See Which is the Best Lawn Seed for Where You Live
If you choose to seed your lawn, the first decision will be to choose the right seed mix for your climate. Grasses are usually described as cool-season and warm season grasses and clearly understanding the differences will help you choose the best grass seed for you actual weather conditions.
The cool season grasses grow best in the spring and fall months and can withstand cold northern winters, whereas the warm-season types grow fastest in the summer and are not winter hardy.
Most cool season grasses will not grow once the ground temperatures reach 85 to 90 degrees.
Grass Seed & Planting Categories
It’s possible to purchase grass mixes, which helps ensure your entire lawn will not die if disease strikes. Most diseases will only strike one type of grass, so the damage will probably be limited. It’s also possible to mix a spring performing grass with a drought resistant summer grower. Whatever type of grass seed mixture you choose, make sure it contains little “crop” or “weed” seeds. Bargain brands may germinate poorly and have unwanted additives. It’s best to spend a few extra dollars and start with a quality grass seed.
Tip – Grass seed labels tell you what year the seed should be sold and used in and the percentage of weed seed contained in the mix. Only buy seed intended for the current calendar year. Outdated seed may be a bargain, but in the long run, they may be more expensive because you’ll need to replace all those seeds that didn’t sprout.
Cool Season grasses include:
Kentucky Bluegrass – One of the most popular because it requires moderate care to grow dense, dark, and medium textured grass. It spreads quickly from runners to form deep green sod with a fine texture. It grows best in areas with mild summers and ample water, and it produces a beautiful lawn in cold regions as well as the middle south. Kentucky Bluegrass does not grow in excessive heat and will stop its growth when the soil temperatures exceed 85 to 90 degrees F.
Fescue (Red Bladed or Fine Bladed) – These fescues are often combined with bluegrasses. Both tolerate shade and dry conditions. Fescues have a low nitrogen requirement for vigorous growth, which makes it great for choking out weeds. It complements the Kentucky Bluegrass when combined. Fescue rarely suffers from any disease of insect problems and red fescue can renovate a poor or worn lawn by overseeding in the spring. Use red fescue in the South with bermudagrasses during the winter months. This will help the southern lawns keep their vitality.
Tall Fescue – This is a drought tolerant grass and holds up well in high traffic areas. Consider using tall fescue around swing sets and playgrounds, where little feet will tromp the grass often. It grows well in the shade in both northern and southern lawns and is an excellent choice for lawns that border the North and South. This grass has a course texture.
Perennial Ryegrass – This grass is quick growing and tough. It mixes well and makes a fine textured lawn when mixed with Kentucky Bluegrass. Use this type of seed to get your lawn off to a quick start. It germinates and establishes itself quickly. You can even overseed an old worn lawn with perennial ryegrass to give it a burst of green color. When you plant this grass with Kentucky bluegrass, it will eventually be overtaken by the bluegrass, but it can dominate if you sow too much of it. If you do mix rye with the bluegrass, keep the quantity of rye around 20 percent. This grass is insect and disease resistant and produces very little thatch.
Bentgrass – This type is a high maintenance grass. It needs frequent watering and fertilizing. It’s extremely popular for a golf course. This extremely fine grass is attractive, but cannot be used in high traffic areas. In order to maintain this grass, you must water and mow it almost constantly. It cannot tolerate drought or traffic and is vulnerable to pest and disease problems. If you decide to use Bentgrass and mix it with another type of grass, do not mix too little of the Bentgrass. The other type grasses planted in your lawn will overtake it quickly.
Warm Season grasses include:
Bermuda Grass – This grass is the most drought tolerant type of grass. It also has excellent wearability so it is perfect for play or high traffic areas. Most southern lawns are made up of bermudagrass. There are many varieties and textures of these varieties range from fine to medium, and the color will range from light to deep green. This grass spreads quickly and often invades areas it should not. It does establish itself quickly and has the ability to choke out weeds. It thrives in heat and needs less water than most other lawn grasses, so that makes it drought tolerant as well. Bermudagrasses can be mowed to one inch. This type of grass does produce thatch that needs to be removed about once a year to prevent disease and damage. This grass does turn brown in the winter months when threatened by frost, but springs back well when the temperatures warm in the spring.
