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Grass Seed Planting in Ohio

Teri Silver is a journalist, commercial copywriter, editor, broadcast anchor, and Public Relations Specialist.

Hardy Kentucky bluegrass is a great choice for cool-season lawns in Ohio.

Hardy Kentucky bluegrass is a great choice for cool-season lawns in Ohio.

Cool-Season Grass

In the state of Ohio, planting cool-season grass seed in early fall or spring helps to ensure a lush, green carpet of sod. Sowing or over-seeding is best done when soil temperatures range between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Buckeye State, the particular time frame for embedding grass seed depends on the site’s basic geographical location, but temperature, method and soil alkalinity are also important factors.

Location

In U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 to 6, the average low temperatures range from minus 15 degrees to zero. Within the various regions of Ohio, in zones 5a to 6b, the state is basically split into three parts; northern, central and southern.

  • In northern Ohio cities—Cleveland, Toledo and Akron, for example—seeding a lawn between August 15th and September 15th will foster germination and allow roots to take hold before the area’s first frost.
  • In central Ohio counties such as Franklin, Delaware, Licking and Pickaway, you can plant grass seeds in September through mid October.
  • Sowing in the month of September is best for lawns in southern Ohio counties too (including Ross, Scioto, Hamilton and Brown), but if the temperature holds, they can be seeded up until the end of October.

If you miss these planting windows, wait until after the last frost in the spring (mid March to mid April).

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Recommended Grasses for Ohio

Cool-season grasses are suitable for lawns, sports venues and parks. The turf, which stays green all year long, grows best in temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Kentucky bluegrass or “KBG” (Poa pratensis), fescues (Festuca spp.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) enter dormancy when the temperature stays above 90 F. Bentgrass (Agrostis spp), with its green-blue blades, is often used for golf course putting greens. For the best chance of a disease and pest-free lawn, the Ohio State University Extension recommends blending seeds from different cultivars of the same type.

  • Kentucky bluegrass: With many varieties from which to choose, Kentucky bluegrass seeds usually germinate within 10-21 days but crabgrass (Digitaria spp.) can undermine growth. KBG needs at least 6 months to thicken into solid turf. Thorough watering, especially during dry periods, will help keep grass green and healthy. Recommended cultivars for Ohio growing zones 5a through 6b include “Compact,” “Midnight,” “America,” and “Julia.”
  • Fescues: Fine and tall fescues (Festuca arundinacea), with coarse, rhizome-producing blades, grow well in shaded areas. Seeds germinate within 5 to 7 days. Tall fescue is moderately disease-resistant but it can develop “brown patch,” especially in July and August. Fine fescues grow best in well-draining soil and are relatively low maintenance.
  • Ryegrass: Similar to KBG, perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) germinates within 3 to 5 days. It grows well in Ohio and is cold and heat resistant, however, ryegrass seeds fare better when mixed with bluegrass. Perennial ryegrasses form thick canopies that can reduce weed growth.
  • Bentgrass: For use on golf courses and tender yard areas, thickly-growing bentgrass (Agrostis spp.) must be mowed often. It is prone to disease and pests.
grass-seed-planting-in-ohio

Planting Grass Seed in Ohio—What You'll Need

  • Desired seed mixture for your soil’s pH
  • Fertilizer (recommended for the seed mixture)
  • Soil thermometer
  • Rake
  • Seed spreader
  • Straw
  • Water

Step One

Take the soil’s temperature; the range between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Test the dirt for pH balance (optimum soil pH for Ohio lawns is between 6.0 and 7.0). Knowing about the nutrient requirements for your lawn will help you to choose the best seed mixture and fertilizer. (You can purchase a tester and thermometer online or from a garden store).

Step Two

Rake the soil and remove large clumps, rocks and debris. If you use new topsoil, be sure that it is weed and disease-free. Spread the soil evenly.

