When it comes to gardening, there are many misconceptions as to the best way to do things, and everyone has their own ideas about the right way things should be done.
Planting any kind of seeds can be one of those topics, and when it comes to grass seed in particular, people seem to associate it with an easy, hands-off process where the proper steps don’t need to be taken.
But what is the proper approach, and how can the best results be achieved?
When growing grass from seeds, it can seem like a daunting process at first, mainly due to the amount of seeds that are needed.
As such, there is a tendency for people to throw the seed onto the soil, without spending the time to cover them as one would with regular flowers and plants.
This is because it would seem like a time consuming process, and generally, grass seed has a reputation for being low maintenance and easily grown.
In a sense this would yield some results, purely because grass seed takes hold pretty easily, but this approach wouldn’t create as thick and nice a lawn as properly covering the seeds would.
The problem with this is also that the grass will take a month or two to grow, and so you won’t be confident of the finished results until it has already grown in.
This means that if it is indeed patchy and uneven, as it most certainly would be, you then have an unattractive lawn that will need reseeding.
Reasons To Cover Seeds
Here are some other reasons why it is beneficial to the health of the lawn if grass seeds are covered with soil.
Germination is the point when a plant is growing inside the seed before it begins to sprout, and as you can imagine this is a pivotal moment in the development of the plant’s health.
This results in the formation of a seedling, composed of a radicle and a plumule.
A radicle is the first part of the plant to emerge from the seed, and is the embryonic root of the plant.
For proper germination, specific environmental factors need to be met.
Firstly, plenty of water is required for germination.
Mature seeds tend to be very dry and dormant, and so a significant amount of water is needed to reactivate them.
Thai causes the reactivation of cellular metabolism, and the continuation of growth.
During watering it is important not to drown them with water, merely making sure the seed is moist.
This process of water uptake is called imbibition – derived from the word “imbibe” (or drink) – and is important for the seed to be able to swell enough in size to break through the seed coat, or the protective outer shell.
During the formation of seeds, the plant stores a surplus of nutrients in with the seed, and these are activated once the seed begins to hydrate, allowing growth to begin again.
Oxygen is also required for effective seed growth, as it is used in aerobic respiration, the process through which the seedling attains energy prior to growth.
Burying a seed too deeply, or overwatering it, can result in oxygen deprivation, resulting in no growth.
The temperature also affects germination due to the impact it has on metabolic growth of the cells.
Most seeds have a specific window within which they can properly germinate, and anything above or below this can make it impossible to occur.
The optimum temperature tends to be between 60 and 75 degrees fahrenheit.
Light and darkness is another important factor in seed germination.
Without light most seeds will not properly begin germination, and will remain dormant until a sufficient light source is able to reach them.
A process called scarification is also necessary for germination.
This process can be seen in the natural world, where specific environmental extremes can trigger new plant growth, such as the bushfires in Australia.
Another example are plants which need to soak in water for extended periods of time in order to activate and begin germination.
Other types of plants need to pass through an animal’s digestive system before they can be properly activated.
Ultimately, what germination does for the seeds is to repair the DNA damage that has been accrued during their period of dormancy.
After leaving the host plant, seeds spend a lot of time in unpredictable and often unsuitable environments, meaning they aren’t accessing the things they need to survive and thrive.
As such, when germination happens, this damage is slowly repaired, as the seedling accesses nutrients in the soil, as well as surpluses in the seed coat itself.
This means that the process of germination is not only important for a nice, thick lawn, but also for the health of the plants themselves.
Healthy Root Development
Another thing that covering seeds can help is the development of healthy roots.
Whilst some seeds will germinate after being scattered on the ground, they will not develop strong and healthy root systems, limiting the lifespan and resilience of the plant.
Without healthy root systems, the grass will be more susceptible to damage from weather, being trodden on, and other environmental problems.
If a root system is too shallow, then the plant won’t necessarily be able to reach water supplies beneath the ground, and will probably dry out due to lack of moisture.
This will lead to grass that is more brown than green, and could even result in it dying out during very hot weather.
Of course, the main reason why covering your grass seeds is a good thing, is that it stops birds and small mammals from eating the seeds and creating bald patches in the grass when it begins to grow.
Birds especially love grass seeds, or seeds of any kind, and won’t think twice about swooping down and helping themselves if they are left in plain sight.
Whilst birds can still peck at the soil and help themselves to buried grass seed, covering them up at least removes it from sight, and reduces the chance they will see it and be tempted to snack.
Other methods of dissuading hungry birds from eating your grass seed can involve using wire netting over smaller patches of new grass, using fishing line to create a barrier, purchasing a motion activated sprayer to frighten the birds away, and certain chemical deterrents.
Scaring the birds by sight has also been a commonly used method since the early days of farming.
Scarecrows have often been used, and whilst not overly common in personal gardens, smaller ones can be purchased to achieve the same end.
Another way to scare them is to hang old or blank CDs from the clothes line.
