When to Plant Grass Seed in the Midwest

When to Plant Grass Seed in the Midwest

The Midwest, despite its name, is located in the upper central region of the United States, spanning from North Dakota to Ohio, and down to Kansas and Missouri. The climate in this area is quite varied, characterized by extremely cold and snowy winters, and hot and wet summers. This region is known for frequent cold snaps and heat waves, which can make it challenging to decide when to plant grass seed for your lawn. Balancing the prevention of lawn burn in summer and ensuring that grass seedlings don’t freeze in winter can be a daunting task for individuals in the Midwest. Although people usually associate lush, green lawns with late spring through summer, it may come as a surprise that the best time to sow grass seed in the Midwest is actually in early fall.

There is a basic seedling biology behind the success of planting grass seed in the fall in the Midwest. This is why grass seedlings planted in fall thrive better, along with some seed germination knowledge that you can utilize to your advantage, along with other tips to ensure a beautiful, lush, Midwestern lawn in the summertime.

Seeding in fall is advantageous for the Midwest

Woman spreading grass seeds

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To start germinating, grass seeds require soil temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually doesn’t occur until daytime air temperatures hover around 60 to 75 degrees — well into springtime for much of the Midwest. If you want your lawn to grow as fast and strong as possible before summer, it’s best to spread seeds during the other perfect temperature window: early fall. Planting your grass seeds in late August through mid-September will ensure that the worst of the summer heat has died down, yet soil temperatures remain warm enough to encourage germination. In fall, weeds will also be less aggressive as opposed to spring. With several weeks to grow under these warm, mild conditions, your grass will be able to establish healthy roots before the first freeze of winter and come back strong in the spring.

However, if you’re determined to plant some grass seeds in early spring, you can “trick” the seeds into thinking it’s warmer outside than it actually is. To do this, dump a bag of lawn soil and a bag of seeds into a wheelbarrow, then thoroughly mix the soil and seeds together. Water the mixture just enough to dampen the soil, cover the wheelbarrow with a tarp or plastic trash bag to help the soil retain warmth, and allow it to rest in the garage for one to two weeks. Once the seeds begin germinating, you can spread them on your lawn to get a headstart.

Working with the natural climate

Man stocking grass seed bags

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Planting your grass seeds at the right time is crucial in the Midwest, but it’s not the only factor that can affect the health and appearance of your lawn. When preparing to seed your lawn, it’s important to research and choose the right type of grass seeds. Some will grow flawlessly in Midwestern weather, while others will have you battling nature all year long. The best types of grass seeds for most Midwestern states include tall fescue, fine fescue, perennial ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass. These varieties tend to hold up well under the Midwest’s brutal winters, and fescue is one of the best kind of lawns for shady backyards. Purchasing grass seed from your local nursery can be another smart choice, as many small nurseries offer native grass seeds and seed blends that will naturally thrive in Midwestern conditions.

While the dramatic changes in weather can make it difficult to grow grass and other plants, one advantage that the Midwest has for grass is its exceptionally-fertile soil. In many cases, you won’t even need to use commercial fertilizer to see your lawn thrive on the naturally-fertile ground. However, you can apply a light layer of slow-releasing lawn food in early spring if desired.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.