appropriate moisture.

Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered by Soil or Mulch? - Lawn Chick (1)

To sprout, the seed needs to be moist and warm. Without enough water, grass seed is unlikely to sprout, and without some sort of mulch or top-dressing, most seed will dry out.

Root Development

The seeds that do germinate can still struggle to get properly rooted, which will make your grass seedlings susceptible to damage.

Roots that are too shallow in the ground also prevents the grass from being able to reach moisture and nutrients below the surface, and your mower will actually rip your seedlings up rather than cutting the blades.

(Video) Will Grass Seed Germinate If It's Sitting Directly On Top Of The Soil?

Grass Seed vs. Bird Food

Leaving seeds exposed can also make them an easy food source for birds. Covering them up hides them from wildlife and gives them a better chance of not being eaten.

It is incredibly frustrating to spend good money on grass seed only for it to become someone’s dinner.

Bird food is a lot cheaper than grass seed.

Prevent Runoff

A heavy rainfall can wash your grass seed away.

Remember, it takes two to four weeks for grass seed to germinate, so in that time it does not have roots to hold it in place if it should rain. Without covering your grass seed, the seed is easily swept up and carried to a sewer grate or to low points on your property where you didn’t need extra grass seed.

Preparing the Soil

The best new lawns start with proper preparation.

Testing the pH of the soil will help you determine if you need to add anything to have it at the ideal pH, which would be between 6.2 and 7.0. Inexpensive pH test kits are available at most local hardware stores. You can amend your yard with lime to improve your pH if needed.

I use and recommend this soil test kit from Amazon which gets you a full soil lab analysis. Knowing what your lawn needs (and doesn’t) can improve your results and save you a lot of money on fertilizer and products many lawns don’t actually need. It’s well worth the money if you’re serious about lawn care – I use this kit once every year on my property.

Almost every yard will benefit from aeration prior to seeding.

Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered by Soil or Mulch? - Lawn Chick (2)

Yards with heavy clay soil, or which have a lot of foot traffic will benefit from aeration. By aerating your turf you will allow it to loosen up, get better seed to soil contact, and improve water penetration and airflow (which improves root development).

Loose soil and the pockets created by aeration give the grass seed somewhere to go that is beneath the soil and also allows for better root development. For small jobs don’t rent a core aerator, just take an iron rake and loosen the top layer of soil enough to provide some good contact points for your grass seed.

(Video) 6 Beginner Mistakes to AVOID When Sowing Grass Seed

Mulch Options to Cover Grass Seed

There are quite a few options when it comes to covering your newly laid grass seed in order to protect it and keep it moist.

Each has their own advantages and disadvantages, and what works best for you may not be best for someone else.

Keep in mind that even a quarter of an inch of compost or soil can provide adequate protection.

Compost or Top Soil

One of the simplest ways to cover up grass seed is by spreading a layer of screened compost or topsoil.

Either product is available at garden centers for small jobs or, for a larger yard, your local nursery or box store can arrange a bulk delivery for you.

Compost is my favorite top-dressing material for new lawns because it retains moisture well, improves your soil, and acts as a natural fertilizer for your seedlings.

These products are easy to spread over the grass seed. You can invest in a rolling compost spreader like this one on Amazon, or do what I do and use a large snow shovel and take a big scoop and then broadcast it by hand by flicking it off the shovel, then spread it gently with the back of a leaf rake.

You can spread topsoil or compost with some seed spreaders or lawn rolling drums like the one I just linked.

I recommend that you prepare the site by loosening the soil, spread your starter fertilizer and seed, then top-dress and water well.

Straw Mulch

A very thin layer of straw over your lawn is a popular, and inexpensive way to protect your grass seed.

(Video) DON’T make these 7 STUPID Mistakes when OVERSEEDING your LAWN

Before spreading your seeds, it is still important to rake the soil to loosen the top layer and prepare your site, and after broadcasting your starter fertilizer and seed, work the seed in with the back of a leaf rake.

Next, add a layer of straw that is just barely there. You want it loose and not too thick so that air can circulate and light can reach the seedlings.

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Try to get straw that does not have seeds, or you’ll have some weed removal to do if you plan to mow it in. You can gently rake it up after your grass is established if you would prefer.

