Choosing the Right Grass Seed

One of the most common questions lawn care professionals get is “What kind of grass seed should I plant?” Maybe you’ve asked that question yourself. The answer is not always obvious. Choosing the right grass seed for the right situation is critical for establishing and maintaining a beautiful lawn. That’s what the following information is all about. Let’s consider some questions that will help you navigate the seed waters. There are 5 of them:

  • What’s my zone?
  • What’s my soil type?
  • Do I have irrigation?
  • Is this a sunny or shady area?
  • Will there be a lot of traffic?

What’s my zone?

There are three basic zones in the United States: cool season, transition, and warm season. Side note: when it comes to grass seed selection, this website is aimed primarily at the cool season zones – plus the northern parts of the transition area.

This website has a great map so that you can pinpoint your zone.

Why is this important? Simple – some grass species grow better than others in certain areas. You would not want to plant a warm-season grass in a cool-season climate – or vice versa. That would be a recipe for a dead lawn.

What’s my soil type?

Is your soil sandy or is it heavy clay? If your soil is sandy, you’ll want to choose grass seed that will handle low moisture conditions well. Turf-type tall fescue might just do the job for you. If your soil is clay, you may be able to plant products like perennial ryegrass and bluegrass with great success.

Your local top-notch garden centers will most like carry mixes and blends that will fit the soil conditions of your property. And very likely you live in an area where the vast majority of the homeowners share the same type of soil. So your local independent garden center is very likely well-prepared to give you great advice on what type of grass seed to plant for your particular soil.

Do I have irrigation?

If you have irrigation, your choices for what turf to select are much wider. Supposing you want a golf course look, you can go with perennial ryegrass. If you want the beautiful, well-manicured baseball field look, you can select bluegrass. OR you can combine bluegrass and ryegrass together in a mixture. No matter what you choose, you’re at a great advantage because you are controlling the water.

This mix contains 80% bluegrass and 20% perennial ryegrass. This lawn is also irrigated.

If you don’t have irrigation, you may struggle with bluegrass/ryegrass and may want to go back to a mix with predominantly a turf-type tall fescue component. This grass not only stands up to traffic but also handles drought stress much better than other grasses. Plus the newer varieties are very dark green, soft, and have thinner blades than the older fescue varieties.

If you are planting a turf-type tall fescue mix, make sure the tall fescue is at least 75% of the seed mix so that you don’t get a clumpy look to your yard. Your seeding rate for turf-type tall fescue will be 8-10 pounds per 1000 square feet. Some professionals recommend 12 pounds per thousand square feet. Even though you’re putting out a lot of seed, but your long-term maintenance will be less.

Will I be planting in a sunny area or shady area?

Although all grass needs light to survive, some do work better in areas where sunlight is limited to only a few hours a day. These would include grasses like sheeps fescue, hard fescue, and fine fescue. If it’s a very deep shaded area, just pour a concrete patio or spread some mulch and be done with it.

Will there be a lot of traffic in this part of my yard?

If the neighborhood boys live in your backyard playing Wiffle ball, that’s A LOT of traffic. In this case, you can do a couple of things: either move to a new sub-division OR make a plan to grow some grass that can stand up to your future major leaguers. Seed selection is everything in this situation. If you want a beautiful lawn that stands up to the traffic, and you don’t want to move, you are going to need new, improved varieties of turf-type tall fescue.

WARNING: Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue is not new, and it is most definitely not improved. And most importantly, it’s NOT a lawn grass. If you see the word “Kentucky” on a bag of seed, that doesn’t mean it’s bluegrass. This is one of the big reasons to stay out of the “big box” stores when selecting your grass seed. Click here to see other seeds you should avoid.

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