How to select the right turfgrass seed

How to select the right turfgrass seed

One of the most important factors in selecting turfgrass seed for your site is to decide which species (or mix of species) best fits your needs. This is important whether you are deciding on the seed for athletic fields, home lawns or for renovating your existing turf to add newer improved varieties to your lawn.

Turfgrass breeders are constantly making improvements every year, so do your homework and try to find the best new varieties available. The extra cost of high quality seed is a tiny part of the total cost of any seeding job, so choose the best seed varieties available that fit your needs. You have to live with the lawn you put in, so it makes sense to buy the best quality available.

This article will focus on cool season species because cool season species are most widely used in the northern two-thirds of the country. Each of the most popular cool season species has unique growth habits and I will discuss them briefly here.

Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass has a non -spreading, bunch type growth habit. It germinates and establishes quickly. It has a dark green color, medium fine texture, and good mowing characteristics. Perennial ryegrass is best in mixtures with other species. High quality perennial ryegrasses will be endophyte enhanced . These endophytic ryegrasses are naturally more resistant to lawn damaging insects like chinch bugs.

Kentucky Bluegrass
Kentucky Bluegrass is a widely adapted species that is used for many situations. Its dark green color and medium fine texture contributes to it sometimes being called the king of lawn grasses. Kentucky bluegrass is able to spread and recover because it grows by underground primary lateral stems called rhizomes. These rhizomes grow out from the main plant and form a new plant, allowing it to form a dense cover. Kentucky bluegrass is a good choice for athletic fields, home lawns, and golf courses. For high quality turf, Kentucky bluegrass should receive medium to high maintenance.

Hybrid Bluegrass
New Hybrid Bluegrasses have recently been developed that exhibit the same great qualities as Kentucky Bluegrass, but are Drought and Shade tolerant. Kentucky Bluegrass was bred with other warm weather bluegrass varieties to come up with these wonderful Hybrid Bluegrasses. Availability is still limited, and they cost a bit more, but they look great.

Turf Type Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is another bunch type grass that persists in the warmer areas of the cool season range of adaptation. This is primarily due to the fact that it has a deep root system, which helps it be more heat and drought tolerant. Plant breeders have made great improvements in this species over the last decade. The newer varieties are as dark green and almost as fine textured as the improved Kentucky bluegrass varieties. It does not tolerate as close a mowing height as Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, so a mowing height of 2 –3 inches is recommended. Turf Type Tall fescue requires slightly less water and fertilizer to produce a high quality turf stand.

Fine Fescues
Chewings fescue and Hard fescue have a bunch –type growth habit. All have a fine leaf texture. They are particularly well adapted to dry, shady conditions as well as lower maintenance situations. Creeping red fescue is the most widely used of the three main fine leafed fescues. It has slow spreading rhizomes.
The fine fescues are primarily used in mixes with other species like Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass

Whichever species you choose, always try to choose quality named varieties with superior genetics that have improved disease and insect resistance, and drought tolerance, and that will fit your long-term goals.

Consider the following before you choose which grass will work best for different areas of your lawn.

Shade tolerance. Grasses are sun-loving plants. They need an absolute minimum of 4 hours of direct sun a day. Areas that get much traffic require at least 6 hours. If your light is marginal, fescues tolerate shade better than regular bluegrass or ryegrass. Some new Hybrid bluegrass varieties are new to the professional market, and they tolerate shade real well. They are also much more drought tolerant and look great too !

Drought tolerance. If you don’t plan to water during summer droughts, or your soil does’nt retain much water, the Hybrid Bluegrasses and Turf type tall fescues are your best choice. Some professional mixes actually combine both.

Wear tolerance. Fine fescue doesn’t stand up well to traffic. Choose one of the other species for lawn areas that take a lot of wear and tear.

Establishment. Perennial ryegrass is quick to germinate and protect the soil — an important consideration on slopes that are vulnerable to erosion. Kentucky bluegrass is the slowest. The fescues fall between the two.

Growth habit. Kentucky bluegrass spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. It forms a tough sod. When damaged, the rhizomes can creep back in to cover the bare spot. The other grasses are bunch grasses that don’t spread as well or form as dense a sod. This is why Bluegrasses are desirable to incorporate in the lawn.

Leaf texture. Fine fescue has very thin, fine leaves. Turf type Tall fescue’s leaves are a little courser but are still pretty fine. Ryegrass and bluegrass fall in between.

