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choosing the best grass seed

Grass Seed Buying Guide

Grass Seed

A lush, well-maintained lawn does more than improve the appearance of your home. It reduces soil erosion, absorbs rainfall, provides filtration for groundwater and improves air quality by absorbing dust and other particles and produces much-needed oxygen. Whether you are trying to grow your lawn from scratch or attempting to bolster existing grass ravaged by winter or disease, planting grass seed can help you create a beautiful, green lawn. Before you make a purchase, consider the following questions:

  • Are you planting a new lawn or reseeding bare spots?
  • Is your lawn subjected to low, medium or high traffic?
  • How much time and money do you want to invest in lawn care?
  • Does your yard receive full, partial or no sun at all?
  • Do you prefer straight seed or a mixture of different varieties?

Seed Types, Planting Tips and Selection
Starting a new lawn from seed is an affordable and cost-effective way to create exactly the type of outdoor environment you want. When planning your lawn, you'll need to select what type of grass you want to grow. There are many different options, and it is important to select a variety that matches both your climate and the amount of sun and shade exposure in your yard. It is also important to choose grass with care and maintenance requirements conducive to your schedule and lifestyle. You should consider how much traffic your lawn will receive and purchase grass seed designed to absorb that level of impact.

Grass Types:
There are two main categories of turf grass, warm season and cool season. Warm season grass originates in the South and grows best in hot weather. Most warm season grass goes dormant and turns brown with cool temperatures. Warm season grass should be planted in late spring. Cool season grass generally originates from the North and is characterized by rapid growth in the spring and fall. Cool season grass often turns brown during periods of high summer heat. The best time to plant cool season grass is in the late summer or early fall.

  • Common warm season grasses include Bermuda, Bahia, St. Augustine and Zoysia
  • Lawns in warmer climates can be reseeded during winter for green grass all year long
  • Common cool-season grasses include Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass
  • All types of cool-season grass can be grown from seed
  • Some warm season grasses must be grown from sod or grass sprigs

Buying Considerations:
When purchasing grass seed, consult the label to learn what type or types of seed are included, as well as any other materials. Straight seed consists of only one type of grass and is suited to situations where you want to achieve a certain look or effect. Blends (several varieties of one type) and mixtures (combination of different types) offer better disease resistance and a uniform lawn.

For mixed grass seed, the percentage of each type of grass varies from blend to blend. Avoid mixtures that read "variety not stated" as this may indicate poor seed quality. Directions for use will provide an idea of how much area the seed will cover and other specifics about planting.

The germination percentage is also listed and indicates the proportion of seed that will germinate if growing conditions are at their best. Look for percentages at or above 75%.

  • While all seed contains some weeds, look for brands that list less than 0.5%
  • Select seed that contains 0% of noxious weeds, which can damage your lawn
  • Inert matter, such as chaff, dirt or other filler materials should be less than 2%
  • Other crops, such as Timothy, may also be listed — allow only 1 to 2%
  • Avoid seed over 10 months past its expiration date as it may not germinate properly

Planting Tips:
Before planting grass seed in a new area, it's important to properly prepare the soil. First, work the soil using a sharp garden tool. Remove existing plants, weeds, rocks and stones. Then, mix in some organic material to help the soil retain water and rake it smooth. Next, spread fertilizer over the prepared soil to improve germination and help the new grass grow. Afterward, sow the grass seed evenly, according to the directions. Rake the seed into the top 1/8" of soil.

  • Use a lawn spreader or, for smaller spots, you can sow seed by hand
  • Mulch the seeded area with garden fabric or straw to retain moisture
  • Water daily until germination occurs, then less often but more heavily
  • When new grass height is 3" high, remove the mulch and lightly mow
  • Protect the lawn from people or animals by roping it off until the grass is grown

Selection:
There are many kinds of grass and each has different features, so it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types and where they grow best. Whether you plant a warm or cool season grass depends mainly on where you live

Other factors that may affect your choice are how much water your lawn will require to keeps its nice, green color, or whether you like fine, soft or coarse grass.

