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DENNY MCKEOWN LANDSCAPE
DENNY'S GARDEN INFO

DORMANT (WINTER) SEEDING

By Pam Sherratt & Dr. John Street, Department of Horticulture & Crop Science The Ohio State University

Mid to late August is the optimal time to seed cool-season turfgrasses throughout much of the northern half of the United States because soil and air temperatures tend to be moderate, falling into the zone where maximum germination can occur. The optimum air temperature is 60-85°F, depending on the species. Spring seeding is usually recommended as the second best time to seed. However, to avoid the potential problems of seeding too late in the spring, dormant seeding has distinct advantages.

So, what is “dormant seeding?” Dormant seeding is the distribution of seeds during a period outside the normal growing season, so that the seeds will be in place and ready to germinate when conditions allow. Ideally, the weather is persistently cold, to prevent premature germination. Snow cover is also beneficial, because it keeps the seed moist. In Ohio, dormant seeding is done by seeding into a prepared soil after soil temperatures have cooled below 40°F so the seed will not germinate until spring 2004.

Research on dormant seeding practices has revealed the following:

ADVANTAGES OF DORMANT SEEDING
DISADVANTAGES OF DORMANT SEEDING
●Soils are generally drier & easier to work in fall than in spring, especially native soils (silt clay loams).

●The seed is in place to take full advantage of warming soil temperatures next spring.

●Dormant seeding requires less irrigation than spring or summer seedings. However, seeds will dry out if there is no winter precipitation at all.

●Dormant seeding requires less robust weed and disease control strategies

●Dormant seed can emerge up to 15 days earlier than conventional spring-seed.

●Dormant seeding would most likely not be as successful as an early fall planting.

●A spring warm-up could initiate germination only to be followed by an extreme cold period, which could kill the seedlings.

●Situations in which dormant seeding fail include areas of soil erosion and the use of dark colored mulches, which raise surface temperatures.

●Increased seed application rates (30-50%) are recommended because seed mortality rate is higher in dormant seedings.



To summarize, success of dormant seeding is heavily influenced by the winter weather. The mild and changeable winter of 2002 would not have been as ideal as the snow cover and persistent cold of 2003. The decision to go with a dormant seed in 2004, rather than a conventional spring seed, is one that needs careful forethought and investigation.