Step Three

Load the seeds in a spreader and walk through the lawn. Use the rake to cover the seeds with about a quarter inch of clean soil. Fertilize with the recommended solution; follow instructions on the package. Cover the soil with straw so that the seedbed is still visible.

Step Four

Water the straw and soil thoroughly so that the ground stays wet; two or three times a day or more during germination. You can taper off to once or twice a week after seedlings are established.

Overseeding

Similar to planting a new patch of grass, late summer through early autumn is the best time for overseeding an existing lawn. Seeds planted too late in fall may not germinate in time or produce stems strong enough to withstand cold winter temperatures. Weed-free cultivar seed blends are available; they combine the best attributes of similar species to create a solid turf.

Basics

Knowing the average high and low temperatures in the county where you live will help determine the best time to plant grass seed. Only plant seeds in clean, disease-free, weed-free soil. For more information, consult your local extension service.

Fertilizing Tips

  • Soil pH for Ohio lawns is best between 6.0 and 7.0. Levels vary in Ohio regions. Test the soil before applying any type of fertilizer
  • Fertilizer mixtures of 3-1-2, 4-1-2 and 5-1-2 (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) are recommended; check with a garden store specialist for advice on choosing the best product for the type of grass and its cultivar(s).
  • Fertilize evenly with slow-release chemicals about 8 to 10 weeks apart
  • Water thoroughly

Questions & Answers

Question: I live in Coshocton, Ohio. My lawn was torn up while building an addition but now I have new topsoil raked and ready for seeding. Could I seed now as long as I make sure the seeds are covered with straw and watered, or should I wait until Fall?

Answer: I would wait until early to late September but not after October 15th. Ohio summers can get pretty hot, especially in August, and if there's not steady enough, consistent rain, we experience drought conditions that can cause grass to enter dormancy. We've had June and July temperatures in the low to mid-90s this summer, so I think autumn planting is better for seedlings to develop strong grass blade roots. A long-term weather forecast may give you a better guesstimate on rainfall. Self-watering is OK as long as the seeds are monitored continuously.

Question: I just bought a house in Toledo, Ohio and the backyard has no grass at all, just dirt. When it rains, the ground becomes a huge muddy, mess. What kind of grass would be best to grow in this situation?

Answer: It sounds like the soil in your backyard doesn't drain well, that is a problem in the long run. However, Kentucky bluegrass is fairly hardy and can handle over-watering if it's in full sunlight. Test the soil for pH and draining before making a commitment to seeding. You don't mention if the yard is in full sunlight; that's important for KBG, as well as ryegrass and fescues. You may want to look into a draining system.

Question: Is this a good time to overseed my lawn in Warren, Ohio?

Answer: I suggest that you determine what kind of grass seed to use, take the soil's temperature and monitor future weather patterns. As noted in the article, sowing or over-seeding cool-season grasses is best done when soil temperatures range between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I know we're all anxious to get started on our gardening chores, but we must let Mother Nature take her course -- it is best to wait until after the danger of frost has passed. In Warren, you are rather close to Lake Erie and probably get a good amount of lake effect weather. For more information about specifics in your area, contact your local extension service (or the nearest one) or nursery.

Question: I believe that the previous homeowners may have overseeded in patches. There are areas of different types of grass. Will overseeding the entire lawn with one type of grass help to minimize these visible differences? (In central Ohio, would plan to overseed in September).

Answer: I have to assume your lawn is KBG, and from what you've described, the lawn has already been overseeded. Doing more of that won't make other types of grass go away. But in any case, the way to assure an evenly formed and "perfect" lawn is to tear out the sod and start over. Some lawn companies call that a "renovation." A lawn that is full of weeds and problem grasses may benefit more with a compete do-over -- if you absolutely cannot accept the yard as it is. I recommend inquiring of a professional lawn company for doing renovation; it may be a little more pricey than do-it-yourself, but, in the long run, complete grass removal and reseeding done the correct (and guaranteed) way by professionals will give you the aesthetics and peacefulness of mind you're looking for.

