Have you ever walked into a garden center looking for a package of grass seed
and found yourself looking at a wall filled with many different type of blended
grass seed packages and wondered, "Which is right for me?" It's almost as confusing
as going to the grocery store and trying to pick a box of cereal for breakfast!
(I think I will have toast.)
Here is what I want you to do before you go to the garden center this fall.
Take a piece of paper and answer these questions before you leave.
How big is the area, length by width; if not sure pace it off and write down how many paces; the store attendant can help you determine the size of the area to be seeded.
- Is the area sunny or shady?
- If a combination of the two, when is it sunny and when is it shady, how long for each and at what time of the day is it sunny or shady?
- Now take a shovel or garden trowel and dig a hole in the area to be seeded and see how deep the top soil is, 3 inches...6 inches deep? it will matter.
- Also what is under the top soil; sand, clay, yellow hard pan? It will make a difference in the seed you will need to use. Is the area flat, does it slope or is it on the side of a hill? When it rains does the water sit on the surface? If so, how long?
- Do you have trees growing on this area to be seeded? Will you be adding seed under the trees, and are the trees evergreen or leaf type?
- Is there moss growing on this area now; have you ever applied lime or lime products to this area?
- Have you ever had a soil test done? Are you adding new top soil over the existing soil--and how much new soil?
- If there is grass growing there now, how much of the area is grass compared to weeds...or are you starting from scratch?
- Have you used a weed killer product on this area lately, like Turf Builder Plus 2 or a Crabgrass preventer plus fertilizer. How long ago?
- What will happen to the lawn when it is all growing and green: kids playing on it occasionally, or every day, football, baseball, or are you just going to look at it?
- Do you have an irrigation system or do you drag out the hose when it needs to be watered? Or do you not water the lawn at all during the summer months?
- Does your town have a water ban every summer?
- Do you fertilize it during the year? How often will it be fed, with organic or regular lawn food and will you use a weed killer if needed?
- Do you have animals and are they allowed to play on the grass, like a fenced in back yard?
- Is the lawn area wide open to the wind and is it windy there?
- Are you on the street (possible road salt), near a pond or wetlands?
- How often do you cut your lawn and how short or tall do you like it?
- One last question...do you care what the neighbors think about your lawn, do you just want it green or do you want the perfect lawn and the best on the street?
(Maybe I will buy Cheerios for breakfast!)
If you still want to plant grass seed, take this information to the garden
center and they will help you select the right grass seed combination for your
new lawn. In the Northeast you will have five families of grass seed to choose
from and I want you to know how they work and where they will work best for you.
There are many different types of varieties of each family member and I will
leave that to the garden center expert to determine for you.
#1 Kentucky Bluegrass is dark green, with a medium textured blade.
Bluegrass can spread by making tillers and underground rhizomes, and they have the ability to make a tight-knit attractive turf. Your seed will make a new plant and as that plant matures, the plant can send out these underground rhizomes and tillers to make new plants, as a strawberry plant sends out new runners.
These runners will help to thicken your lawn when it is fed regularly.
Bluegrass does best in a heavy soil that is well drained and has good fertility, so it must be fed several times a year, every 6 to 8 weeks to stay thick.
Water requirement is moderate to high during the summer months. If watering is a problem , the grass will lose some of its color but it will recover quickly when moisture returns.
Mowing height is 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches--but taller during the heat of summer is recommended.
The plant is more upright growing and the only type of grass plant that is self-spreading with runners. Bluegrass will do best in full sun to a bit of shade late in the day or first thing in the morning.
It is not recommended for shady areas as the main seed type. The size of the seed is small and the cost is more expensive than most because you get more seed per pound than most others varieties.
Bluegrass will take as long as 3 weeks to germinate so be patient and keep watering to insure good germination. Once it germinates it will grow as fast as the other varieties of seed.
If you want a SOD LAWN look, you will have to use a high bluegrass blend of seed.