This will utilize the sun to create flickering, shining beams of light that will signify movement and dissuade the birds from landing nearby.
Finally, one more way to scare birds can be by hanging a wind chime on your garden.
This will look and sound pleasant to you, but will be off putting for any feathered friends who want to land and snack on your seeds.
Depending on which part of the world you live in, there is also the risk of the seeds being washed away by heavy rain and wind.
It can take around 4 weeks for proper growth to occur, and in this time the unpredictability of the weather could turn against you, washing away all of your hard work and leaving the lawn ruined.
Also, without properly layering the soil when planting, they could also be drowned by excess rainfall, stopping germination from being able to occur, and halting the growth process altogether.
Preparing The Lawn
So, you might ask, what is the best way to prepare a lawn for grass seed?
Know Your Soil
First things first, you need to know the type of soil you have, and this can be established with a simple soil testing kit available in most hardware stores.
The important things to ascertain are pH levels, allowing you to see whether your soil is rich in acidity, neutrality, or alkalinity.
Neutral pH can be found between 6 and 7 on the pH scale, and this is the optimum level for plant growth to occur in.
If the soil is too acidic, plant growth can be difficult, and instances of high acidity can be neutralized using lime.
Once you know the soil type, you can then buy a fertilizer that corresponds to it, allowing for optimum plant and soil health.
Regardless of the soil type, they all benefit from aeration before planting the seeds.
Aeration is the process of breaking up the soil so it is less compacted.
This makes it easier for soil to make contact with seeds, and also means that oxygen, moisture and light can better penetrate the soil bed.
Compacted soil often occurs in areas when there is a lot of foot traffic, and any garden with children or animals can become very compacted and firm, which isn’t good for the health of the existing grass, or any new seeds you wish to plant.
Similarly, gardens that are clay-based are terrible for becoming compacted, which means action will need to be taken if optimum soil health is to be achieved.
Core aerators can be purchased from most hardware stores, and this can be a great way of breaking up the soil and letting it breathe.
Covering Your Grass Seeds
Once the soil has been prepped, the next thing that you need to do is to scatter the seeds ready for covering.
Once this has been done, next comes the covering.
There are many different techniques that grass seeds can be covered with, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, so when it comes down to it, the choice has to be yours.
Topsoil Or Compost
A layer of topsoil or compost is definitely the easiest way to cover your grass seeds.
Depending on the size of your seeded area, various sizes of soil bags can be purchased from hardware stores and garden stores, and if the job is too large, there are methods of getting bulk orders delivered to your home.
Compost is great at retaining water, which makes it a popular choice for covering seed.
It is also rich in nutrients, and the moisture it contains is great for improving the health of the soil bed beneath the seeds too.
Another option is straw mulch.
As the name suggests, this is heavily straw based, and it can be spread over the seeds in a very thin layer to protect it from the elements and hungry birds.
However, before applying the straw, it is important to prep the soil in the ways we mentioned above, as straw doesn’t contain anywhere near the same amount of nutrients as soil and other toppers.
You can do this by loosening the top soil, fertilizing the ground where you intend to plant the seeds, placing the seeds, and then applying the straw on top to provide protection and cover.
The straw should be very thin, almost to the point where it seems redundant, as it is important for the grass seeds to still get some sunlight, moisture, and oxygen in order for germination to take place.
Some types of straw can have their own seeds in them, and whilst this won’t interfere with the growth of your grass, they could turn into annoying weeds and ruin the aesthetic of your garden.
Grass Seed Mulch
Mulch can be bought specifically for treating grass seed, and this is very popular amongst gardening enthusiasts, if only for its supreme suitability to seeding new grass.
The mulch is light enough so as not to smother the seeds, and will still allow moisture, sunlight and oxygen to the seeds.
It will also break down and become part of the grass when the process is complete, improving the health of the soil and ensuring long-lasting, nutrient-rich grass.
Do not use bark-based mulch when doing this, as it can make it difficult for the new shoots of grass to permeate the bark.
This is far better than using straw, and means you don’t have to remove the mulch once the grass has grown.
And finally, another option you can use is grass cuttings.
Once you have mowed your existing lawn, try spreading some of the clipped grass over the newly seeded area.
Similar to the grass mulch, these clippings are light enough to allow sunlight, water, oxygen and essential nutrients to the soil, and will degrade into the ground as the process develops, removing the need for cleaning up.
Another benefit of grass cuttings is that they can be easily obtained, either from your own existing patches of grass, or from neighbors and friends who have recently cut their own.
The important thing to remember is to let the grass cuttings dry before using them as a topper for the seeds.
This is because they could provide excess moisture to the new seeds, as well as having an increased weight when wet that could smother them.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about grass seed, and the proper way to prepare your garden beforehand.
Ultimately, if you follow the simple instructions listed above, you will be well on your way to establishing a beautiful, rich garden that is both healthy and attractive.
It all comes down to four points: loosen the soil, check the pH, buy the right fertilizer, and cover lightly. You’ll soon be reaping the benefits!