Question: I am in the midst of bringing my soil pH up from 5 to 6.5 in preparation to overseed. I tried to do this in the fall, but the process was unsuccessful. So, can I overseed now (March), and what additional steps should be taken?

Answer: Soil temperatures have a lot to do with successful seed germination, March is a crapshoot in Ohio because the weather is hardly steady. (I just saw a forecast for Central Ohio that indicates temps will be 20 degrees below normal in the beginning to the middle of the month, so it's likely to be that way around the state's regions. Wait until mid-April, at least, or the last average frost date in May). I cannot recommend steps to take for overseeding without seeing the turf, however, I typically suggest having lawn company professionals assess the turf, soil, location, hydration, and drainage before investing time, energy and financial resources.

Question: Is this a good time to sow grass seed in Delaware County, Ohio?

Answer: I'm assuming, only, that your soil pH level is between 6.0 and 7.0, and that you are using KBG, but my suggestion would be to wait until the chance for frost has passed. I woke up yesterday to snow, now thunderstorms, and more snow is possible later in the week. It's Central Ohio! Soil temperatures for seed sowing should be at 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Mid-April is a better time for more stable weather, at this point, but you can test the temperature of the soil. Still, I would wait until later in the month.

Question: What is a grass seed I can sow in Gallipolis?

Answer: Soil alkalinity, soil temperature, light and water conditions are key factors to determining grass seed selection; it would be best to take a soil sample to your favorite garden store and see which types of cool season grasses are most appropriate. I would not be comfortable with recommending anything specific without having more information on the environment and location, however, I typically prefer Kentucky bluegrass because of its durability and versatility.

Question: Is it a bad time to sow down a new lawn in the Ohio Valley? What seed is recommended?

Answer: I do not recommend planting grass seed before the September-October window. The Ohio Valley, which is actually the Ohio River Valley, attracts weather systems. It's a preferred weather track for storms, especially. Meteorologists say moist Ohio River Valley air creates hot, sticky weather (such as the 90 degree temperatures we get in July and August). The best type of seed for your lawn depends on soil pH and temperature, also if all areas are in direct sunlight. I prefer Kentucky bluegrass for just about everything because it is so hardy, but, before you invest in the time an expense of resodding, have the soil tested to see what would grow best (contact your local extension service). Fescues may be an option (but do not mix the two). Some strains take more time and effort to maintain than others. In any case, gather your info now so you'll be ready to seed in the fall.

Question: What is the best brand of grass seed to start a new lawn (newly constructed home southwest of Cleveland) that I won't be able to plant until spring?

Answer: Sorry, but I don't recommend seed brands. However, I typically prefer straight KBG or KBG/fescue blends for northern Ohio; its success depends on soil alkalinity and whether the entire lawn is in direct sunlight. Take a soil sample evaluation to your local garden store to explore your options.

Question: I have an old gravel driveway. I plan on digging 2 inches of gravel up and bringing in 2.5 inches of topsoil then planting grass in early April. Will it be okay to replace this old gravel driveway with topsoil?

Answer: I suggest having the dirt under the driveway tested for content and pH. Test the topsoil, too, to determine what will grow in it (soils come from different land areas) and whether it can blend with what's already in the ground. This winter has been rather mild in most areas of Ohio, thus, we may see late frosts. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts.

Question: I have an area that the previous homeowners had as a wildflower patch. I have removed all surface debris and will be grading tonight. Can I seed the lawn in and still have it work out for me and be a healthy yard?

Answer: I suggest having the soil tested for pH and microbes. Surface debris doesn't indicate what is deep below the soil -- there maybe a lot of weed and invasive plant leftovers. I cannot tell you whether your lawn will be healthy but if you use KBG or a cool-seson seed blend in direct sunlight with well-draining soil, you have an even chance, I think.

© 2015 Teri Silver