Bagged Grass Seed Mulch

Mulch is another popular option to use while reseeding a lawn. A variety specifically developed to be used with grass seed will be biodegradable. It will also be light enough not to smother the grass seedlings. Never use a traditional bark mulch product over grass seed.

A proper grass mulch product breaks down over time and blends in with your lawn.

The advantage of using this method over straw is that it does not need to be raked up afterwards.

Lawn Clippings

Grass clippings can be an excellent alternative to straw or mulch that combines the best of both worlds, but you have to be careful to spread them evenly and not too thick.

Bag your grass clippings prior to spreading seed, and let them dry. Then spread them lightly on the lawn along with your grass seed. Over time, the clippings will break down and become part of the soil. You won’t smother your seedlings if you keep it light and thin.

Tamping in Your Seed

A lawn roller like this one on Amazon can be another helpful tool to tamp the seeds into the soil. This gets great contact between seed and soil whether they’re tamped into your own well-raked or aerated soil or a layer of fresh topsoil you’ve spread in your yard.

Increasing the contact between the seed and the soil will ensure that your seed stays moist longer.

If you’re on a budget, a wooden board or a doormat can also have the same effect. Put one end of the board or mat on the ground, lift up the other end and drag it across the area you are seeding. It’s less effective and efficient, but it can work just as well.

(Video) How To Aerate and Overseed Your Lawn / Centipede Grass

Getting Grass Seed to Grow if Not Covered

It is difficult for grass seed to grow if not covered. Grass seed is high maintenance, and I’m all for increasing my chances of success and decreasing the number of times I have to water grass seed for good results.

Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered by Soil or Mulch? - Lawn Chick (4)

Using some form of mulch after laying grass seed will help ensure that your seed has a chance to germinate. It also protects the grass seed from birds and can help prevent run-off.

It is not expensive or labor-intensive to spread mulch and can save a lot of hassle.

In the long run, while grass seed can grow if not covered, using mulch to keep your grass seed moist will save you money and improve your results.

Still Don’t Want to Mulch?

If you do still decide that you can’t be bothered with doing anything other than spreading some grass seed, picking an all-in-one brand can help.

These all-in-one type products include mulch and fertilizer along with the seed. Scotts and Pennington both sell coated seed products designed to keep the seed moist longer.

Keep in mind that with this type of product, you’ll spend more money because over half the bag you buy probably isn’t grass seed. Check the label to see if it indicates the percentage of weight of your product that is seed versus the percentage of weight that is mulch or fertilizer.

This can give you a better idea of how much bang you are getting for your buck.

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(Video) Using COMPOST to cover GRASS seed / Lawn GOALS start with this

FAQs

Does grass seed need to be covered with soil? ›

Grass seed doesn't need to be covered with soil but it does need to be protected from birds. It helps if you can peg a layer of fine mesh over the area. Shade netting is ideal. It lets light and water through to where they're needed but birds (and cats) can't disturb the seed.

Will seeds germinate without being covered? ›

So, Will Grass Seed Grow if Not Covered? Grass seed can grow if not covered, but it is usually beneficial to add a layer of compost, topsoil or straw mulch over the top of your seed to keep it moist and help with germination.

Will grass seed grow if you just throw it on the ground? ›

Will grass seed grow if I just throw it down? Probably not. Some seeds on the soil's surface will sprout, but the germination rate will diminish, and you will not be left with ideal results.

What is the best thing to cover grass seed with? ›

Though straw is the most commonly used cover for new grass seed, it is not the only option! Grass clippings, shredded leaves, a layer of compost, plastic sheeting, mulch, burlap, or peat moss can all be used to keep grass seed in place and protected.

Should I bag or mulch after overseeding? ›

Mulching. Another lawn tip is to utilize mulch right after overseeding. Mulching your lawn can help keep your new seeds moist, as this mulch will decrease water dissipation.

How can I make grass seed germinate faster? ›

Use a “mist – lightly water – deeply water” process like this: After seeding and fertilizing, you'll want to keep the top inch of soil moist until the seeds start to germinate (aka sprout). This means misting the area once a day, maybe twice if it's unusually hot out there—but don't let the area get soggy.