St. Augustine – This grass is good for shade. It’s a coarse and non-durable grass. This grass does not do well without aeration and dethatching. It’s a subtropical grass with pointed blades. It spreads at a moderate rate by sending out stolons and runners. It crowds out clover and other grasses and weeds as it forms a dense lawn. It’s tough and thrives in shade better than any other southern grass. It will also tolerate salt, making it great for coastal areas. The drawback to this lawn is that it is not low maintenance. It requires a fair amount of water and fertilizer and you must remove thatch once a year. However, take special precautions when doing so. This grass is particularly vulnerable to chinch bugs. Although this is a warm weather grass, it does better in the northern part of the south.
Zoysia – This heat and drought resistant grass will be late in turning green. Even though it is a warm season grass, it is sometimes used in northern lawns for its toughness. It is a low-maintenance lawn and depending on its species, the texture can be fine or coarse. This grass spreads slowly by stolons and rhizomes. It may take two or three years to fill in, but once filled, it forms a thicker more resilient cover than most other grass varieties. Another advantage to Zoysia is that since it grows more slowly, it doesn’t need to be mowed quite as often as other grasses. You must remove the Zoysia’s thatch once a year because the shallow roots will attach to the thatch and make for a weak lawn. This type of grass is resistant to insects and disease, though chinch bugs may invade. If you choose Zoysia for your lawn, be aware that it turns brown once its growing season ends. Since it requires warm nights to thrive, this grass may not be a good choice for the areas that separate the North from the South.
Whether you’re planting a new lawn or renovating an existing one, choose a grass that’s going to be right for your area. If you don’t think it through, the wrong choice will leave you with a yard full of problems. The following should help you make an educated decision as to which grasses will be best when planted in your part of the country.
Grass Climate Zones
Northeast and Northern Midwest – A good mixture for lawns in zone 6 or colder should contain 50 percent Kentucky bluegrass and 30 to 40 percent red fescue. It should also contain 10 to 20 percent of perennial ryegrass. Avoid tall fescues in this area unless you’re seeding a yard that is used very heavily.
The combination of these grasses will bring color, toughness and durability to your yard. Some of the grass will help out during times of drought and if shaded by trees for the better part of the day. The ryegrass will provide a quick green cover that prevents erosion, while the slower germinating bluegrass and fescue germinate underneath.
Northern Plains and Mountain Areas – This area does best by choosing a mixture of crested wheatgrass and red fescue. The land is not irrigated, so this mixture will produce a good drought-tolerant lawn. If you water your own lawn regularly, you can combine Kentucky bluegrass, red fescue and perennial ryegrass as described above for the Northeast and Northern Midwest.
Coastal Northwest – The Pacific Northwest, does best with a combination of 50 percent Kentucky bluegrass, 20 to 40 percent red fescue, and 10 to 20 percent colonial Bentgrass. The bluegrass will give the lawn beauty, while the red fescue makes the lawn more durable. The colonial Bentgrass will grow well in the slightly acidic soil of the northwest.
The Transitional Area – There really isn’t a line that divides the North and the South, but general temperatures in your area should dictate which grasses are best suited for your area. The transitional area extends across the country, along the northern borders of North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, through New Mexico and Arizona to the Pacific. These areas will grow both northern and southern grasses. Look at the zoning map below to get a better idea of which grass will grow in your area if you’re on that transitional line. Mountainous regions tend to be a little colder, so even though you may live in a traditionally warmer state, your seasons may be a little cooler. Cool season grasses are better for higher elevations, where warm season suit lower elevations best.
The Humid South – Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass or Zoysia will grow best in humid conditions and the southern climates. If your yard is a little more shaded, choose St. Augustine grass for the best results. The best time to start a new lawn, or repair an existing lawn, is in the spring or early fall when the days are cool and moist and the weeds are less likely to be a threat.
