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When you’re trying to find the perfect grass seed for your lawn, it can seem like there are so many options available. Our goal is to give you the information you need to select the best grass seed for your situation while answering some common questions:
When you’re looking at grass seed varieties, one of the first issues you’ll run into is when you’re asked whether you want cool or warm season grasses.
Grass is grass after all, right? Not necessarily.
Quick look: the best grass seed to buy (depending on grass type):
- Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed – Sun and Shade: best overall grass seed for most lawns.
- Jonathan Green Black Beauty Ultra: best seed for clay or compacted soil.
- Jonathan Green Heavy Traffic: best seed for high traffic areas.
- Pennington Smart Seed Dense Shade: best for shaded areas.
- Scotts EZ Seed Sun Shade: best seed for patch fill.
Best Grass Seed Types
Cool Season Grasses
Cool season grasses are varieties that do well in cooler weather and can tolerate some heat. They grow best in the fall and spring, as well as in the winter for areas in the south.
Except for the coldest winters, cool season grasses will even continue growing to a certain extent while under snow cover. Cool season grasses do best when planted in the fall, allowing them to take root before harsh winter weather arrives.
- Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most popular cool season grasses due to its fine appearance and general all-around tolerance to a variety of growing conditions.
- Perennial rye grass is another popular cool season grass, providing excellent cover in high traffic areas, making it popular for northern golf courses.
- Tall fescue, including the variety Kentucky 31, is the most drought- and heat-resistant cool season grass, making it ideal in somewhat warmer areas.
Warm Season Grasses
By comparison, warm season grasses do very well in the worst heat of summer and tend to be very drought resistant. If you have extended periods when your lawn is brown and dry during the summer, you may want to consider seeding with a warm season grass.
When soil temperatures get below 65ºF, warm season grasses will begin to brown and remain that way until temperatures warm enough to allow the plant to begin growing again.
- The most popular warm season grass, Bermuda grass, is very durable, requires little maintenance and tolerates drought conditions very well. These qualities make it an excellent choice for southern golf courses and lawns, though it is not tolerant of shady areas.
- Other warm season grasses require higher humidity. Zoysia grass is a low-maintenance grass that produces a dense growth, making it popular for golf courses and homeowners who prefer a lawns that requires a minimum of care.
- Though St. Augustine grass is not as wear-tolerant as other warm season grasses, it has heat resistant qualities in humid parts of the South and Gulf states that is second to none, though it does not tolerate cool temperatures well.
- Imported from Brazil, Bahiagrass does very well in sandy soils and is great as a low maintenance turf grass requiring minimal watering and fertilizer, but does not develop the thick, rich look of higher-maintenance grasses.
- Centipedegrass is originally from southeast Asia and is another low maintenance turf grass that grows slowly, requiring fewer mowing sessions and far less fertilizer inputs during the growing season when compared to other grasses.
- Buffalo grass is one of the few native turfgrasses in the United States, originating west of the Mississippi, providing a fine, curly leaf and found in many semi-arid regions of Texas and the southwest.
What are the best tools to spread grass seed?
Now that your soil is prepared for planting, it’s time to consider how to spread your grass seed.
The method used in spreading seed is a topic of hot debate among lawn care enthusiasts, but here’s a quick glance at several more common tools:
- Broadcast spreaders help distribute grass seed over a large area quickly and can be either pushed by hand or towed using an ATV or lawn tractor. It should be adjustable, of quality construction and have a rust- and clog-proof spreading mechanism. Some spreaders can also do double duty by spreading fertilizer and other compounds.
- Handheld spreaders can work well for seeding smaller lawns or providing reseeding for areas that are thin because of high traffic, shade or other problem areas. Consider ease of use and storage issues when shopping for a handheld spreader. You’ll want a shoulder strap for larger capacity spreaders to help avoid muscle fatigue during use. They can also spread a number of other products such as fertilizer and deicer, making it a multi-purpose purchase.
- Pull behind spreaders attaches to an ATV or lawn tractor and spreads a great deal of seed very quickly, requiring a minimum amount of effort to operate. It may be somewhat more difficult to get into tight areas, possibly requiring additional seeding using a more compact spreader. The spreader should be of high-quality construction to prevent damage during towing and have wide tires to prevent soil compaction.
- Drop spreaders do exactly what they say – they drop seed directly below the spreader, unlike a broadcast spreader’s ability to throw seed beyond its own footprint. This is very helpful if you have additional beds in your lawn that you don’t want grass seed to fall on. They are very simple devices that can be used to distribute other granular material as well, such as deicer and fertilizer.
You’ll want to check the bag of grass seed to set the proper spreader rate for your grass to come up thick enough to block weed growth, but not so thick that it chokes itself out.
One way to ensure there are no bare spots is to put down two layers of spreading, with the second layer crossing the first.
When Should I put my new grass seed down?
You’ve taken the time to pick out the best grass seed for your lawn….now you need to know when to plant it. New grass seed is usually planted either in the spring or fall, depending on what type of turf grass you’re planting.
Whichever type you’re planing, you’ll want to plant it when it has the best chances of becoming well established before its peak growing season, so that it may smother out and compete well with weeds for sunlight, soil nutrients and water.
Cool season grasses do best when established in the early fall, though they can be planted in the spring.
Because the soil is usually still warm from summer, the plants are able to germinate and grow more quickly, while the cooler air helps keep the soil moist. Planting when daytime temperatures are between 60 to 75ºF are ideal, as the soil will be at the best temperature to promote strong growth and establishment.
By comparison, warm season grasses do best when planted in late spring. If warm season grasses are planted in the fall, they are not able to become well established enough to compete with weeds, leading to a weaker lawn by the time summer rolls around.
