University of Maryland Extension

Is it too late to seed?

Finally, spring has arrived! Now that pastures and lawns are starting to grow again, I’ve had several calls about seeding. Is it too late to seed now? My answer is yes. Spring seeding – especially late spring seeding – is usually not as successful as seeding completed in late summer or early fall. That’s because grasses seeded in late spring face more stresses than fall-seeded grasses.

  • The comparatively higher temperatures in late spring through summer cause increased stress on new seedlings. New stands will develop better in the cooler days of fall than the sweltering days of summer.
  • Moisture, which is crucial for new stand development, is generally more prevalent in fall. Summer droughts can severely stress seedlings.
  • Weed pressure is usually higher in late spring and summer than in late summer and fall. New plants will have a better competitive advantage later in the season when annual spring and summer weeds have already been controlled.

If you’re thinking about renovating or over seeding, don’t despair! Now isn’t a great time to seed, but it is the best time to analyze your current situation and formulate a plan for fall seeding. Here are some things you should consider now in order to prepare.

  • Have your soil analyzed. Check that the pH, organic matter, and nutrient levels of your soil are in the appropriate range. If they’re not, do what you can to improve those levels before seeding.
  • Seed at the right time. Seedlings should be 3 to 4 inches tall before the first frost such that they have developed adequate root stores to survive the winter. Because it takes about 6 weeks after plants germinate to grow to this height, and the first frost occurs sometime around November 1 for most of Harford County, seed should be germinated no later than the second week in September. Purchase your seed and have your equipment ready ahead of time in case you encounter an unforeseen delay as seeding too late can lead to injury or killing of the new plants over the winter.
  • Plan for lost usage of the newly seeded area. New plants are fragile and require time to develop before being subjected to the stress of foot traffic and repeated grazing. Stands that are grazed too early and lack a substantial root system are easily uprooted. A good rule of thumb is to allow the plants to grow to a height of 10 to 12 inches, then mow to a height of 3 to 4 inches; allow plants to again grow to a height of 10 to 12 inches, then mow again to a height of 3 to 4 inches; and allow plants to again grow to a height of 10 to 12 inches, then allow grazing. Alternatively to mowing twice, you can take a first cutting of hay in the spring, at the early heading stage, and then allow grazing when the regrowth following hay harvest is 10 to 12 inches. Whichever method you follow, be prepared that you will most likely need to restrict animal access to the newly seeded area until at least mid-June of spring following seeding.

Here’s to greener pastures – even if you’ll have to wait until next spring to really get them! 

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