There are six basic steps you need to follow when planting or repairing.
They are as follows:
The first step in starting a lawn from seed is to properly prepare the soil. Part of preparing the soil is understanding the makeup of your soil. In order to know what the pH level is in your soil, you may purchase a test kit from your local landscaping company or have your counties extension service test it for a small fee. It’s important that you add nutrients to your soil until the pH level is between 6.0 and 7.0.
If your pH level is too low, apply limestone at a rate of 50 pounds per 1000 square feet. If you need to lower your pH, powdered sulfur will do the trick. Failure to adequately prepare your soil will result in a slow start and grassless patches. It will also cause you additional work and expense in the long run. This is an extremely important step and should not be skipped for any reason.
To continue the preparation of your soil, you should till it to a four-inch depth. If you need to add topsoil or sphagnum peat to improve the condition of your soil, add four to six inches of the top product, then till the additives to the existing soil. Be sure and mix all thoroughly.
After you’ve tilled the soil, remove any debris such as stones or twigs and rake the surface as level as possible. If you need to add lime, make sure you add it prior to leveling the soil.
Next, apply a lawn fertilizer at the rate of 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. After all the above steps are completed, water the entire area thoroughly with a gentle spray and allow the soil to settle. Now you’re ready to seed.
Spread the seed with a mechanical spreader at the rate recommended by the chosen manufacturer. Be careful not to overseed because it will cause the tiny grass plants to choke each other out. When spreading the seeds, apply one-half of the seeds in one direction and the second half at right angles to the first. Rake the entire area lightly to barely cover the seeds with soil. You may also want to roll the seedbed using a lawn roller to guarantee that all the seed comes in contact with the soil. As a preventative measure to keep birds out of the seed, you may cover lightly with straw.
Once the seed is planted, water gently, but deeply everyday. It may take up to three weeks for all the grass to germinate. Once the grass has grown to a height of 2 to 2 1/2 inches, you may mow. However, remember to never take more than 1/3 of the grass height when mowing.
If you have a shady area that may not germinate seeds well, or are in need of an instant lawn, then sod is the way to go. Although sod is much more expensive than seed, it requires much less work and when done correctly, it establishes itself quickly. Bluegrass sod is one of the best types you can choose if it does well in your area. Bluegrass sod is best because it quickly weaves a close-knit, vigorous and attractive turf.
Whatever sod you choose, look for sod that’s well rooted. The rolls should be uniformly green and moist. If the sod shows signs of yellow, then it is best to stay away. Sod must be installed as soon as possible after arriving at your home. Especially during the hot summer months. If you let more than a few days go by, the sod will begin to die and may not take well when installed. If you must wait to install the sod for a couple days, make sure you store it in a cool, shaded area and moisten it if it starts to dry out before it can be laid.
Installation of sod follows the same steps as seeding your lawn from scratch. You must first prepare the soil, and then water the ground prior to laying the sod. Once the sod is laid, it should be watered for several weeks, until it has established itself. The sections will weave themselves together, and the sod will become one large section, instead of many smaller sections. If kept moist, sodding can be done in the heat of summer as well as the spring or fall.
If you’re choosing some grasses, such as Zoysia, Bermuda grass or St. Augustine, they will be sold as plugs instead of rolls of sod. These grasses need to be planted in early spring and sectioned up to twelve inches apart. Make sure you keep them moist before planting.
Grass plugs are small blocks of sod about two inches square and about two to three inches thick. They are sold in trays that would normally contain annuals. To plant a plug, you must dig a hole just a little bit larger than the plug. The holes should be dug about one foot apart. Once the area is prepared and the holes are dug, simply place the plugs in the hole and water in.
Another way grasses are sold is in sprigs. Basically sprigs are shoots or rhizomes that root when planted in the soil. Shredding sod into individual stems four to eight inches long produces them. Bermudagrass, St. Augustine grass and Zoysia can all be grown from sprigs.