If your lawn dried up or thinned out over the summer, you might be hoping to bring it back to life for next year. If you plant too late in the fall, you run the risk of frost destroying your grass seedlings.
So, can you plant grass seed in the fall? You can plant grass seed in the fall, as long as you choose the right variety for your climate. Cool season grasses, such as Bluegrass, Fescue, and Rye, are suited to growing well in colder northern climates. It is fine to plant cool season grasses in the fall, as long as there is enough time for the grass to establish roots before winter brings freezing temperatures.
Of course, frost comes earlier in some areas than others, so you will want to keep an eye on the weather forecast.
In this article, we’ll talk about what type of grass to plant in the fall. We’ll also talk about when it is too late to plant, depending on the type of grass and the first fall frost date in your area.
Let’s get started.
Can You Plant Grass Seed in the Fall?
You can plant grass seed in the fall, either to grow a new lawn on bare earth or to patch bare spots on an existing lawn. Just remember that some types of grass are better suited to fall planting than others.
There are two basic types of grass:
- Cool Season Grass – these grasses grow well in cool weather, which makes them ideal for colder northern climates. Their cold hardiness also makes them ideal for fall planting, even after temperatures have dipped a bit.
- Warm Season Grass – these grasses tolerate drought and grow well in warm weather, which makes them ideal for warmer southern climates. They are not cold hardy, so they will not survive the extreme winters of northern climates.
If you live in a colder climate, you will probably want to plant cool season grasses in the fall. Some popular cool season grasses you can plant include:
- Bluegrass – also called meadow grass in Europe, Poa is a group of about 500 species of grass. When it grows to maturity, the grass seed heads are blue (hence the name). It can grow 2 to 3 feet tall if you don’t keep it trimmed! You can learn more about Bluegrass on Wikipedia.
- Fescue – this group of perennial flowering plants appears on every continent except Antarctica. There are hundreds of different species, and fescue is often used for animal grazing or to prevent soil erosion. You can learn more about Fescue on Wikipedia.
- Ryegrass – this grass grows in bunches and is often used for turf and for animal grazing (pasture). You can learn more about Ryegrass on Wikipedia.
If you live in a warmer climate, you might want to wait until spring to plant your grass. Some popular warm season grasses you can plant include:
- Bermuda grass – this grass is native to the eastern hemisphere, but is not native to Bermuda. The blades of this grass are gray-green, growing in a dense mat, and the roots go very deep. You can learn more about Bermuda grass on Wikipedia.
- Centipede grass – this coarse grass is green or light green and native to southern China. It can tolerate some shade and does not need much fertilizer, but it has shallow roots and does not do well in droughts. You can learn more about Centipede grass on Wikipedia.
- Zoysia grass – this grass is often found in coastal areas. It is used for golf courses, since it can resist foot traffic. You can learn more about Zoysia grass on Wikipedia.
When to Plant Cool Season Grass
According to the University of Maryland Extension, the best time to plant cool season grass is in the late summer or early fall. You can still plant in the spring, but your grass will have to compete with weeds that begin to grow in the spring.
According to the Penn State University Extension, grass stores the most energy in the fall, and uses the most energy in the spring. As such, it is a good idea to establish grass early enough in the fall to give it enough time to store energy and prepare for winter survival.
The ideal temperature for seed germination depends on the type of grass that you choose. For cool season grasses, you cannot go wrong with a temperature between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius).
When planting in the fall, it is important to leave enough time for grass seed to germinate and establish strong roots. Otherwise, the young grass seedlings may not survive a frost.
Most grass will germinate in 1 to 4 weeks (7 to 28 days). However, according to Kansas State University:
“Shorter days and cooler temperatures prolong the germination of the seed and its establishment.”https://www.johnson.k-state.edu/lawn-garden/agent-articles/lawns/seeding-late-fall-lawn.html
So, leave a little more time for grass seed to germinate when temperatures are cool. In addition to germination time, the grass seedlings will need extra time to establish themselves.