Also think about whether children or pets will use the lawn frequently when you evaluate its ability to withstand typical traffic levels. And finally, consider the amount of sun or shade your lawn will receive when selecting the right grass seed.

(W) = warm season grass
(C) = cool season grass

Type of Grass

Drought Resistance

Need for Water

Texture

Traffic Level

Sun

Other Features

Bahia (W)

High

Low

Coarse

High

Full sun to partial shade

Moderately aggressive

Bermuda (W)

High

Medium

Fine to Medium

High

Full sun

Fills in quickly

Buffalo (W)

High

Low

Fine

High

Full sun

Requires minimal maintenance

Centipede (W)

Medium

Medium

Coarse

Low

Full sun to partial shade

Creeps low to the ground, slow growing

Creeping Bent Grass(C)

Low

High

Fine

High

Full sun to partial shade

Commonly found on golf courses; provides a soft, dense, carpet-like lawn

Fescue (C)

High

Low

Coarse

Medium

Full sun to partial shade

Many varieties and textures; thrives in mild winters, warm summers

Kentucky Blue Grass (C)

Medium

Medium to high

Fine to medium

Medium to high

Full sun to partial shade

Withstands cold and is resistant to disease

Perennial Ryegrass (C)

Low

High

Medium to coarse

Medium to high

Full sun to partial shade

Intolerant of extreme heat or cold

St. Augustine (W)

Low to medium

Medium to high

Coarse

Medium

Full sun to partial shade

Grows quickly

Zoysia (W)

Medium to high

Medium

Fine to medium

High

Full sun to partial shade

Dense and wiry

Watering, Irrigation & Weed Control
At the onset of planting, daily watering is needed to give the seed enough moisture to germinate and establish a solid base in the soil. Straw or hay should also be layered on top of the seed to help retain moisture. Once the grass reaches 3-inches high, watering can be scaled back to every other day, but the application amount should be heavier.

Irrigation systems are great for making watering your lawn more autonomous. Available options include in-ground systems, above-ground systems, sprinklers and hoses. In-ground systems deliver water through a series of pipes and risers which allow the water to be sprayed in various directions over your lawn. Above-ground systems are great for small lawns or open areas. The water is delivered through hoses to an oscillating or rotating spray head or sprinkler. Some hoses also have ports on the top that allow water to escape at various points along the length of the hose, which negates having to use a sprinkler or nozzle. Rain barrels are another helpful tool in getting water to your lawn. A great incentive for using rain barrels is they don't add to your water bills, the rain water collected is provided free of charge from mother nature.

Weed control products, or weed killers, are helpful as they decrease the amount of vegetation that drains the soil of water and nutrients that are vital for your lawn. Herbicides can be in liquid or granular form and kill unwanted weeds such as dandelions, crabgrass and clover. In recent years, advances have been made in organic weed control products that use oils or acids to kill weeds. Citric acid, acetic acid, garlic oil and clove oil are great for removing weeds without releasing harmful chemicals into the soil.

Features

Straight Seed:
Warm season grass is usually sold as single or "straight" seed. These packages contain only one variety of seed. Planting, growing and maintenance tips are included on the back of the package.

Seed Mixtures:
Seed mixtures combine several different kinds of grass in one seed package. The strengths and weaknesses of each offset the others to keep your lawn green and healthy. This type of seed often contains disease- and drought-resistant properties.

Blended Seed Mixtures:
Blended seed mixtures combine several different kinds of the same grass species to capitalize on the strengths of each type. By using the same species, you can ensure a more consistent appearance to your lawn.

Lawn Repair Mix:
These products combine grass seed, starter fertilizer and mulch in a single package. This all-purpose mixture is used for reseeding bare spots in your lawn and prevents you from having to buy all the items separately. Also, the fertilizer and mulch are optimized for the particular seed you choose.