Bluegrass lawns will give you the best looking lawn but they will require the most maintenance and care-- so you might want to consider a blend with other types of grass seed.
#2 Fine Fescue Grass is medium green, and like its
name has thin and narrow blades of grass. Fine fescue will also spread with tillers
and short creeping rhizome type underground stems. Fine fescue is used extensively
in seed blends designed for sun and shade situations.
This grass seed will germinate quickly, establish itself quickly and make a wonderful nursery grass to provide protection against erosion for a slower growing grass like bluegrass problems early on.
Because this grass seed germinates quickly you will see things happening fast and it will encourage you to keep watering and caring for the new seedlings.
The fine fescue family also includes 'Chewing' fescue and 'Creeping Red' fescue,
making this family of grasses possible to grow almost anywhere in your lawn no
matter where you are planting it. Sun or shade--this is the most versatile family
of turf grasses used in blended seed for turf use today. Also, insect problems
are very few with these grass plants. Their biggest problem is that you must
plant the seed more heavily than most because many of the varieties grow in clumps
and do not spread readily in the lawn.
You would not plant just fine fescue grass alone as a lawn but when blended
with other varieties of Creeping and Tall fescue it will make a wonderful lawn.
Great in low fertility or partial shade areas, it will also tolerate road salt
better than most. Periods of hot and dry weather will cause color change and
it is not as drought tolerant as bluegrass unless you do not cut it and allow
it to grow on its own and become more natural. Mow at a height of 1 1/2 to 2
1/2 inches tall or allow to mature and grow wild and natural at 6 to 8 inches--low
maintenance like an eco-Lawn. As a natural lawn, fertilize spring and fall. You
can also mow the grass only once a month as it does not grow as fast as bluegrass,
saving you time.
#3 Tall Fescue grass is medium to dark green, and
new hybrids have a wonderful medium texture like bluegrass does. Tall fescue
will grow in clumps and will not make a thick lawn all by itself and is better
used in a blend of seeds. It is extremely tough and will tolerate a lot of use
like athletic fields and lawns with heavy traffic, so bring on the kids. This
is a wonderful grass seed to blend with bluegrass seed when planting a new lawn
or thickening an existing thin growing lawn.
Tall fescue has a very large growing root system and a root system that grows
deep in the soil, making it perfect for soils on the sandy side. Roots can grow
as deep as 2 feet or more in the ground and will perform very well in periods
of heavy moisture or extended drought. Once established it will even stay green
longer during summer drought and perform better than most other varieties of
Mow this grass higher in your lawn at 2 to 3 inches tall cutting height--and taller during the heat of summer.
Fertilize spring and fall but any additional fertilizer will create a very thick weed- free lawn.
Taller growing lawns always tend to keep out more weeds than those cut short, and this grass does love to stay taller growing.
Taller growing lawns also need less watering and less mowing during the season.
Tall fescue is often used in areas where it is difficult to grow grass and it does make a wonderful plant to prevent erosion on slopes and steep hillsides.
The seed will germinate very quickly, sometimes as fast as only a week, making it perfect when blended with slow germinating bluegrass seed.
Tall fescue will also tolerate wet spots in your yard better than most.
Look for the new hybrids always as they will have a better texture in your lawn.
Keep away from a variety called "Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue" because the blades of grass are very wide and coarse looking.
However, it is very important to note that Tall fescue has fewer problems with insects than most other types of grass seed and disease problems are minimal.
#4 Perennial Rye Grass is dark green with medium to coarse leaf blade.
Use hybrid varieties and stay away from "Common Perennial Ryegrass," as this old variety has a very coarse blade; it lies down easily when mowing, making your lawn look unruly.
Perennial rye grass was once the best nursery grass to hold the soil together when seeding a new lawn but has now been replaced with tall fescue hybrids.
This is a good inexpensive grass to blend with other seed and to use for sloping areas where the grass does not have to be perfect.
