Depending on the area, your grass may have to experience freezing temperatures and frost throughout the year. This can certainly make lawn maintenance harder, especially if you’re trying to protect young seedlings. Many people worry that an unexpected frost can kill their grass seed, setting back their lawn’s growth.
Frost won’t kill grass seed but the seeds should be planted when frost damage to young plants is less likely to occur. Seeds can survive to the next season in cold conditions, but frost can kill seedlings that are in the middle of sprouting. Fully-grown grass can withstand frost.
We’re all about seed information when it comes to frost damage and building up seed resilience. We’ll also cover information and research about how to protect your grass from frost, basic grass seed care, and how to properly store grass seeds during cold seasons. Keep reading to find out the best methods for taking care of grass seeds.
Frost Damage To Seeds
Grass can be resilient through the winter but it still isn’t a good idea to plant grass seeds when frost is a potential hazard. The seeds can survive until the following season, but if they have started sprouting then they won’t make it through icy conditions. Preserving the grass seeds with a prepared lawn and proper planting timing makes a big difference. Source
Grass seeds are sometimes stored in seed banks, which will protect them until the planting season arrives. You can use a kitchen fridge or freezer to store your seeds till you’re ready for planting. If the seeds aren’t stored properly, you may end up killing some of the stored seeds.
Many types of wildflower, tree, and shrub seeds need to be stored in cold temperatures to help preserve them. Cooler seasons like fall are good for milkweed, Echinacea, sycamore, and ninebark which can then be planted in the spring. Source
What Does Frost Do?
When the temperature gets low enough, water in the atmosphere freezes and creates frost. When frost settles on the ground, the grass blades will continue to try to absorb water/moisture. When the temperature drops, that water will freeze inside the grass, sometimes killing it (although mature grass can usually survive frost with no problem). The same is true for grass seed. Newly planted grass seed needs warmth, sunlight, and water to grow properly. Frost usually prevents it from getting all three of those things.
However, different types of grass respond differently to the effects of frost. Turf, for example, is different from most other types of grass in that it draws its water up from the roots. Frost will not directly damage turf, but you can damage turf if you step on it while it is frozen or wet. This will cause footprinting as the brittle grass snaps. Yes, you will leave an actual footprint on your turf that will not go away over time. It will quickly become an eyesore, especially during spring and summer.
If you are planning to plant your grass later in the season, it is advisable to do so at least six weeks before the first estimated freeze. The grass is most vulnerable when it first begins to sprout, so the brand new seed can die. However, if you fail to see sprouting grass during a cold spell, you actually do not need to automatically assume the cold has killed the seeds. It is completely possible that the seeds are simply dormant and waiting for warmer temperatures to venture above the surface.
If you want to successfully keep your grass seed from freezing and dying, you need to plant it at the right time. Keep in mind that proper timing often depends on the type of grass seed you are using. If you are using a cool-season variety of grass, you can usually wait until mid-August-October to seed. If you are using a warmer season variety of grass, you would probably be better off planting during late spring through summer.
Before planting your grass seed, you should also make sure your soil’s pH and aeration have been properly set. up for new grass seeds. Remember that grass is only as good as its soil, so take the time to perform any necessary preparation before you plant your seed. It is advisable to have a soil pH of about 6.2-7.0 for proper seed germination. If your pH is below this level, there are products you can purchase to help the acidity of your soil go down.
If you are diligent in caring for your lawn year-round, it will be far more likely to endure frost and freezing better. This means proper watering, proper fertilization, and the disposal of weeds and crabgrass. Again, planting your grass seed at the right time will greatly impact how well it grows. The frost may not kill it, but if you want it to grow at all (let alone properly) you would do well to perform the necessary upkeep your lawn needs.
Protecting Grass and Grass Seed From Frost
Your next question is probably something like: “What can I do to protect my lawn from frost?” In reality, there is not a whole lot you can do to keep frost from affecting your lawn because there is not much cause to do so. Grass is surprisingly resilient and can withstand most temperatures if cared for properly. As mentioned before, the best thing you can do for your grass seed is to plant it at the right time. This will ensure maximum growth and strengthening before the cold season.
However, there are 3 basic things you can do to keep your grass safe from the effects of frost. First, water your lawn. It probably seems counterintuitive to water your grass right before a cold snap, right? In actuality, watering before the cold hits will strengthen your lawn against freezing. Soil that contains water will actually retain heat, thus making it twice as difficult for the ground to freeze. One of the best ways to do this is to add warm water to your grass at night.