What happens if you don't cover grass seed? ›

Very little soil is actually needed to cover the seeds, typically about ¼- inch, so simple raking will do the trick. If the seeds are not properly protected by existing grass or a thin layer of topsoil, they may dry before germination or be washed away by rain.

How do I know if my grass seed is germinating? ›

Another way to tell if the grass seed is ready is to see how long the grass sprouts are. If the sprouts are 3-4 inches, your grass is ready to be mowed. Keep in mind that you should allow the grass about 48 hours to dry to prevent any root damage from the soft soil.

Will grass spread on its own? ›

Yes, grass spreads. Some grasses spread quickly while others take years to spread. In general, plants that spread by rhizomes and stolons spread quickly, while bunch grass spreads more slowly.

Will grass spread to bare spots? ›

Some grass grows laterally and will naturally fill in bare spots on the lawn. These are either Rhizome grasses or Stolon grasses. Rhizome grasses grow with spreading root systems underneath the soil. These grass types tend to grow aggressively and might even be considered invasive species.

How often should grass seed be watered? ›

Twice daily watering is essential until the new grass is up, then after one more week, reduce to once per day. Adjust this pattern according to season and temperature demands.

What seeds can you just throw on the ground? ›

For example I have so many leek, lettuce, green onion, marigold seeds (to name a few) that I saved over the last few years that I've just been throwing them wherever there is so bare ground or a spot I just weeded. Save those same seeds and over time you get plants that grow like weeds.

Is it necessary to cover grass seed with straw? ›

Grass seed germination can be inhibited if you cover the ground too thickly with straw. Straw can blow around and detract from the look of the new lawn until mowed for the first time. You'll need to rake off the unsightly straw after the grass is up, but will also risk damaging young grass blades and roots if you do.

Can you put mulch over grass seed? ›

When seeding new lawns, it's generally recommended that a thin layer of mulch be scattered on top. That mulch really only has one purpose – to hold in moisture to keep the seeds from drying out. It's not as necessary when over seeding older lawns, because the existing grass helps hold in moisture.

How long does it take grass seed to come up? ›

Whether you're repairing bare spots, overseeding an existing lawn or starting from scratch, you can generally expect grass seedlings to emerge within seven to 21 days when grown under proper conditions. It may take another three to four weeks of growth before grass is long enough to mow.

How much should you water after overseeding? ›

Water the over seeded area thoroughly for not less than half an hour. This will make the seed wash deep into the soil. For First week water the lawn three times a day. For second week water two times a day and for the third week once in a day watering is enough.

How long should you wait to mow your lawn after overseeding? ›

After you lay down your seedlings, they'll need time and the right environmental protection to grow. They'll need to acclimate and set roots before the first mow, so during the first two to four weeks post aerating and overseeding, don't mow.

How long after overseeding can I walk on grass? ›

Should I Stay Off My Lawn After Overseeding? Yes, it is best to reduce foot traffic and wear on your lawn for at least two weeks after seeding.

How do you encourage grass to spread? ›

  1. Improve Your Soil. To get the most out of every step to a thicker lawn, take a tip from lawn pros and test your soil. ...
  2. Overseed. Overseeding is simply sowing grass seed into existing grass to make thin lawns thick—or keep them from getting thin. ...
  3. Fertilize. ...
  4. Boost Your Lawn. ...
  5. Irrigate. ...
  6. Mow Properly. ...
  7. Control Weeds.

Why is my grass seed not germinating? ›

It is simply too hot. The full sun lawns and lawns that have dormant, drought stressed grass are usually the last ones to see germination. When the soil and seed are exposed to full sun and moisture loss, it causes stress to the new seed, taking it longer to work into the soil.

How can I encourage my grass to grow? ›

To encourage grass growth, it helps to aerate the topsoil of your lawn. You can use tools such as a garden fork or other specially made tools to poke holes into your soil at different depths.

What triggers grass seed germination? ›

To germinate, the seed must take on sufficient water to soften the outer husk and flush out the enzymes that keep the seed dormant in a temperature range that allows germination; usually 10 to 15 degrees centigrade depending on seed type.

