How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (2024)

By Jaime Staufenbeil - Milorganite Agronomist
September 24, 2022

The most anticipated and slowest stage when seeding a lawn or patching a bare spot is waiting for the seed to germinate. How long does it take for grass to grow or germinate? It varies by species. But no matter how long, it seems to take forever. Some species are notoriously slow to germinate, such as Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG) and Bentgrass. Homeowners are often discouraged or think their efforts have failed when the seed doesn’t germinate as quickly as they think it should. It may appear that nothing is happening, but it is.

Pre-germinating turfgrass seed, particularly cool-season grasses, speeds up the germination process and reduces the time it takes to see growth once it’s distributed. Milorganite is used as a carrier and starter fertilizer, so the pre-germinated seed can be easily distributed using either a drop or rotary spreader.

Prepare the area to be seeded the same as you would when planting dry turfgrass seed.

Steps to Pre-Germinate Grass Seeds

Benefits of Pre-Germinating Grass Seed

There are a few benefits to germinating grass seed before distributing it. Less seed will be lost to dining birds, squirrels, and other pests, as well as being blown or washed away.

How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (1)

You’ll also be conserving some water by pre-germinating turfgrass seed. Rather than watering the seeded area for the first few days, you only need a few buckets of water. The biggest benefit to homeowners, of course, is to get the seed growing as quickly as possible!

What is Germination?

Seeds need water, oxygen, and the proper temperature to germinate. Moisture level alerts the seeds that it’s safe to grow. Some seeds also need a period of cold before germinating. Most seeds don’t require light to germinate and actually germinate best in dark conditions. This is why it’s important to follow recommendations on the depth to sow seeds, including turfgrass.

The first stage of germination is imbibition, which is the process of seeds being exposed to and absorbing water through the seed coat. Water swells the seed to loosen and soften the seed coat, allowing the root to penetrate. That’s germination.

Fall Is the Best Season to Plant Turfgrass Seed

Late-summer to early fall is the best time to plant cool-season turfgrass seed, which requires warm soil and daytime temps consistently in the low- to mid-70s °F to germinate. Growing grass seed in warm soil encourages germination, and cool air encourages growth. It’s okay to seed turfgrass in spring, but fall really is the best time of year.

Check Forecast Before Soaking Turfgrass Seed

Check the forecast for the day you plan on spreading the germinated seed. Back up 3 to 5 days, depending on how long the turfgrass species needs to soak (refer to the chart below), and that’s the day you should start soaking the seed. If inclement weather is expected, you may need to adjust the day you plan on spreading the grass seed. Turfgrass seed can’t soak indefinitely. Otherwise, the seed may quickly go from germinating to rotting.

10 Steps to Pre-Germinate Turfgrass Seed

Before beginning any seeding project, make sure the area is first properly prepared.

1. Select Turfgrass Seed Choose turfgrass species based on your location, climate, and growing conditions. Refer to the seed label for the recommended amount of seed needed for the area to be covered. Weigh the dry seed. (You’ll need to know the weight later.)How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (2)

Photo Credit: Tyler Milham

2. Bag Seed Select a method of “bagging” grass seed so it’s easy to change the water frequently. Place the grass seed in cheesecloth or a burlap sack, depending on how much seed you’re going to soak. Sometimes grass seed is packaged in large, plastic-woven bags, this and any material that allows water to reach all of the seed will work. Tie the fabric at the top to form a bag.

3. Soaking Container Select a clean bucket or another vessel that will submerge the seed bag completely. You’re going to be changing the water daily, so choose a container that can be handled with relative ease. A five-gallon bucket works well for larger amounts of seed. Rinse and disinfect the container with a bleach solution when changing the water. If you choose to go this route, make sure the container is very well rinsed, so nothing inhibits the seed germination.

How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (3)

Photo Credit: Tyler Milham

4. Water Fill the bucket with enough room-temperature water so that all the seeds are submerged.

5. Location and Temperature Place the container in a dark location. Maintain an air temperature of 65 °F to 72 °F.

6. Fresh Water Change the water every 12 hours, which is preferred, or at least daily. Changing the water every 12 hours helps to prevent spoilage from mold and mildew. To change the water, simply remove the bag of seeds and let most of the water drain out. Empty the bucket, give it a good rinse and refill it with room-temperature water. Place the seed bag into the fresh water.

How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (4)

Tip: Place a weight on the seeds to keep them from floating.Photo Credit: Tyler Milham

7. Days to Soak How long it takes for grass seed to germinate depends on the species. Turfgrass seeds can be soaked in water for 3 to 5 days to germinate. Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG) is slow to germinate and should be soaked for five days. See the chart below for recommendations on how many days to soak the most popular cool-season turfgrass seed. Don’t soak seeds for more than the recommended number of days. Soaking seeds too long can cause the seeds to rot.

8. Drain Germinated Seed After the recommended number of days you should see tiny root tips breaking through the seed coat. Remove the seed bag from the water and allow the excess water to drain. You can hold it until it’s only dripping a little or simply place the wet bag of seeds on the ground, concrete, or lawn. Allow the bag to drain as much as possible. You’re not trying to “dry” the seeds, just drain the excess water. Don’t wring it out. The seeds may be damaged.

9. Mix Seed and Milorganite Create a uniform mixture of Milorganite and germinated turfgrass seed, so it’s easier to distribute using a spreader. The ratio of dry turfgrass seed to Milorganite is 1:4 by weight: one pound of seed is mixed with 4 lbs. of Milorganite. See the chart below for coverage rates for popular cool-season grasses. Milorganite can be used as a starter fertilizer. It provides nitrogen, a major component of chlorophyll, and phosphorus, needed for root growth. Milorganite is virtually salt-free, so there’s no risk of burning tender seedlings.

