For Release August 24, 1999

Selecting Grass Seed for Your Lawn

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Early September is the best time to seed our preferred cool season grasses, tall fescue and bluegrass. But for your lawn seeding to be a success it takes a little more than throwing some grass seed out into the yard. Naturally, there is a fair amount of soil preparation that you need to do as well as soil testing and perhaps some pre-seeding fertilizing and vegetation control.

But the most often overlooked aspect of a lawn seeding is the actual selection of the grass seed. If you just go to the store and buy the cheapest grass seed you can find, there’s no telling what you may wind up with. Selecting grass seed is sort of like buying a good wine, you’ve got to spend some time studying the label.

Every bag of grass seed has to have a label on it. This label must tell you what type of grass is in the package, what the purity is, what the germination percentage is, what other foreign or inert material is in with the seed and what other crop, grass or weed seeds the package contains. You are going to see a lot of numbers and a lot of names. Don’t panic! Just take a little time to work through what you see and it starts to fall into place pretty soon.

Everything is going to be listed by percentages with the highest percentage first. These first items should be the grass species including a variety name. The percent of that grass should be before the species name followed by the percent germination and the state or country of origin. A typical line off a grass seed label might be: 29% Virtue Tall Fescue 85% Oregon. This means that this package has 29% (by weight) of the Tall Fescue variety Virtue, with a tested germination of 85% and the seed was grown in Oregon.

There may be one or two species listed or there may be as many as seven or eight. Next will be inert material or other crop seed followed by weed seed. Inert material is chaff, stems and other non seed plant material. Other crop seed is any other seed from a species that is intentionally grown for some purpose. Unfortunately the other crop seeds may or may not be listed. This is a problem since some very undesirable grasses, such as orchard grass or rough bluegrass can be included in this. Because of the size of these seeds and how much we are planting in lawns, even a small amount of other species can be a nuisance. Tall fescue has about 227,000 seeds per pound and Kentucky bluegrass has about 2.2 million seeds per pound. Even one half of one percent orchardgrass in a tall fescue mix can result in a dozen or more orchardgrass seeds per square foot!

The best grasses for this area are the tall fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass varieties. Perennial ryegrass does not tolerate extended hot dry weather. Perennial rye will sprout fast and provide some grass cover in a hurry but it won’t be long lived. Try to keep the perennial rye in the mix to under 20%, 33% would be the absolute maximum. Creeping red fescue, sheep fescue or chewings fescue are not adapted to this area and mixes with those should be avoided at all costs. Annual ryegrass sprouts and grows fasts, and as it’s name implies, it only lives for one year. Don’t plant it!

I would like to see you planting fescue or bluegrass blends made up of three to five named varieties. Mixing bluegrass and tall fescue is not recommended. The original tall fescue, Kentucky 31 or K-31 is an adequate choice for large area seedings, but for a good front lawn use one of the improved tall fescues. There are hundreds of tall fescue and bluegrass cultivars available and most of them are going to be pretty good. We have bulletins at the Extension Office that list some of the varieties that have done well in Kansas trials and lists some to avoid because of disease problems. Stop by and pick up a copy of these bulletins before you buy your seed!


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