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Not All Grass Seed is Created Equal

By Debbie Lithgow, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

Trying to save money on grass seed is a decision that could haunt you the rest of your mowing days.

This is the time of year for seeding, over-seeding and repairing bare patches in lawns, but be particular about the turf seed you buy. High quality seed will reward you for years to come and will make the difference between a beautiful and a ho-hum lawn. The quality of seed you buy also determines whether your lawn is easy to maintain or a weedy nightmare.

Your first decision is whether to seed bluegrass, tall fescue or buffalograss. Let's say you've decided to go with Kentucky bluegrass, which is the most frequently used lawn grass in the Denver metro area. Your next decision is whether to plant one variety or a blend of bluegrass varieties. When it comes to Kentucky bluegrass, more than 100 cultivars (cultivated varieties) are available.

Single cultivar bluegrass lawns are not recommended This genetically uniform monoculture lends itself to a big risk of insect and disease damage. Just as farmers are urged to diversify their crops, so should homeowners blend different cultivars of bluegrass together. This creates a lawn that's high in quality and one with greater resistance to problems.

Bluegrass seed labels list "types," such as Mid-Atlantic types or Aggressive types. Then, the label tells you what percentage of each type is included in the mix. Note that the exact variety (cultivar) that makes up the type need not be listed. Better products, however, do list varieties by name. The percentage of noxious weed and other weed seed content also must be listed. Good quality products contain zero noxious weed and nearly zero weed seed percentages.

A good turf blend should contain the following types of Kentucky bluegrass:

5% Aggressive types - Varieties include Limousine, Touchdown, Mystic, A-34, Princeton 104.

10-20% Mid-Atlantic types - Varieties are Livingston, Wabash, Huntsville, SR 2000.

10-20% BVMG types - Look for Baron, Victa, Merit, Nassau and Gnome.

10-20% Northern Latitude types - Eclipse, Glade, Midnight, America, Able 1 and Alpine varieties.

10-20% Bellevue types - Varieties are Banff, Classic, Parade, Columbia, Georgetown and Liberty.

10-20% Other types - Adelphi, Aspen, Liberty, Challenger, Nustar and Washington varieties.

While it may not seem worthwhile to hunt down a quality mix to repair a few bare patches, it certainly is if you are seeding an entire lawn. In buying seed, it is buyer beware, based on reading seed labels.

Finally, pay particular attention to soil preparation. Your good quality seed will be wasted if you don't prepare your soil thoroughly. In fact, poor soil preparation is the biggest reason for lawn establishment failure in Colorado. Till in a minimum of four cubic yards of organic material, such as compost or manure, per 1,000 square feet of area.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010