How to Lay Hay in the Winter to Grow Grass

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Spreading hay over your grass seed helps protect it.
Spreading hay over your grass seed helps protect it. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Growing grass in the winter can be successful if you plant it early enough to beat the coldest weather. Laying hay or straw as a mulch over the newly seeded area helps protect the seeds, keeping them warm and moist to give you the best chance of establishing your winter lawn. The most common types of straw mulch come from wheat, barley and oats. The key to using hay is to cover the ground adequately while still letting the seeds benefit from the sun.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Scissors or knife
  • Sprinkler

Put on gardening gloves. Cut open the hay bale with scissors or a sharp knife.

Start in the back corner of your seeded area facing the corner. Prepare to spread the hay in front of you, walking backward as you spread. Walking over the hay can displace it, so spread it in such a way that you don't step on the newly laid mulch.

Spread the hay by hand over the newly seeded area. Break up clumps so the hay provides even coverage. You should be able to see some dirt through the hay, which should cover about 70 percent of the ground. In warmer weather, you only need about 50 percent coverage, but more mulch helps the soil hold heat during the colder months.

Water the seeded area thoroughly when finished covering it with hay. Water the area daily for the first two weeks, or until you see tiny blades of grass beginning to poke through the soil.

Leave the straw on the ground as the grass grows. It will break down slowly during the winter, adding essential nutrients to the soil to help keep the grass healthy.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cool-season grass won't grow well when the weather gets too cold, such as when it's consistently near freezing at night. Plant it as early in the winter as possible to help the grass become established so it can survive colder temperatures.
  • If you lay warm-season grass seed in the winter, you don't no need to spread hay as mulch at that time. These seeds will remain dormant in the soil until the weather warms in the spring. Adding hay in the spring instead helps hold moisture in the soil so the seeds can germinate.
  • Hay and straw sometimes carry weed seeds. These aren't likely to appear in the winter, but you might see an increase of weeds in the spring. Mowing the weeds early, and using a weed and feed product appropriate for your grass type can help eliminate the weeds.

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