For Release August 28, 2005

An Introduction to Grass Seed

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

With September 1st just a few days away, and good soil moisture conditions at hand, there's going to be a lot of grass seed planted in the weeks ahead. The challenge is this; not all grass seed is the same and a lot of the grass seed that you can buy in our area should be planted in your lawn! With those basic concepts in place, I spent the better part of a half day, last week, seeing what one could buy for grass seed at the local stores.

If you are planting lawn grass this fall, you will be planting a cool season grass species such as fescue, bluegrass, or other species of cool season grasses not well adapted to our area. Let's list what you'll be faced with and what you need to remember!

Tall fescue is the most universally adapted cool season grass for Kansas. Most varieties are a bunch grass so the bunches have to be planted close enough together to create a turf look. For new seedings, plant six to eight pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet, for overseeding, two to three pounds. Kentucky Bluegrass produces an excellent quality turf but is marginal for most of our sites. It will require extra effort and management to keep it looking good all summer long. But it should still be considered as an option in many locations.

Now we get into a group of grasses that are not well adapted to most Kansas conditions. There are two types of ryegrass: perennial and annual. Perennial rye gives a bluegrass look, but where bluegrass spreads with rhizomes, perennial rye is a bunch grass. Perennial rye is the least tolerant to heat, drought and cold of all our turf grasses. While it can sprout and grow quickly, it also tends to die off and thin out until just isolated clumps remain. Annual rye lives for one year. It'll fill in fast but then die by the middle of next summer. Avoid any grass mix that has annual rye in it. I would also steer clear of any mixture that has large amounts of perennial rye.

Finally we have Red, Hard and Chewings fescues. These are all true fine leaf fescues different from the improved turf type tall fescues. They are only adapted to heavily shaded sites in eastern Kansas. They are not aggressive, and do not do well in overly sunny, wet or high traffic areas. They simply should not be planted around here under almost any situation.

Should you plant a single variety of grass or a blend of several varieties? In general, I feel that blends work better. You have the strength of several different varieties going for you. If one encounters a problem, the others pick up the slack. I found many blends for sale that were predominated by the grass varieties that I just said to avoid. Many of these were being sold under well known national names. I also found the same named blend that had different varieties listed on the content label. Companies will change the varieties in a blend depending on cost and availability perhaps replacing one tall fescue with an equivalent tall fescue.

Fortunately, I found many different blends that contained all, or primarily, adapted tall fescue varieties. For years, the old standby for tall fescue was Kentucky 31 or K-31. There are so many newer improved turf type tall fescues, that K-31 should not be used in a lawn. Go with the improved tall fescue blends. In virtually every store I visited I could find at least one tall fescue blend that I was comfortable with. Make sure, though, that it is all, or primarily, tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass. This may be the best fall lawn planting season we've had in years. Don't lose this opportunity by planting the wrong grass seed!


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