In addition, you also need to consider how much time and money you plan to invest in your lawn, and how good you want it to look. The fescues are good choices for low-maintenance lawns that you won’t have to fertilize often, and that you won’t mow closer than 3 inches to the ground.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky bluegrass makes a fine-looking lawn, but requires a little more careful management to stay healthy. Plan to fertilize it four times a year, and keep in mind that it is more susceptible to drought (unless you use one of the new hybrids) and pests.

When you purchase grass seed, it is often a mix of several species. Read the label to find out what’s in the bag before buying. Again, cheap seed is never a bargain.

Never purchase a mix that contains more than 2% inert matter, or any noxious weed seeds. Avoid grass seed mixes with annual ryegrass. I will germinate and grow quickly, but usually dies over winter. It is very inexpensive and is usually a sign of poor quality mixes. Sometimes keywords like “quick” , “tough” & “contractors” should be indicators to read the tag .

Four typical mixes matched for different situations:

Shady Areas


Uses: New seeding and over-seeding of shaded grass areas in all fine turf situations. Adapted to residential and commercial turf, Shady mix is an ideal choice for renovation of “lawn” areas with mature trees and sun, which restrict sunlight.

Features: This Shade mix contains three species of fine fescues, (red, chewings, and hard), which have been found to have a positive affect on disease and insect pressure, unlike typical “least cost” mixtures which often contain the lower performing common creeping red fescue, common bluegrass and ryegrass. These three species have the ability to withstand shade created drought caused by competing tree root absorption and leaf canopy uptake of light rains that never reach the ground.

Rates establishment: 4-5 lbs/1000 sq ft
Rates overseeding: 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft

Sunny Lawns (medium-higher maintenance)


Uses: Excellent choice for new seeding in mixed sun and shade where sunny areas predominate such as medium to mature landscapes on home lawns and commercial turf. Many public parks and campuses have a similar mix of sun and moderate shade, and Sunny Supreme can be utilized in newly seeded, renovated and overseeding applications to improve turf cover.

Features: Attractive mix of fine leaf textures creates a more natural look as compared with sod. Broad based of species offers excellent genetic resilience to a wide range of environmental stresses, as well as performance under the range of weather conditions experienced in the New England climates. A quality sun mix like this is the highly attractive professional alternative to the generic Sun mixes so widely available to the homeowner and “least cost” landscaper.

Rates establishment: 4-5 lbs/1000 sq ft
Rates overseeding: 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft

Sunny Lawn Overseeding

(Usually 2-3 different varieties)

Uses: Ideal for athletic field over-seeding as well as heavy wear performance driven turf. When used in lawn maintenance for fall overseeding, the fast establishment of the high percentage of perennial ryegrass provides the visual results the customer is looking for. By utilizing an aggressive bluegrass, the capacity to compete and not be overtaken by the ryegrass is realized. Likewise, the aggressive bluegrass can move rapidly into other areas. This overseed mix is an excellent choice for home lawns and athletic field oversedding.

Features: The main feature of this mix is very rapid establishment, including on a relative scale, the bluegrass variety. Aggressive growth and strong lateral tillering contribute to density and turf cover of heavy traffic areas. It can be utilized during the short “down-times” on athletic fields and home lawns. Endophyte fungi living symbiotically with these perennial ryegrasses, repel surface feeding insects such as chinch bugs and sod webworm.

Rates establishment: 3-5 lbs/1000 sq ft
Rates overseeding: 1 ½ -2 ½ lbs/1000 sq ft

Sun & Shade


Uses: Primarily designed for new seeding or aggressive renovation of residential and commercial turf. This sun & shade mix can thrive under more shade than other sun mixes, and therefore is suited to sun and shade conditions often found in mature landscapes of public parks and older residential landscape areas.

Features: It is fine textured and cuts clean from 1 ½ to 3 inch height of cut, with the high heights during the peak of summer heat and humidity. Improved varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass and perennial ryegrass offer better turf quality and disease performance as compared to least cost-common type formulations in similar mixes.

Rates establishment: 4-5 lbs/1000 sq ft
Rates overseeding: 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft

There are many other mixes that incorporate specific factors for a situation, but these four encompass many situations.

For more information on grass seed and lawn seeding , visit


5 responses to “How to select the right turfgrass seed

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  5. Great article. I do agree that the selection of turf should be in accordance to the environmental condition and the level of maintenance that the grower can give. Most Australian home owners prefer Sir Walter Turf because of its endurance to heat and shade environment. It is also a turf variety that rapidly repairs itself from wear and rut.

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