This extra time will allow them to grow a strong root system to withstand drought. It also gives them time to store enough energy (carbohydrates) in the fall so they can survive the winter.
To be safe, plan on planting grass seed 7 weeks (49 days) before the expected first frost date in your area. You can use this page from the Old Farmer’s Almanac to find the first fall frost date in your area.
For example, the first fall frost date is expected around October 4th where I live (about 20 miles south of Boston). Working backwards, I would want to plant my grass seed by August 15th (15 days in August, 30 days in September, 4 days in October, for a total of 49 days).
Planting earlier than this gives you a little extra buffer. If you plant later, you run the risk of an early frost that the new grass will not survive.
Can You Plant Grass Seed in September?
You can plant grass seed in September, as long as there is enough time (7 weeks or more) before your first fall frost date.
If you plant grass seed on September 1, then your first fall frost date should be no later than October 19 (49 days later).
If you plant grass seed on September 30, then your first fall frost date should be no later than November 18 (49 days later).
If there is not enough time left until the first fall frost date, you have two options:
- 1. You can wait until spring to plant your grass seed
- 2. You can wait until the soil cools later in the fall and then plant your grass with dormant seeding (more on this later).
Can You Plant Grass Seed In October?
The first fall frost date will be fast approaching in most northern climates. As a result, it is probably too late to plant grass seed in October if you want the grass to germinate and grow before the winter.
On the other hand, you can plant grass seed in October if you are using the dormant seeding method (more on this later).
Can You Plant Grass Seed in November?
November is too late to plant grass seed if you want the seeds to germinate and grow before winter.
You should only plant grass seed in November using the dormant seeding method (more on this later).
What Happens If You Plant Grass Seed Too Late?
If you plant grass seed too late, you run a few different risks:
- Drought – grass without strong roots will be more susceptible to drought.
- Energy – grass that is planted too late in the season will not have enough time to store the energy it needs to survive the winter.
- Frost – grass that is not well established will not be able to survive an early fall frost.
- Leaves – fallen leaves may cover grass after it germinates, which will prevent it from getting enough sunlight for photosynthesis to produce energy to store for the winter.
Of course, it might be too late in the season to plant grass seed that will germinate and grow in the fall. However, you can still plant seed that will sprout in the spring.
The way to do this is by dormant seeding. With dormant seeding, you plant grass seed in the fall after the soil is too cold for germination, but before the ground is frozen.
Since the grass seed will survive winter frost, you can then wait until spring for the soil to warm, the seeds to germinate, and the grass to grow. You can learn more about dormant seeding in this article from the University of Minnesota Extension.
As the article mentions, seed to soil contact is important in getting a good result from dormant seeding. This means making sure that the soil is loose before planting seeds.
In fact, there are a few steps to take that will prepare the soil before planting your grass seed.
How to Prepare Soil for Grass Seed
First, loosen the soil, using a rake to scrape up some of the topsoil where you want to plant. For dormant seeding, this step needs to be done before the ground is frozen.
As you rake, remove any debris you find, such as sticks or rocks. You can also sift soil to remove debris and break up dirt clumps. You can learn more in my article about how to get rid of rocks in soil.
Next, even out the soil with the rake, so that the area where you want to plant is level.
Then, put down the fertilizer and grass seed (the grass seed mix you use might include both seed and fertilizer, so check to make sure).
Now, cover the seed with a thin layer of soil, perhaps ¼ to ½ inch deep.
Finally, water the soil over the grass seed and keep it moist until the seeds germinate. According to the Kansas State University Extension:
“Once the seed is sown the upper surface of the soil should remain damp at all times.”https://www.johnson.k-state.edu/lawn-garden/agent-articles/lawns/seeding-late-fall-lawn.html
For dormant seeding, you don’t need to water right away. The seeds will not germinate until spring brings warmer soil temperatures and moisture from rain or melting snow.
Now you know what types of grass to use if you decide to plant grass seed in the fall. You also have an idea of how to decide if it is too late to plant in your area.
You might also be interested in reading my article on drought tolerant grasses.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.