10. Seed Distribution Follow the distribution recommendation (pounds of seed per 1,000 sq. ft.) for the seed species you’re using. It should be noted on the label. In the chart below, we’ve provided the seed rate per 1,000 sq. ft. and the area covered by the germinated seed/Milorganite mix.

Milorganite Seed Mixing Chart
Seed TypeMilorganite lbs/ seed mixSeed lbsSeed rate per 1,000 sq ftCoverage area of Mix
Bentgrass2051 lb5,000 sq ft
Bermudagrass2051 lb5,000 sq ft
Blue Grass100254 lbs6,250 sq ft
Blue-Rye Mix100256 lbs4,250 sq ft
Rye Grass100258 lbs3,250 sq ft
How to Pre-Germinate Grass Seed | Milorganite (2024)


How do you pre-germinate grass seed? ›

Soak your seeds in water for 24 hours in a warm location like a heated shed or garage. We recommend using storage tubs, buckets, or pots without drainage holes. Stir the bucket once or twice a day to ensure even distribution of water. After about three days, check for signs of seed shoots popping up.

How do you guarantee grass seed germination? ›

Consistent moisture. Keeping your new grass seed consistently damp until it germinates is the most important success factor of all. The seed won't sprout without moisture, and if you water enough to break the seed coating but then let the seeds and seedling grass plants dry out, the young plants will die.

How do you germinate seeds perfectly? ›

6 Steps to Germinating Seeds Indoors
  1. Prepare the seed-starting soil mix. ...
  2. Place the seeds in soil or a wet paper towel. ...
  3. Cover the seedlings with a plastic bag or lid. ...
  4. Place the seeds in a warm location. ...
  5. Keep the potting mix moist. ...
  6. Thin seedlings to encourage larger plants.
Oct 29, 2021

What do seeds need to germinate question 1? ›

All seeds need water, oxygen, and proper temperature in order to germinate. Some seeds require proper light also. Some germinate better in full light while others require darkness to germinate. When a seed is exposed to the proper conditions, water and oxygen are taken in through the seed coat.

What do you need to put down first before grass seed? ›

How to Seed a New or Existing Lawn
  1. Step 1: Prepare the Ground. Dig or till the ground to a 3-inch depth. ...
  2. Step 2: Add Nutrients. Add compost, topsoil and starter fertilizer and then work them into the soil.
  3. Step 4: Protect the Grass Seed. ...
  4. Step 5: Water the Seed. ...
  5. Step 6: Mow the New Grass and Control Weeds.

Will grass seed germinate sitting on top of soil? ›

Will grass seed germinate on top of the soil? Yes; in fact, germination will suffer if too much soil is placed on top of the seeds. The experts at Jonathan Green recommend placing a thin layer of mulch or topsoil over them to help keep them moist and warm and promote growth.

Can I just throw grass seed on bare spots? ›

Can I Just Throw Grass Seed on Bare Spots? Throwing grass seed onto bare spots will result in little-to-no germination and will not help to repair lawn spots. If you want to fix patches on grass, you need to properly prepare the bare spots before laying down the seed.

What stops grass seed from germinating? ›

'There are several possible causes that may prevent the grass seed from growing, such as poor soil quality, inadequate sunlight or water, temperature extremes, bad seed, and pests,' says Susan Brandt, Co-Founder of Blooming Secrets.

What are the best conditions for grass seed germination? ›

​Lawn seeds germinate best in early autumn and mid-spring. The soil is warm, there's plenty of moisture and the weather is neither too cold nor too hot. Germination should take from seven to ten days.

How to stimulate seed germination? ›

Quick Tips To Improve Seed Germination

To speed up the process, pre-soak the seeds before planting them in water in a shallow container. Soaking helps seeds absorb water and stimulates growth. Pre-water the potting soil at least 24 hours before planting the seeds.. Monitor the seed environment regularly.

What are the 7 steps of seed germination? ›

The Seed Germination Process
  • Step 1: Imbibition: water fills the seed.
  • Step 2: The water activates enzymes that begin the plant's growth.
  • Step 3: The seed grows a root to access water underground.
  • Step 4: The seed grows shoots that grow towards the sun.
  • Step 5: The shoots grow leaves and begin photmorphogenesis.

How to germinate grass seeds? ›

Pour water into the container and cover the seeds. Store your container in any area, as long as the temperature sits at 70 degrees F. For the next three to five days, keep changing the water every 12 hours until the seed visibly germinates. At this point, you can remove the bag and let the excess water drain out.

What four 4 things do seeds need to germinate? ›

In order for a seed to successfully go through the process of germination, it needs to be in the exact right environment. This means that the temperature, moisture, air, and light around the seed must all be right. The perfect temperature for germination varies depending on the seed.

What are 3 things does a seed need to germinate? ›

All seeds need water, oxygen and optimal temperature to germinate. When a seed is exposed to the proper conditions, water and oxygen are taken in through the seed coat. The embryo's cells start to enlarge.

How long can grass seed lay on ground before germinating? ›

Most grass seed will start growing in about 10-14 days, but sometimes it can take up to 30 days. When you're planting new grass seed in your yard, it can seem like it's taking forever to start sprouting.

Can you just sprinkle grass seed on lawn? ›

If you simply toss the grass seed onto the soil, you will end up with poor germination. Thoroughly rake the area to remove any loose debris and to create grooves in the soil. These grooves will help increase the seed-to-soil contact that is imperative for germination.

How often should I water my grass seed before germination? ›

Normally a lawn should be watered deeply but infrequently, but when you are watering for new grass seed, you must water every day. Set automatic timers for about 5 to 10 minutes, early in the morning, and again at mid-day. Watering done by hand or hose-end sprinklers must be consistent and evenly applied.

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