It will germinate quickly and in warm soil just 3 to 4 days.
The established plant will spread with tillers but is must be blended with other types of grass seed to create a good tight-knit turf; never use alone.
Perennial rye grass will not tolerate hot or cool humid growing conditions for long periods, especially wet cool springs.
Clay soil or soil that stays wet could become a problem because of disease.
Perennial rye grass should be fertilized spring and fall but it will do much
better if you add a third feeding in late summer. Cut the grass at 1 1/2 to 2
1/2 inches tall and taller during the summer months. The stems are weak and the
grass does tend to fall over, so it will look better when mixed with other grass
varieties. If you plant just perennial rye you will have a problem mowing the
lawn, especially when it is wet, because it grows on soft stems and not upright
like many other types of grasses. It is a great grass to blend with bluegrass
seed when you have a heavily used area in your yard. Insect and disease problems
are minimal and it will give you good year-round performance.
#5 Annual Rye Grass at one time was used widely to help
retain the soil when using slow-germinating grasses like bluegrass but with the
new perennial rye grasses and new tall fescue of today, it is no longer used
in a quality seed blend. Remember that this is an "annual grass seed" and
when the weather gets cold and the ground freezes it will die! If your seed blend
has a lot of annual grass seed in the blend, the results will be a lawn in the
spring with many open areas in your newly planted lawn. Pay a bit more for a
seed blend that is all perennial; all your hard work will survive the winter
and your new lawn will stay thick over the winter.
#6 Zoysia Grass is a warm weather grass and it will live
in the Northeast and other parts of the country with cold weather and thrive
very well. This is a wonderful fast growing grass that will quickly take over
the area where it is planted but there is one major problem in a cold climate
with this grass plant. The big problem is that the period that it is green is
very short with cold weather! When you receive a good killing frost in the fall
it will quickly turn brown; it will not die but your lawn will turn brown from
middle to late September until the spring arrives. Now, in the spring, it will
be brown while all other lawns will quickly green up in April. In May, possibly
even as late as early June it will begin to green up as the soil and air temperature
In the Northeast and cold climate areas, it is beautiful for basically 4
months--June to September--and brown the other 8 months. There is one other problem
with this grass plant and that problem is that the plant is unstoppable; it
will take over your yard very quickly, choking out everything in its path. It
moves quickly and will grow into flower beds creating a maintenance nightmare
in planting areas, even those that have a thick layer of bark mulch. If you live
from Washington D.C. south it will be green for 6 to 7 months but north of that
stay away from this type of lawn!!!
One last thing to look for on the grass seed label:
1) Percentage of seed type by weight in the bag: bluegrass seed is small and
it takes more seed per pound than perennial rye grass; 1 perennial rye grass
seed weighs as much as 10 bluegrass seeds, so less bluegrass could give you
more seed per bag. More bluegrass seed gives you better quality in the bag, up
to 10 times more possible plants by the weight of the box of seed.
2) Other crop seed: not a noxious weed, but a weed that will grow in your lawn.
3) Weed seed: percent by weight in the box. Not acceptable!
4) Inert Matter: Percent by weight in the box, filler such as seed hulls and
grass stems found in cheap seed blends. Not acceptable!
5) Noxious Weeds: accept nothing but NONE FOUND printed on the label! If you
do, you're planting problem weeds that are difficult to control!
6) Germination percentage of the seed variety must be 85% or higher. If you
accept 50 % germination, for example, that means that only half of the bag will
grow if things are perfect. Not acceptable!
7) Test date: This tells you when the seed was packaged and it MUST be this
year's date or the percentage of seed expected to germinate will be less than
listed--a real problem for you!
Use this as a guide and with the help of a knowledgeable person at your local
garden center or nursery, you will have a wonderful looking lawn for all the
work, time, and money you put into it. This is not the time to save a dollar
unless you want to do this again in the near future. Good luck!
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