What temp kills grass seed? ›

They're biologically designed to survive the winter and sprout in spring. Grass seed that has yet to germinate can survive extreme cold below 0℉ (-18℃). Newly sprouted grass is at danger of being killed whenever temperatures go below 32℉ (0℃). A nighttime frost freezes the top layer of soil, where seedling roots are.

What time of day should I water grass seed? ›

The best time to water grass seed is in the morning and evening. These are the coolest parts of the day, which allows water to absorb into the ground instead of evaporating.

Does frequent mowing thicken grass? ›

Mowing actually helps make your grass grow thicker because the tip of each blade contains hormones that suppress horizontal growth. When you cut the lawn, you remove these tips allowing the grass to spread and grow thicker near the roots.

Does grass grow more at night or day? ›

Does Grass Grow More at Night? No, grass does not grow more at night. Night or darkness itself does not cause grass to grow more than it would during the day. However, increased moisture and cooler temperatures can improve the growth rate of grass and many other plants in hot, dry climates or at the peak of summer.

Will bare patches of grass grow back? ›

Grass seed germinates readily in the spring, so this is the ideal time to fix any bare patches that have appeared and make sure your lawn is a solid block of perfect green. New lawns can be started from seed in spring, and bare patches over-sown with seed to help them fill out.

Will my lawn seed itself? ›

It is the natural process for grass to reproduce itself. As unsightly as it may look, there is no real way to prevent the grass from going to seed during this time. Grass going to seed is a good sign the plant is actually healthy and growing well. Don't fret, you don't need to replace your lawn.

Will fescue fill in bare spots? ›

Consider perennial ryegrass, chewings fescue or tall fescue, all bunch-type cool-season lawn grasses that can be used to fill bare spots. Note that tall fescue should only be used to fill in bare spots in an existing tall fescue lawn.

How do I fill in bald spots in my lawn? ›

Repairing Bare Spots
  1. Dig up the area to a 6-in. ...
  2. Mix in topsoil to improve soil quality and help new sod or grass seed get off to a good start.
  3. Rake and tamp to firm and level the surface to the surrounding lawn.
  4. Apply the lawn product (whichever method you chose from the list above).
  5. Water the area well.

Should you water grass seed at night? ›

You should avoid watering grass seed at night, as the water will sit there for too long, increasing the risk of fungal disease during the germination process. This excess water in your lawn will stay there for a while because there's no sun to evaporate the water.

What happens if I miss a day of watering grass seed? ›

In most cases and for most grass seeds, missing a day of watering will not kill it. However, if the ground dries out, and it most likely will to a sufficient degree, the grass seed will halt its germination process.

Will grass seed grow without watering? ›

If planted grass seed isn't provided with daily water, most of it will die. It'll lead to the seed drying out, and it won't be able to continue its germination process. Once it sprouts, grass seed can survive a day or two, but it won't last much longer without new moisture.

What happens if you plant too many seeds? ›

You should perform a germination test to what percent of the seeds sprout. If half of the ones you sow sprout. Then you plant multiple seeds into a hole. Generally if you plant multiple seeds into a hole, if both plants grow out you will have to cut, kill or transplant the secondary (usually weaker) plant.

Will seeds grow on top of soil? ›

A common question that we get asked is “will grass seed germinate on the surface of the soil?” The simple answer to this is yes. In fact, it's important not to bury your seed because the young grass shoots cannot break through if there is too much soil on top of them.

Can you plant too many seeds in one spot? ›

This prevents disturbance of the seedling roots on the one you'll continue growing out when thinning. Don't add more than one large seed to a hole. If you're attempting a specific number of plants or just want a fuller pot, plant the large seeds closer together. You can snip or pull out those that are too close.

What happens if you don't rake in grass seed? ›

If you do not rake the area or cover it thickly with soil, the grass seeds fail to grow from erosion issues and suffocation, respectively. You should be able to see some seeds poking out of the soil with a proper raking. In addition, your watering regimen should not erode the seeds from the area if they are raked in.

Should I mix grass seed with topsoil when overseeding? ›

Should you mix grass seed with topsoil? If you're looking for a quick answer, yes, you should mix grass seed with topsoil for small areas of your garden and other applications.

