Overseeding the Yard: Questions & Answers

Our Starting Point this Year–Not Too Bad!

Hi friends! I hope you’ve been enjoying my kitchen projects. While we’re not quite done with the kitchen yet, I wanted to switch gears a little bit to seeding the yard. The weather is not quite Spring-like here in Northern Virginia, but the extra hour of light definitely helps it feel like Spring is on its way. Putting down grass seed and “overseeding” our backyard is one of the first things I try to do in the Spring.

When we first bought our house, we had no grass in the backyard. The previous owner had put some seed down in the middle of summer when we bought the house, as you can see, but nothing ever grew of it.

Our yard was 75% straw and 25% grass

Steve and I spent hours researching online, talking to friends and neighbors, and asking for advice at our local hardware stores on what the best way was to grow our grass, especially with all the big trees we have shading the yard and with our dog. So, before you get started on the process of how to lay grass seed, I thought I’d begin by answering some of the questions I had, from all the great advice we received.

What is Overseeding Anyways?

I kept reading about putting grass down, or ‘Seeding’, and overseeding the yard, but I couldn’t understand how they were different.

Overseeding (or Reseeding) is putting seed down in your yard when you already have grass. So, this is what most of us do to fill in the bare spots in our yards.

Seeding the yard is when you only have dirt, and are starting from scratch.

What some of the yard looks like after raking up the dead spots–healthy soil all ready for seed!

Why does this even matter?

It’s important to follow the right instructions for whichever task you’re doing, because you use a different amount of grass seed, and there’s a few differences in the steps to follow. I’m going to be talking about overseeding your yard in my posts.

When Should I Put Grass Seed Down?

Everyone has a different answer for this. I think it depends a lot on what area of the country you live in. I’m in Northern Virginia, where we have 4 seasons, with hot humid summers and cold icy winters. My aunt and my neighbor, who’ve lived here their whole lives, swear by laying grass seed in February (before the last snow).

Why? It’s too cold for any seed you put down to germinate yet, so it shouldn’t start growing until to warms up. And, if you have some snow in your future, the snow will protect the seed, and the slow melt of the snow will help the seed establish a home in the dirt and moisten the ground for the seed to germinate and be happy when it warms up.

This is my first year trying the ‘put seed down in February’ thing, but last year we did March, and it worked great!

This is what was hiding under all that straw last spring when we finally got around to putting some grass seed down.

Others swear by putting it down after the last frost in the spring (so the new seeds don’t die off when the baby grass roots are frozen). And, still more swear by laying grass seed in the fall before the threat of frost, so the seeds can get established before it frosts.

I think your answer here also depends on your grass seed. We get a mix, which has a couple different kinds of seed. And, we plant it in both the fall and spring to give our yard the best chance of growing. But when you get your grass seed, check to make sure your type of seed isn’t best suited for the opposite season you’re planting it in.

Is this a once a year project, or do you have to put down seed more often?

We put down seed in the fall and the spring for a couple reasons. One, our lawn had a lot of bare spots when we moved in two years ago. We’re still trying to establish a good grass base for those areas. (Apparently, that’s not something that happens in one season, unless you’re putting down sod). And two, we have a dog. Sadie is my absolute favorite, but dog pee/poop is not conducive of a healthy lawn. We made huge progress in growing grass last year, but Sadie helped kill about 20% of the new grass we grew. So, we’ll have to put grass seed down twice a year to try and maintain a healthy lawn.

Speaking of types of grass seed, there’s 74 options at the hardware store–what kind of seed is best for my yard?

Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a straightforward answer for everyone. It really depends on where you live and what your property is like.

If it’s super hot in the summers and your yard is full sun, you’ll need a different seed than if you’re like me with hot summers/cold winters and a mixture of full sun and full shade in our yard.

My best advice is to ask your neighbors who have a nice yard what they do. We have lovely neighbors who’ve lived in the home next door for almost 20 years. He gave us a lot of great advice on what seed to use, and he helped temper our expectations a bit. We thought we’d put some hard work in one day and then we’d just need to fertilize and drop a little extra seed here and there. Because of our shade mix, he warned us that we’d be overseeding every spring and fall if we wanted to get a remotely lush-looking yard. Don’t get discouraged though! I have friends and family that never put grass seed down and still have beautiful yards. And for us, while the first overseeding was a lot of work, this Spring it took me an hour after work one day, so it’s really not that bad.

