Planting grass seed is an important part of lawn care, whether you are starting from scratch or overseeding to thicken what you already have. Before you run out and buy, you must know exactly what it is you need. Grass seeds come in so many different species and varieties. The last thing you need is to waste your money, and your time, on planting the wrong kind. Here are the 5 critical things you must know before you buy.
1. Cool Season Grasses Versus Warm Season
This is absolutely the most critical choice to make and it is very simple. Look up and see which turf climate zone you live in; cool, warm, or transitional. If you live in a warm season zone, you will do far better with sod or plugs of warm season varieties to successfully grow your lawn. The only grass seed you do want to use is the annual rye species in the fall, to give you green color when the warm season turf goes dormant and brown. Cool season grasses grow well when grown from grass seeds. Right off the bat, if you’re somewhere hot like Florida or Texas, you’re better off spending your money on sod and/or plugs unless it is the fall.
Warm Climate Tip: Use annual rye in late fall when your lawn goes dormant and brown. The rye will stay green all the way through to spring. To help it die off and let your warm season turf grow, mow down short in the spring.
2. Drought Resistant Or Moisture Lover
Different varieties of grass seed have different needs, and the next thing you need to decide is how much moisture you’ll be getting before you choose your type of grass seeds. For instance, of the cool season grasses, fescue is a popular choice. Tall fescue (aka broadleaf) is more resistant to drought than the fine leaf varieties because of their deeper root system. Perennial ryegrass prefers consistent rainfall and does not do well in drought situations. Kentucky Bluegrass is also drought hardy, but hates hot weather, and can take up to 30 days to sprout by spreading grass seeds. This is why people choose to blend their mix of cool season grasses, to effectively hedge their bets by combining more than one type of grass seed.
Preparation Tip: You need to make sure there is good soil contact before you sow your turf; a stitcher will be perfect for prepping small areas.
3. Heavy Traffic Or Light Usage
For heavy traffic Kentucky Bluegrass is again an excellent choice, as it stands up to traffic, as well as being good for times of drought. Perennial rye will also tolerate traffic; after all a blend of rye is used for Wimbledon and other tennis lawn courts. Some fescue varieties are absolutely happy to be trampled and are popular for use on sports fields.
Second Preparation Tip: When filling in existing lawn areas, make sure your thatch (dead plant material between the blades and roots) is a half inch or less by de-thatching.
4. Sun Or Shade
Within each type of lawn species, there are several varieties, and each has been designed for a specific climate need. In general though, fescue is so very popular among the cool season grasses because of its willingness to handle shade. Rye grass seeds, which grow so quickly, are simply not happy to be left in the shade; they want all the sunshine they can get. Kentucky Bluegrass handles both sun and shade extremely well, which only goes to show you why a grass seed blend works best of all.
Third Preparation Tip: Compacted soil will not successfully grow anything, so be sure to aerate your lawn area first.
5. Maintenance And Soil Needs
You may already have in your head a perfect picture of which type of variety you want your turf to be, but wait until you hear about the type of maintenance and soil needs you have to look forward to! Both fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass will go dormant and brown in hot dry weather. Fescue still won’t green up in extreme heat, no matter how much you water.
Thinking that of the cool season grasses that perennial rye grass seeds are the way to go? Well, this grass seed grows extremely quickly, but it demands to be fed nitrogen regularly. Bentgrass, which is so popular on golf greens, is extremely high maintenance with feeding, mowing, drainage, and top dressing with top soil. You’re looking at daily watering, bi-weekly mowing, and feeding of some sort at least once a month! Not a popular choice for most folks.
Feeding Tip: Applying a nitrogen fertilizer too early can kill new plants so use a seaweed soil booster or a high-traffic blend to prevent burning the new growth. Wait until your second mowing before applying an NPK fertilizer.
Blends of grass seeds are clearly the best way to go.
Whether you choose to buy each variety of the grass seeds separately or in a bag already blended, you can see now why this is the best way to go. You want to hedge your turf bets to get the best of all potential conditions. What you do know is that most warm season species are best grown from sod or plugs, and even Kentucky Bluegrass will take up to 30 days to sprout. Perennial ryes will never be happy in drought, but will sprout from grass seeds in days.
Handling traffic will depend on the specific variety, but Kentucky is your best bet of the bunch. Rye will never be happy in the shade, whereas your fescues will be the king of cool season grasses in the shady areas. You may love perennial rye for its quick-growing, sun-loving joy, but you’ll have to maintain it with plenty of nitrogen feeding. At the end of the day, choose the species and varieties of grass seeds that work best for your lawn conditions, but make it a blend. That will give you the best protection your grass seed money can buy.