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Choosing the Right Seed

Proper selection of grass and quality seeds

Learn how to successfully establish an attractive lawn through proper selection of grass and quality seeds, soil preparation, planting procedures and an effective maintenance program.

The need

Since homeowners value attractive lawns, they often spend a considerable amount of resources establishing and maintaining them.

The success or failure of a lawn depends greatly on:

  • the selection of the right grass for the lawn conditions
  • the use of quality seed or sod
  • careful preparation of the soil
  • proper planting procedures
  • a well-executed maintenance program

Careful attention to these critical factors will minimize many lawn problems. In contrast, lawns established hastily without taking the proper considerations and preparations into account may require significantly more resources in the form of fertilizer, water, pesticides and the time and expense of their application.

Selecting the proper grass

Since architects and developers typically consider the proportion and scale of the lawn during a home’s design phase to ensure that the lawn will complement the residence, the next important decision is the species and variety of grass to be planted. (Refer also to WVU Extension publication Maintaining Turfgrass in Shady Areas)

Perennial ryegrass and tall fescue establish faster than Kentucky bluegrass and are more tolerant to wear. Kentucky bluegrass prefers full sun and provides darker color and better mowing quality than ryegrass or tall fescue. Fine fescues perform well under shade and have finer leaf textures compared to other turf species. Fescues are also more tolerant of drought and higher mowing heights. Also, the fertility requirements of Kentucky bluegrass are higher than those of fescues.

Using quality seed or sod

Always try to obtain grass seed from reputable dealers. If you plant or sow only one species, be sure to purchase certified seed. If you use a mixture, its quality can be determined by the analysis printed on the container. Some mixtures may contain a “nurse grass” such as ryegrass that will encourage swift lawn establishment but later transition to the dominant grass species in the lawn.

Factors affecting seed quality include percent purity and percent viability, which are expressed as a percentage on the label. When these two factors are multiplied, their product indicates the percent live seed (PLS), and for good turf cover and quality, the higher the better. Contamination of seed with weeds or other crops is an important concern which is also addressed on the label.

Do not be misled by flashy advertisements and bargain prices. The cost of seed is relatively minor when compared to the total cost of lawn construction. Cheap mixtures generally contain a high percentage of undesirable grasses or the percent of germination is very low due to poor quality seed. Read the label carefully when purchasing ready-prepared mixtures. The law requires that all mixtures be labeled accurately.

Sods provide immediate cover and require less care to become established. Obtain fresh sod from a reputable source nearby. Sods transported across long distances may require more time for establishment. Good quality sod should have a healthy root system that has been harvested along with a fine layer of soil to help the sod withstand transportation shock. It should also be free of pests, such as insect larvae, diseases and weeds.

Author: Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Weed Science Specialist