In Gardening

How to Choose a Perfect Turf Grass Seed

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It’s okay to admit that you want a nice lawn. Sure, it may not be a perfect pollinator garden, but that’s okay. After all, there’s nothing better than laying in a nice lawn on a warm summer day and just feeling the breeze on your face.

If you’re looking for that perfect turf grass, you have to start by choosing the right turf grass seed. And that choice depends on where you live, how much sun you get, and so much more. 

The good news is that choosing the correct grass isn’t that hard when you break it down.

Thin grass blades vs thick grass blades

Let’s start with a definition that is going to be important: turf grass. What is turf grass and what makes it different from other grasses. Turf grass is basically any grass that is traditionally used for lawns rather than the natural prairie grasses.

The grass seed that is bred as “turf grass” is typically softer and more tender to touch and traffic. It also typically requires regular care in the form of mowing or fertilizer.

Turf grasses are divided into two main families. These are cool season grass and warm season grass. The two types each have their niche within the turf grass market and they are the main determining factor when choosing the perfect grass seed.

Cool Season Grasses

Cool season turf grass seas options: Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass

Cool season grass seed prefers more temperate weather. This means that when the temperature is between 50 and 80 degrees, the grass will grow both roots and shoots prolifically.

When the temperature is either above or below that range however, the grass goes dormant and does not grow as well. That means that cool season grass typically does better in the northern United States.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is the pageant queen of the grass seed world. Everybody knows her name and everybody wants her. But why?

In locations where Kentucky Bluegrass looks good, the midwest and the American southeast, this turf grass provides a beautiful, lush, and soft-to-the-touch lawn that anybody would want to lay in.

However, in areas where Kentucky Bluegrass does not look good, the American west mainly, this grass tends to look quite patchy and undesirable. I would recommend Kentucky Bluegrass for anybody living in the northern United States and East of the rocky mountains.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue is one of the easiest turf grasses that tolerates almost any atmosphere. It prefers mixed shade but it can tolerate almost any amount of sun.

Not only is Tall Fescue adaptable, but it also requires less fertilizer, making it more environmentally friendly than most turf grass.

The downside to Tall Fescue is that it grows with a tougher, thicker leaf that most people find less desirable than other turf grass seed options. However, for those with less time and money to invest, Tall Fescue is an excellent option for turf grass seed.

Perennial RyeGrass

If Kentucky Bluegrass is the pageant queen, Perennial RyeGrass is Miss Congeniality. This turf grass seed produces a lush and beautiful lawn that is so soft to the touch that you can barely stand it.

Perennial RyeGrass does require a lot more maintenance and money than most turf grass seed options. You absolutely have to get at least six hours of sun a day for Perennial RyeGrass to look good. 

And it requires more fertilizer and water than most turf grass. This means that Perennial Rye is less environmentally friendly and more costly than most turf grass. 

Warm Season Grasses

Warm season turf grass options: Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bermuda Grass

Warm season grasses actually appreciate the higher temperatures of summer. They do most of their growing between 80 and 90 degrees. The farther away from that zone the temperature gets, the more dormant the shoots and roots.

This type of grass is perfect for people choosing a grass seed when they live in the southern United States. Obviously, this is because the areas here experience much hotter summers.

Warm season grasses tolerate not only higher heat but also drought better than cool season grasses. The downside is that warm season grasses do not grow very thick. This makes them more susceptible to weeds and “invasive grass” such as crabgrass.

Zoysia Grass

Like most warm season grasses, Zoysia grass prefers lots of sun and doesn’t mind warm weather. One thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t really like a lot of fertilizer.

Zoysia grass does stay green longer than many warm season grasses so it is a desirable warm season grass seed.

Zoysia is a “perfect grass seed” that turns green quickly whenever it has enough water but goes dormant and survives just fine without attention or water.

Warm season grasses

Bahia Grass

Bahia Grass is an excellent option when you are choosing a grass seed to plant in the American Southwest. In this area, you have more sand and higher heat than anywhere else in the United States.

Bahia Grass tolerates sandy soil better than almost any other type of warm season grass seed. Because of its slow growth and germination, it is particularly susceptible to weeds when it is young. This means that Bahia Grass seed is a higher maintenance option for new lawns.

Buffalo Grass

I won’t lie to you; I absolutely love Buffalo Grass. I grew up in a transitional zone (in terms of grass seed) and so my lawn was a combination of Buffalo Grass and Kentucky Bluegrass. 

The Buffalo Grass would look gold in the summer when the sun hit it. The gold grass was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.

Even when it is growing and green, Buffalo Grass is a short, thick bladed grass. It isn’t a highly desirable turf grass seed. However, it resists almost every environmental stress.

You don’t have to fertilize it, water it, or worry about temperature. Regardless of the environment, Buffalo Grass will come back when the time is right and it won’t die.

St Augustine

St Augustine grass seed is particularly popular in the American Southeast. This warm season grass is typically broad-bladed. But unlike other warm season grass seed, St Augustine produces a thick turf that helps to crowd out the weeds that may pop up.

The downside is that St Augustine is higher maintenance and requires more water and fertilizer than other warm season turf grasses. For people that can’t provide the maintenance, I would recommend other warm season grasses when choosing the best grass seed.

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda Grass is one of the most tolerant of warm season grass seeds. If you can’t get Bermuda Grass to grow in your lawn, you won’t get any grass to grow there. It’s even tolerant of higher salt environments like on the coast.

Bermuda Grass also offers a high tolerance to traffic. So, if your lawn is in the Southern United States, you are near a coast, or you will see a lot of traffic through it, you may want to consider Bermuda Grass as the best grass seed.

