Choose the Right Grass Seed To Grow a Healthy Lawn

Learn how to choose the right grass seed to grow the lawn of your dreams.
By: Julie A Martens

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Growing From Seed

Growing a lawn from seed offers an affordable option, especially for smaller lawns. Success hinges on selecting the best grass seed for your situation. Turfgrass breeders make advances every year, so it’s worthwhile to do some research to discover available options. Local grass seed vendors typically carry tried-and-true seed types. You can find newer seed types at a nursery or landscaping business that specializes in lawn installation. Always buy top-quality seed. It’s worth the investment.

Soil Test

Before spending any money on grass seed, test your soil. You can select the ideal grass seed and still grow a lackluster lawn if your soil pH is incorrect. Most turf grasses thrive in well-aerated soil with a slightly acidic pH (between 6 and 7.5). Obtain a soil test kit from your local extension office. To take a soil test, gather soil samples from several places around the area you’ll be seeding. Mix the soil, and place it into the soil testing bag. Expect to pay at least $15 for the test (price varies by region). It takes about two weeks to get results back, and it will take more time to adjust soil as specified by the results. Plan accordingly: don’t do your soil test the day before you plan to seed.

Warm-Season Grass

Grass falls into two general categories: warm-season and cool-season. Warm-season grasses are the ones that grow in warmer regions of the country. These include grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, buffalo, centipede and zoysia. Warm-season grasses achieve their peak growth when summer hits its stride. These grasses typically require full sun to thrive, although St. Augustine can tolerate some shade in the Deep South.

Cool-Season Grass

Cool-season grasses are the ones that grow in northern regions of the country. Fine, tall and red fescues, perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass are cool-season grasses. This type of turf grows the most during the cool seasons of spring and fall. Cool-season grasses tend to be more shade-tolerant, especially the fescues. One key factor in choosing the right grass seed simply depends on where you live. You don’t want to plant warm-season turf in Vermont or fine fescue in South Texas.

Wear and Tear

It’s important to consider how much wear and tear your lawn will experience as you select a grass seed. If you have a family with young children who enjoy a summer pool and running on the lawn, opt for a grass other than fine fescue, which doesn’t stand up to foot traffic. Kentucky bluegrass is the turf of choice for athletic fields, and it’s also self-mending. When damage causes bare spots, the turf can creep in to fill in holes. However, Kentucky bluegrass can be more demanding in terms of care, needing more mowing, fertilizing and watering to look its best.

How to Water

Consider irrigation needs when you choose your grass seed. If you live in a region subject to droughts and water restrictions, select a grass like tall fescue, zoysia or buffalo grass. Floratam is the St. Augustine variety that’s the most drought-tolerant, but it does require some shade. If you plant Kentucky bluegrass, you will need to water regularly to maintain a healthy lawn.

Dormant Lawns

Some cool-season turf types go dormant during summer, while warm-season zoysia enters dormancy during the year’s chilliest months. Some municipalities now require home builders to install lawns with summer-dormancy capabilities. If you choose turf that needs watering to look its best, consider adding an irrigation system before seeding, especially if soil is bare. It’s better to dig up the yard before grass is growing. Consider what your lawn will look like in winter as you select seed. While you can remedy a winter-dormant lawn by overseeding with ryegrass, you might want to consider taking a break from lawn care.

Levels of Shade

Different types of grasses tolerate differing levels of shade. By far, most grasses crave sun and need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Specialized shade-tolerant grass blends thrive in four hours of dappled sun or partial shade. In the cool-season grass category, the shade-tolerant grasses are rye and fine and tall fescues. Warm-season grasses that grow in shade include zoysia and St. Augustine. A quality seed blend for a shady lawn should include several different types of shade-tolerant grasses. That way, if one grass fails to succeed, there’s another to take its place.

Seeding Sloped Areas

When you’re seeding a sloping area of your yard, choose a seed blend that includes a high percentage of perennial ryegrass. This grass is quick to germinate and establish. Its fast-growing root system will reduce erosion while other turf types in the seed blend establish. Avoid purchasing a seed blend with more than 20 percent perennial ryegrass, or it may overpower the other grasses in the mix. A blend is always better, because it effectively hedges your seeding bets.

When to Mow

Consider lawn maintenance when you select grass seed. Grasses like fescues have higher ideal growing heights and don’t need mowing as often as a Kentucky bluegrass lawn. Among warm-season turf, you’ll typically mow centipede and Bermuda grass more frequently than zoysia. Native grasses like buffalo grass require the lowest amount of mowing. Turf that goes dormant in summer heat or winter chill also demands less mowing during periods of dormancy. Factor all of these considerations into your selection of a specific grass seed.

Fertilizing Your Lawn

Research to be sure you understand the fertility needs of the turf type you intend to grow. If you’re someone who likes to pursue organic fertilizing with compost and other earth-friendly brews, make sure the grass you select responds well to that type of fertilizer program. Some turf requires more frequent fertilization. Do your homework to be certain you’re not planting a high-maintenance lawn when you only have time to grow a low-maintenance one. Ultimately, no matter what type of grass seed you buy, the label should show weed seed content less than 1 percent and inert material content less than 4 percent. Never buy grass seed with a germination rate less than 70 percent.

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