Planting a new lawn from seed is a tedious process. You have to make sure the soil is well moisturized, and there’s also the risk of your seeds getting carried away by wind and water.
Applying a layer of hay or straw on your lawn can help mitigate some of these problems. After seeding your lawn, laying a hay cover on top of the grass seeds will help them stay in place and not be bothered by wind or running water. The hay also helps preserve the moisture in the ground during germination.
So, why put hay on grass seed and how long do you need to leave it on, for maximum benefits? Read on to find out.
Why Put Hay on Grass Seed
Here are a few reasons why you should consider laying a thin layer of hay or straw over your newly seeded lawn.
1. Keeps Seeds in Place
Due to their small size, you can just lay grass seeds on well-prepped soil without covering them up. However, this poses a risk because they can be carried away by the wind, running water, or even birds.
To protect the seeds and help them stay in place, lay a thin cover of hay on top of them. The hay blocks out wind and can also slow down the speed of raindrops so the seeds won’t be carried away or displaced out of their position by running water.
2. Preserves Moisture
If you live in a hot region, the ground tends to dry up faster when the sun is high in the sky. This isn’t good for planting since seeds require a lot of moisture during germination. If you want to cut down your water bill, hay can come in handy.
After planting your seeds and watering your lawn, apply a thin hay cover over the ground. The hay will prevent the water from evaporating, keeping the soil moist for much longer. It also helps retain warmth in the ground, which is crucial for germination.
3. Hay Chokes Weeds
A layer of hay discourages weeds from growing since they won’t receive enough sunlight. However, don’t lay on the hay too thick as it may prevent the grass seeds from receiving sunlight once they sprout from the ground.
4. Adds Nutrients
Hay is organic, which means it will decompose eventually. As it decomposes, it adds nutrients into the ground that benefit the grass seeds as they grow. This improves soil quality, making it more fertile.
The type of hay or straw you use is also essential. Make sure it is well dried and seedless. Using hay that contains seeds may bring unwanted plants into your lawn. However, this is easily solved during mowing.
Hay can’t survive under strict mowing conditions, so any plants that germinate along with grass will eventually die out after you mow your lawn.
Mulching is a great way to increase your chances of success when planting new grass. However, most people struggle with knowing the right time to take off the hay mulching. This depends on a few factors. First, you might not want to remove the hay since it will eventually rot and add nutrients to your soil.
Give your lawn about three to four weeks to germinate fully. By this time, the hay should have thinned out and started decomposing. If the hay has begun rotting by the third week, let it be; it will turn into compost in a few days. If, however, the hay is still as thick as you laid it by the fourth week, consider removing it to make way for the growing grass.
More importantly, you should not remove hay until you’re ready to mow your lawn for the first time. Once the grass has grown to about three inches in height, you can either mow your lawn with a bagger to remove the hay in the process or take it off with a garden fork.
Also read: Zero-turn lawn mower grass catchers
Remember, if you try to take away the mulch before the grass has matured enough, you might end up doing more harm to the growing grass in the process. Let your grass develop a robust root system before removing the mulch layer.
Ultimately, using hay to protect new seeds is an excellent thing to do. However, if you don’t have access to hay or straw, you don’t have to do it.
If your lawn is on a slope, then it’s advisable to lay a covering of hay over new seeds because the wind is likely to blow your seeds downhill.
If you live in a relatively flat area, you don’t have to worry about mulching as the seeds will stay in place either way. However, sprinkling on some hay or straw might help you save on water.
Also important to note is that you should only lay hay during warm months when the temperatures are high. The ground retains moisture for longer during the cold season since the temperatures are lower. Therefore you don’t need to cover your seeds with hay in winter, early spring, or late fall.
Also read: What kills weeds in Bermuda but is grass-safe?
A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can see the soil through the hay. When applying hay or straw, you should keep in mind that once the new seedlings sprout, they will require sunlight to process food.
Don’t apply a thick layer of mulch, as this might choke out any shoots as soon as they sprout. Sprinkle the straw lightly over the soil, carefully breaking up any clumps that form in the process.
New grass sprouts are delicate, and applying heavy mulch can smother them under the weight of the hay.
Before settling on any mulching material, whether it be hay, straw, grass clippings, or sawdust, make sure to investigate the history of herbicide usage on the mulching material.
Many hays and straw types are sprayed with chemicals that persist even after the hay has been cut. If you’re buying hay commercially, ask the farmer about the history of the hay you’re buying.
Make sure the mulch doesn’t have any seeds, or you might end up with uninvited plants in your grass.