The high growth rate of Bermuda Grass helps it to outcompete the weeds in the beginning. And as long as there isn’t frost on the ground Bermuda Grass will stay green. 

However, this type of grass can also be almost invasive when its spread is considered. It will quite happily and quickly take over an area if given the opportunity. Plant it carefully if you want a nice clean border between your lawn and any adjoining sidewalks or planter beds.

Planting Grass Seed

how to plant grass seed

Once you choose the best grass seed for your area and your family, you want to make sure that it grows well in your yard. It isn’t as simple as just throwing the seed out and putting some water on it though. If you follow a few steps, the grass seed that you buy will grow into a lush lawn in no time.

How to Prepare Soil for Grass Seed (soil test)

Clear Any Existing Plants

To start with, clear out any existing plants in the area. If you only have a patch of weeds, you could use a weed killer but make sure that you wait a couple weeks before putting down your seed. There will be instructions on the bottle for how long to wait.

Run Soil Test

Next, run a soil test. You want to make sure that the pH level is appropriate for grass seed and that the right nutrients are there. If you need to treat with any fertilizer or lime, make sure to do so before you seed.

Level the Area

Lawn seed does better when the ground is level. If you don’t level the ground before planting new grass seed, the high spots will not get enough water and the low spots will get too much. 

Begin by using a rake to rake the ground as level as possible. 

Once you do that, I recommend using a sod roller to compact the ground slightly. You don’t want it to be rock hard or super packed, but firm.

Lay Out Seed and Fertilizer

Lawn care and maintenance

Spread lawn starter fertilizer first. It should be a starter fertilizer that has low nitrogen and higher phosphorous. This way, the roots get established well and quickly. 

If you use a mature lawn fertilizer, one with very high nitrogen, the blades will grow green and fast but the turf itself will not be as healthy over time.

Lay out your chosen grass seed evenly across the entire lawn area. Be very careful that you don’t plant the grass seed too thinly in some areas, for obvious reasons. 

But if you plant your grass seed too thickly, the seeds will compete for nutrients with each other and won’t grow as well.

The best way to make sure you get an even amount of fertilizer and seed out is to use a spreader, either handheld or rotary. Finally, make sure to cover the seed with peat moss or newspaper so that the birds don’t eat it.

Water Consistently

The key to getting your grass seed to germinate, that is sprout, is watering consistently. Once the seed gets wet after it is planted, it should not be allowed to dry out. This means that the middle of summer is a terrible time to plant a new lawn.

For those without automatic sprinklers, make sure to set up a sprinkler system that you can use while your seed gets established. The extra money for a good timing system and lawn sprinkler system will prevent hundreds of dollars lost on seed that doesn’t grow.

If you need help setting up a complete watering system, This Old House has a great article on setting up a lawn sprinkler system.

Choose the Grass Seed that’s Perfect for You

Matching Grass Seed to Sun Exposure

Each type of grass seed will require a certain amount of sun or shade in order to thrive. For example, Rye Grass needs at least six hours of sun in order to be its healthiest.

It helps to keep an eye out on the area you want to put grass seed down for an entire day. Make sure to note whether the sun is morning sun or afternoon sun. In the United States, the afternoon sun tends to be hotter.

Also, make sure to keep in mind how the plants are going to grow over the course of the season. If you plant tall annuals like corn or sunflowers next to your lawn, they will eventually create a shady area nearby.

Appearance and Feel

In general, turf grass seed that appears and feels lush and soft will be higher maintenance, cool season grass seed. 

RyeGrass and Kentucky Bluegrass are considered to be pretty much the top of the line options for lushness and softness.

How does your lawn hold up to traffic

Wear and Tear on the Grass Seed

However, some people prefer the stiffer, more bristley feeling of “tougher” grass seed. The tougher grasses definitely hold up to foot traffic better because of their wider blades. So, if you tend to have a lot of backyard barbecues, consider thick bladed grass seed.

The other wear and tear on turf grass is the constant mowing, especially from self-propelled lawn mowers. Lawn mowers do some serious damage to lawns when the wheels get jammed up or lose their purchase.

Choosing a Format of Turf Grass

When it comes time to redo your lawn, there are a couple of good different options. Your choice depends on how large the area is that you may be working on and how much time or money you have to spend on the project.

New Lawn vs Overseeding

For people who have a pretty good lawn for the most part, with a few smaller areas of exceptions or bald spots, overseeding is a nice option. This is the process of planting new grass seed over top of the mature lawn to fill in the gaps and make the lawn lusher.

If your lawn is beyond repair, you’ll want to start fresh. This is the best option if you have so many weeds that you have more weeds than lawn. It’s also a good option if you have a very uneven lawn, with lots of low spots and high spots.

Grass Seed vs Sod

grass seed vs sod

Homeowners who need results quickly and have a moderate amount of money to spend will prefer sod, rolls of already grown grass. You can get sod in a couple different types of grass seed typically.

More budget conscious homeowners will need to use grass seed since it can grow a lush lawn at a fraction of the price. The downside is that you will need to wait for a while before that lawn is ready for any foot traffic.

Final Thoughts

Planting a beautiful, lush lawn starts by choosing the best grass seed to fit your family and your lifestyle. If you won’t have time or money to maintain a lawn, choose a lower maintenance grass seed. If you absolutely have to have a soft lawn for kids to play in, a nicer seed may be worth it.

Once you choose the best grass seed, make sure that you plant it and tend it correctly so that it grows its best. Fortunately, there’s just a few simple steps to follow and you’ll have a lush lawn in no time.