Generally, a bale of hay is enough to cover 1,000 square feet of your lawn. Spread the hay so that it is thick enough to keep grass seeds safe from the elements and birds. At the same time, the layer should be thin enough to allow air and sunlight to pass through.
Are you planting a new lawn? A common way to protect grass seedlings is to place straw or hay on top of the soil. This practice helps keep the fresh seed warm and moist until they develop a strong root system.
Can you put too much hay on grass seed? Remember, you need to protect these fledgling plants without smothering or crushing them. If you go beyond the recommended single bay of hay, you may end up putting too much weight on your grass seeds. This will do more harm than good.
How Much Hay Should You Use?
Table of Contents
Author: Matt Hagens
Some prefer using straw to cover germinating grass seeds, while others strongly recommend hay.
Let’s look at these frequently asked questions about putting hay on new grass seeds.
Not only does straw keep grass seed moist and warm, it also keeps the seed from blowing around on windy days or washing away during heavy rainstorms watering. Without straw, seeds may be exposed to too much direct sunlight, and can be easily washed away during heavy rains that deposit it in patchy areas, leaving other spots bare. Straw also discourages birds and small mammals from feasting on the seed. As it decomposes, the straw contributes valuable nutrients to the soil.
Grass seed must come into contact with the soil in order to germinate, a process helped along by heat and moisture. Because of its small size, it’s important not to bury the seed too deeply, and a light sprinkling of soil over it is usually sufficient. Depending upon the variety, it takes up to three weeks for grass seed to germinate. The process begins by sending down a small root that eventually develops additional lateral roots. Above the soil, a crown appears from which will emerge three to five tiny, undeveloped leaves. All subsequent leaves grow from the center, and each is taller than the ones before it. Applying a thin later of straw allows sunlight through, and the grass has no trouble growing through the openings.
One of the goals when planting a new lawn is keeping the grass seed in place until it germinates and establishes a root system to anchor it to the soil. Another is to keep the newly planted seed sufficiently moist and warm to encourage germination. Both goals can be achieved by placing a thin layer of straw over the grass and leaving it in place until grass seedlings appear.
Because straw is seedless, it doesn’t introduce weeds into the new lawn, and also helps discourage other weeds that may try to germinate. It should not be applied too thickly, as it will defeat its own purpose and prevent the grass seed from growing. A bale of straw should cover roughly 1,000 square feet of lawn if it’s applied so that the soil is visible through it. Grass seed should be tamped down lightly so as not to crush it, and the straw applied before the initial watering in order to avoid walking on wet, newly seeded soil.
As tempting as might be to remove the straw once the grass seed has sprouted, raking it off may damage the plants’ tender roots and shoots. If applied sparingly, experts say it can be left on as it will decompose rapidly into the soil. According to Sunset, it’s best not to press grass seed too deeply into the soil with a weighted roller, as this may compact the soil and cause it to dry out more quickly.
Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.