How long does it take for grass seed to germinate? ›

Whether you're repairing bare spots, overseeding an existing lawn or starting from scratch, you can generally expect grass seedlings to emerge within seven to 21 days when grown under proper conditions. It may take another three to four weeks of growth before grass is long enough to mow.

Should new grass seed be covered with straw? ›

Grass seed germination can be inhibited if you cover the ground too thickly with straw. Straw can blow around and detract from the look of the new lawn until mowed for the first time. You'll need to rake off the unsightly straw after the grass is up, but will also risk damaging young grass blades and roots if you do.

What happens if you overwater grass seed? ›

Watering too much can shift the soil, especially once it becomes saturated. As the water evaporates or is absorbed by the ground, the redistributed soil will settle elsewhere. This can bury grass seeds and newly sprouted grass, cutting them off from sunlight and slowing or stopping their growth.

What happens if you plant grass seed too deep? ›

If the grass seed is planted too deep (more than ¼ inch), seedlings won't be able to break through the surface in order to get the sunlight required for the photosynthesis process to occur and create food for the plant.

Can you use too much grass seed? ›

Too much grass seed causes undue competition for resources such as light, water and nutrients, and grass seedlings struggle as a result. Too little seed leaves lawns thin or bare.

How often should grass seed be watered? ›

Twice daily watering is essential until the new grass is up, then after one more week, reduce to once per day. Adjust this pattern according to season and temperature demands.

How do you know if grass seed is germinating? ›

Another way to tell if the grass seed is ready is to see how long the grass sprouts are. If the sprouts are 3-4 inches, your grass is ready to be mowed. Keep in mind that you should allow the grass about 48 hours to dry to prevent any root damage from the soft soil.

Does grass grow in 2 inches of soil? ›

Most types of grass can grow through 2-3 inches of topsoil placed on top of it if the existing established plants are healthy. Grass often grows through topsoil when a thinner layer of topsoil is placed on top of an old lawn.

What temp kills grass seed? ›

They're biologically designed to survive the winter and sprout in spring. Grass seed that has yet to germinate can survive extreme cold below 0℉ (-18℃). Newly sprouted grass is at danger of being killed whenever temperatures go below 32℉ (0℃). A nighttime frost freezes the top layer of soil, where seedling roots are.

What month is best to put grass seed down? ›

In many climates, the best time to plant grass seed is in the autumn. The still-warm soil of late August, September, October, or November encourages optimum root growth, while the cooling air temperatures discourage excessive top growth. This is perfect for establishing lawn grasses and promoting extensive root growth.

What is the quickest growing grass seed? ›

What type of seeds grow the fastest? Bermuda grass is the fastest-growing warm season grass, germinating in as little as 10 days. Ryegrass, which grows in cool climates, also germinates that quickly.

Can you put too much straw on grass seed? ›

You want the straw to barely cover the ground -- no more than 1/4 inch deep. If you spread it too thickly, the straw will rot and the grass won't grow. One bale will cover up to 1,000 square feet, notes The Garden Counselor. You don't need to remove the straw.

How long do you leave straw on grass seed? ›

Grass can take 7-21 days to germinate, so leave hay or straw on grass seed until the grass is firmly anchored in the soil. By this point, if the hay has thinned and rotted, let nature compost it on the spot. If the hay is still thick, carefully lift the straw with a garden fork to avoid disturbing the grass below.

What is the best mulch for grass seed? ›

You might use 1/4-inch of clean straw, sawdust, light peat moss or paper mulch. If you have a sloped lawn or are planting on a hill, a biodegradable seed mat or a layer of burlap over seeds is another option. It's critical you get it right if you want your new grass to grow evenly and healthily.

Videos

1. Thinking about growing a clover lawn? Here's how
(CBC News)
2. How to Plant a yard and grass seed like a pro - Grow a new lawn, overseeding, yard & sod care tips
(Stanley "Dirt Monkey" Genadek)
3. How to Make Mulch for Seeding Lawn
(WaysAndHow)
4. Step by Step Guide to OVERSEEDING (Better looking lawn FAST)
(The Lawn Whisperer)
5. Easy way to plant grass seed
(Pest and Lawn Ginja)
6. EASY Pre Germinating Grass Seed for FAST Establishment!
(Turf Culture)

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