Our neighbor uses a mix of grass seeds, but he encouraged us to get one that was a premixed bag with both full sun and full shade options. We bought Scott’s Turf Builder Sun & Shade Mix Grass Seed last Spring and had great success, so we’re sticking with it for now. It’s a great mix of full shade and full sun because it has a couple different kinds of grass seed mixed together.

If you want to purchase your grass seed online, I’d research best grass seed for your growing zone. Or, if you want to try ours out, you can buy it here.

Is Aerating my Yard Necessary?

Steve looking oh-so-professional with our rented aerator

This is really dependent on your yard and how much damage you’re trying to repair. If you don’t know what an aerater is, not to worry–I didn’t either. But, it kept coming up in all the articles I was reading about overseeding.

Aerating is when you run a machine over the yard and it punches out pieces of dirt (those goose-poop looking things you see in county parks every spring). Those holes allow your seeds and fertilizer to work into the dirt further than just the surface, so it gives your yard more fertilizer, more circulating air, and a better chance for your seeds to germinate.

We rented an aerator from Home Depot the first time we overseeded the yard because it was all such a mess, and it made a huge difference.

Remember, our yard looked like this
And, this is this Spring, after aerating last Spring

Now before you get all worried about renting a fancy piece of equipment, wait! Home Depot makes equipment rental super easy–we reserved it online and then went and grabbed it at the store. It was $75 for the day, but they had 4 hour options available for $40 if you’re better about watching the clock than we are. And, it was super easy to use, just very heavy, so we needed our neighbor’s help to lift it in and out of the car.

I think aerating is worth it every other year if your yard requires a lot of maintenance–$75 every two years for a more healthy yard and a an hour of work doesn’t seem like a huge investment for a beautiful yard.

How Often do I Need to Fertilize?

Most research (and my family and friend experts) agree on about 4 times a year is the best number of times to fertilize. Fertilizer is food for your grass. We like Scotts Turf Builder Lawn Food, because as long as it’s dry, kids and pets can run right on it, instead of having to wait several days for it to be safe to play in the yard. If you don’t like the idea of chemicals on your lawn, feel free to check out organic options (i.e. animal poop)!

The fertilizer we use

The best times to fertilize are 1) 2 weeks before overseeding in the Spring (it gives the soil time to absorb the nutrients before it needs to nourish the seeds–like prenatal vitamins!); 2) late Spring; 3) late Summer; 4) 2 weeks before overseeding in the Fall. Each feeding ends up being about 6-8 weeks apart depending on how far apart your seasons are.

How Often do I Need to Water the Yard?

When you first put your seed down, you need to water every day (if it’s not raining) for 20-30 minutes (or until the soil is solidly damp, but not soaking wet) until your seedlings seem relatively hearty. Baby seeds and seedlings are super sensitive to changes in moisture, so if they get too dry or too wet, they’ll die. Once they’ve matured (it usually takes about 3-4 weeks for me), you don’t need to water as often. We just have a a simple sprinkler to do the trick, and we only have to move it once to cover our whole back yard (which we do after 15 minutes).

I know it sounds like a chore to water your lawn every day, but we turn the sprinkler on while starting dinner and set a 15 minute timer. Then we move the sprinkler, set another 15 minute timer. And, that’s it. We’re done caring for the grass for the day, all while cooking.

Are There Any Other Yard Care Tips I Should Follow?

For us, the most important thing is to remember to pick up our dog poop. Dog pee and poop will ruin your grass and leave brown spots. So, picking the poop up frequently (daily is ideal, but twice a week is probably more realistic) and spraying down spots where your dog pees with a hose to dilute the acidity of the urine will help keep your yard healthy. (Do we do this–honestly no. We pick up the dog poop weekly but I’ve never sprayed down urine spots. But, we also have a lot of spots in our yard from our dog, so if you want a spotless yard, I’d give this a try).

(For those of you who just got a little squeamish, sorry! I’m a nurse practitioner, so pee and poop is dinner conversation for me 🙂 )

She’s so cute, even if dog poop is gross

The other important thing is to mow your lawn regularly (just avoid it while your seeds are germinating so you don’t rip them up). A regularly cut grass allows sun to get to the soil and let the seeds continue to grow. And, by cutting the grass, your grass roots have less leaf to support, so they stay healthier. ‘Regularly’ for us is twice a week in the spring, once a week in the summer, and every 2-4 weeks in the fall.

Next Steps

Ok, I hope all these tips help! On Friday, I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, how to overseed your yard, just in time to give your yard some love this weekend!


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