It is best if you can establish a solid watering routine for your lawn. This will increase the grass’s ability to withstand frost. It is advisable to set your sprinkler system to run for half an hour every three hours overnight. Watering at night (with warm water) will yield the best results for your grass. You can keep this up until right before the cold season begins. Obviously, you don’t want to water during the winter as that can cause your pipes to freeze, but doing so before winter starts will strengthen your grass.
As mentioned before, frost does not always kill seedlings, it merely induces hibernation/dormancy. However, there is a chance that your sprouting grass seed will die, so you should try to keep the frost off and try to retain as much underground heat as possible. You can do this by covering newly seeded areas with tarps or cloth (burlap is also an option). Even something as thin as a plastic black tarp will work.
As long as you have a layer of some kind between the grass and the cold air, you have a good chance of keeping the grass seed from frosting over. Keep the protective layer weighed down with stones or lumber or something similar. Remove the layer every morning so your grass seed will have adequate exposure to air and sunlight.
The third and final thing you can do is keep off the lawn. The fact is that when winter rolls around, your lawn will start becoming more brittle. Foot or vehicle traffic over frozen or frosted grass will force frozen water molecules to tear through blades of new grass, subsequently damaging them. Just as you don’t want your carpet to become flattened as a result of too much foot traffic, you don’t want the same thing happening to your lawn.
If at all possible, walk around the lawn instead of across it and encourage everybody else to do the same. If necessary, just avoid the places that have been newly seeded and walk across the mature grass which is more resilient. As long as you keep the newly seeded areas covered, properly watered, and untrodden, your seedlings should grow just fine.
Proper Grass Seed Storage: Warm & Cold
If you’re holding onto some new grass seeds and waiting for the right time to plant them, it’s important to properly store them.
One of the main things you need to take away from proper seed storage is that seeds with harder seed coats will live longer than seeds with thinner coats. To improve storage quality, make sure the seed’s moisture is maintained during the storage process so it doesn’t sprout early or become withered. The correct storage temperatures for grass seeds should be kept low (at about 50 degrees F). This will help the seeds stay in their dormant form.
If you plan on storing grass seeds with a warmer method, you’ll need to pay attention to the following information:
Make sure to store the seeds that are brand new as they are the most mature and healthy. They need to be in a dry and cool place to extend their viability. Because seeds are likely to re-absorb moisture, they need to be placed in air-tight containers. Glass jars are known to be helpful for this purpose, as long as they are sealed tightly.
Fill the container 1/4 full of moisture-absorbing materials such as dry wood ash, dry charcoal, powdered milk, toasted rice, even small bits of newspaper. This will keep the seeds dry enough to avoid early germination. A bit of moisture is okay because you don’t want them to shrivel, but it can’t be damp enough for them to sprout.
You can also use plastic bags to store seeds by filling them half-full of the grass seeds and adding slightly damp charcoal, peat moss, sand, and sawdust. If you do this method, however, you need to remember to open the bags daily for a half-hour to help circulate airflow.
When labeling the containers, write down the type of seeds you’re storing and the date they were collected.
*A good tip is to write down “the percent of the viability of the seeds” by planting the seeds to see how much germinates (if 8/10 germinate then you have 80% viability). This helps keep track of each seed type’s loss in viability between storage and planting.
You can help pests stay away from your stored seeds by mixing in deterrents like dry ash, black pepper-powdered seeds, peanuts, castor beans, cotton, and naphthalene balls. Source
If you’re using cold storage for grass seeds, follow along with the tips below:
When storing grass seeds for the short term, it’s great to know that the seed will still be ready for planting whenever you and your lawn are ready. If you live in a cooler area or would like to store grass seeds with a colder technique, there are ways to do that. These techniques are mainly for those who live in highly humid areas.
One thing you can do is store a year’s worth of seeds in small Ziplock packets. If the seeds are stored in larger quantities, this does more harm than good as the rest of the seeds become exposed to the fluctuations of humidity and temperature. Make sure to write the storage date on each bag so you know when to take them out after the winter season is over.
*Keep a garden journal to keep track of the different planting seasons, what other seeds grew, and challenges that were endured. This way you can reference back to the experiences to see if something will or will not work when grass planting comes up again.
You can also experiment by placing your grass seed storage containers in the freezer or fridge. In fact, some seeds can germinate better after being stored in freezing conditions. If you choose to use the freezer, you can thaw out the grass seeds in the fridge then finish the warming process by placing them on a kitchen counter.
Storing seeds in the freezer should only be done if you want to preserve them for a long time. Short-term storage should always be done in the fridge.
If you’re keeping the grass seeds in a freezer, it should be a freezer that is only opened a couple of times within a year so the temperature doesn’t vary. The freezer should be at -15F and the seeds can last over 5 (minimum)-20 years.