Late winter or early spring is the perfect time when most gardeners decide to plant new grass seeds. But with the weather still being dry enough, it becomes a daunting task to keep the ground moist enough all the time.
This is why many seasoned gardeners choose to lay a layer of hay over the seeds to lock in the moisture and prepare them for the warmer month. But does it help, or is it just a myth?
Let’s find out as we decode the process!
What is the Composition of Hay?
Hay is made up of dry grass and plants that are fed to herbivorous animals. To make hay, certain types of grass are allowed to grow long and then cut and dried.
It is not uncommon to use hay, which is a mix of different types of grass and plants. And almost any livestock plant can be turned into fodder or hay.
For example, back in the day, farmers cut oats before they headed out and made them into oat hay. Some farmers would plant grasses solely to turn them into hay.
Some of the most common grass types included timothy grass, red clover, white clover, alfalfa, crabgrass, rya grass, quack grass, and pretty much any grass that a kettle would eat can be the ingredient for making hay.
What are the Different Types of Hay?
It is hard to define the type of hays since, in the end, it can be made from every plant fed to kettles. However, here are some of the most common types of hays and their specialties.
1. Alfalfa Hay
It is a legume-based hay, therefore naturally high in protein, vitamins, and other nutrients that give energy. This is a prime choice for feeding animals, and due to this, it isn’t usually used for adding nutrients to the soil.
2. Timothy Hay
It is another popular choice amongst equestrian lovers as it provides the proper nutrients for horses. It is a cool season grass used as a forage for rabbits and similar small species.
This is a versatile grass used for pasture and hay applications. They are blueish green in color and leafy, hence very soft to the touch.
4. Smooth Bromegrass
This grass, also known as brome, is again a popular hay choice for livestock feeding. Horses love the taste of it so do goats and sheep.
5. Orchardgrass/Alfalfa Mix (O/A) Hay
This is again a blend fed to animals that require high energy and protein resources. Mainly, pregnant and lactating mares are given this hay.
While these are some of the main types of hay used for feeding herbivorous animals, if available, you can use them as a mulch that adds nutrients to your grass bed.
However, if you are looking for cheaper options, then clover, crabgrass, and quack grass can be good options, but make sure they don’t have seeds in them, or they can cause weed infestation in your grass lawn.
Can Hay Help Grass Grow?
Gardeners and farmers put a layer of hay on the ground when growing crops from seeds. Over time, it helps serve different purposes, so let’s look at each of them to understand if and how hay helps grass grow.
During the later winters, when the gardeners first seed the grass, their prime task is to keep the soil moist enough so it can help the seeds germinate. Now, it is easier said than done, and the bigger the yard, the more difficult it becomes.
So, back in the day, they put down a layer of hay as a protective covering that would prevent the water from evaporating and the soil moist for a longer time. In agriculture, these are called soil covers, a layer of pourable dry material that can protect the soil from rain, sun, and wind.
Besides being a year-round cover, using organic and easily degradable matter like hay also helps add nutrients to the soil, promoting healthy turf growth.
Thus, to answer your question, yes, hay does help the grass grow in multiple ways.
How to Use Hay to Grow Your Grass?
Now that you know the benefits of using hay as a soil cover for your freshly seeded yard, let’s understand how you should use it. Because one wrong step can fill your garden with weeds instead of your desired grass growth.
- Start by taking away any soil, leaves, sticks, or other debris, and work on breaking down any thatch that already exists in the soil.
- Spread grass seeds in smaller sections. You can use a handheld spreader for larger areas. Maintain a rate of 4-5 grass seeds per square area to avoid bald turf patches.
- After spreading the seeds, give the soil a light raking, so mix the seeds well with the soil.
- Apply a light layer of hay over the seeded area. One bale per 1000 square feet is enough, and you must do it so that after laying it down, you can still see the soil underneath between the hay pieces.
Keeping the hay layer too thick can do more damage than good, as it can stun the germination process or suffocate the seedlings as they grow.
How Long Should You Leave Hay to Grow Your Grass?
No hard and fast rule of how long you should leave the hay layer on your grass. In fact, most seasoned gardeners don’t bother removing the layer at all and let it decompose into the soil.
However, if you still want to remove it, remember the reason behind it is to add a protective layer until the grass is firmly anchored in the soil and ready for its first mowing. Now, depending on the type of grass you choose and whether you are planting seeds or seedlings, the time window for keeping the layer would vary.
If you start seeding a new lay, the hay or straw layer can be left on top for around 4 to 6 weeks. This is approximately the average time most grass grow long enough for their first mowing. Also, this time is long enough for all the grass seeds to germinate, so you will not risk hampering it.
Once the grass is about 3 inches tall, gently rake off the hay layer as much as possible. However, if you see that the layer has thinned out and started decomposing, you can save the hard work and let it blend in the soil on its own.
You might risk damaging the tender grass roots if you are not light-handed enough with the raking. But you should keep a close eye on weeds that may grow among your grass seedlings due to using this mulch.
Hay or Straw: Which One is Better?
There is a century-long debate between gardeners on whether they should choose hay or straw as a mulch. Both have their own pros and cons, so we will discuss both and let you decide which one you prefer.
The biggest reason why some gardeners prefer using straw over hay is the issue of weeds. Since hay is simply grass that has been mown and dried up to be used as fodder without much processing, they are usually full of seeds.
In that case, they can cause your garden to be infested by weeds, which is a gardener’s nightmare. So, some gardeners prefer using straw as soil cover.
Straw is essentially the byproduct of dry stalks collected from various cereal plants after removing the grains and chaff. Hence, they are processed so that they will not threaten to contaminate your garden with other seeds.
However, not all gardeners are “team straw,” as they believe since all the important parts of the plants are already extracted, the remaining stalk will not help add any nutritional value to the soil.
So, the decision boils down to the fact of what you want to achieve with the mulch. If you simply want a soil coverup that can help trap the soil’s moisture without adding any nutrients to your grass, you can go with straw.
On the other hand, if you want a mulch that can protect and provide both moisture and nutrients for your grass seeds, but you can do with a little weeding, then hay will be the better choice.
Yes. The hay itself won’t revive and start growing in your grass. But if it contains enough seeds and you mulch with it, there’s a good chance they will also germinate alongside your grass seeds.
You can use a sieve to gently cover the seeds with a layer of topsoil or compost. However, for vast areas, you can invest in a covering device that fills a furrow after planting the seed.
One of the biggest benefits of mulching is that it helps prevent excess water evaporation from the soil. Keep it moist for a longer time. It is imperative when seeds are germinating, as they need a perfect balance of heat and moisture.
Mulching also helps break clay in your soil, making it more penetrable and easy for air and water to seep.
So, to answer your question again, hay does help your grass protect and grow significantly if you are growing it from seeds. But remember that they also threaten weed infiltration, as at the end of the day, hay is simply cut and dried grass.
So, if you decide to use hay as a soil cover for your newly seeded yard, we recommend you keep a close eye on weeds, as they can get pretty invasive. Also, until the first couple of mowings, we recommend manual weeding, as using chemical weed killers might burn or stun the growth of your fresh turf.