Because they grow well in heat, spreading warm season grass seed just before summer helps it grow quickly enough to smother out weeds. When overnight temperatures are maintaining 65 to 70ºF, the soil will be warm enough for warm season grass seed to thrive.
How do I overseed my lawn?
What if you’re in the transition zone? In areas that receive both a very hot summer and a very cold winter, you have a couple options. In northern areas, you can plant fescue, which is a drought- and heat-tolerant cool season grass. In southern regions, Bermuda grass is a great grass that is somewhat more cold tolerant that other warm season grasses. The other option is overseeding.
Overseeding involves planting both a cool season and a warm season grass in your lawn. When your lawn begins to brown due to heat or cold, it’s a good time to plant the other grass type. This allows the new seed to compete with weeds effectively without choking out your established lawn. Overseeding is a very popular option for a year-round green lawn.
How do I plant grass seed?
Now that you’ve got a handle on what type of grass you’re planting and you’ve chosen the best grass seed for your property, it’s time to plan what you’ll need to get your lawn well established, but there are a few questions to look at first.
Are you establishing a new lawn or renovating an old one?
A new lawn will require control of problem weeds, and you’ll want to be especially careful of biennial weeds such as carrot relatives, thistles, mallows or other plants with a strong root system which will actually cause more weeds if the roots are chopped apart in a tiller.
A good pre-emergent herbicide can go a long way to help your new grass plants establish themselves without weed competition. Soil preparation is also vital to establishing your new turf grass. A little planning now will help prevent big headaches later.
What shape is your soil in?
It’s always a great idea to put some compost down with new seed, as it will help loosen the soil, especially clay soils, and it adds organic matter, which helps increase the soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients.
You will need to take some steps beyond simply tossing some compost on to get the best possible results, starting with a comprehensive soil test. Gather two to three cups of soil from various points in your planting area, preferably from 4″ to 8″ under the surface, then bring it to your county’s agricultural extension office for testing.
Available in every county in the United States, an agricultural extension soil test typically costs between $20 and $40, and can provide the exact fertilizer and lime requirements for your soil and grass variety.
Aerating your soil can help your lawn become established more quickly by providing additional area for water to soak in and for gas exchange in the soil to take place.
Though we often think of how often we need to water a lawn, ideal soil conditions actually require a roughly equal mix of air and water.
Do you have areas that tend to get soggy when it rains?
Installing drainage before planting grass seed will help prevent these problem areas in the future. Any grading that needs to be done to control water flow in your lawn and around your home should also be taken care of at this time.
Do I need to put down new soil?
In most situations, new soil is not required. By turning up the soil, raking or roughing it up a bit, the soil is usually softened enough to help the seed put down roots easily.
However, a compacted, high clay or rocky soil can require additional soil or other amendments to be added. Compacted soils will require some tillage, to help break up the heavier portions of the soil.
High clay soils often benefit from having compost turned in, which adds nutritional and water holding capabilities to the soil. Do not make the mistake of adding sand and straw for drainage; there’s a reason they’re combined with clay to make adobe!
A rocky soil will best benefit from adding new soil, as removing the excess rock will leave significantly less soil behind than in the other two situations. Though it depends on the situation, adding a thin layer of top soil can be helpful to overcome difficult soil conditions.
Though Scott’s has developed a lawn soil specifically designed for planting grass, your local home and garden center will also have top soil available and usually for a much lower price.
How do I protect my new grass seed?
To get good soil contact, you’ll want to roll your yard, which also helps prevent erosion.
Though you’ve probably seen newly planted grass with straw on top of it, straw can sometimes blow away in high winds and poor-quality straw can contain weed seed, which is the last thing you want mixed with your new seed.
A good alternative is putting down a very thin layer of quality top soil. Never put hay down as a ground cover, as hay contains far more seed than straw ever does. Staking out the area is also a good idea to warn people about the new seed.
When is my grass going to start to grow?
It’s hard to wait and see how your new lawn will look, especially when you’ve invested your time and money into making sure everything is perfect for your particular conditions!
If you’ve done a good job of selecting the right seed, planting it at the right time in the right manner, provide sufficient nutrients, give the right amount of water and it is protected well, your seeds should start sprouting in about a week, though they can sometimes take a little longer based on your climate and the grass type planted.
Although some of the specialized seeds may take a little longer to start to grow. For example, if you planted a grass seed for shade.
If your seed still hasn’t come up, it may be time to check a few things.
How old is the seed? If it’s more than a couple years old, it may not sprout. If it was exposed to high temperatures or moisture before planting, it may not come up either. A reputable home and garden store will not sell old or poor quality seed.
When should I mow my new grass?
After your lawn has begun to grow, you’ll want to wait a few weeks before mowing.
Your grass seedlings should reach about 3 inches in height and should be growing fairly thickly. Be sure to use a sharp mower blade, as this creates a clean cut instead of tearing the leaves, leaving the plant damaged.
Never cut more than a third of the grass height at a time, as this makes it hard for the plant to recover and can cause damaged spots in your lawn. If your new grass had to get taller to fill out, it’s better to do a couple mowings a few days to a week apart to slowly take the height of the grass down to where it belongs.
If you have a mulching mower, leave the grass clippings on top of the grass instead of raking them up, as this provides additional nutrients and organic matter for your soil and helps prevent moisture evaporation from the surface of the soil.
How much water does new grass need?
The most important component in establishing turf grass from seed is water.
Even after selecting the best seed for your climate, soil and application, your seed will not grow without sufficient water. You’ll need to apply enough water after planting to get the soil damp 6″ to 8″ into the soil, but do not overwater and be sure to use a gentle application so your new grass seed doesn’t wash away.
Rolling before watering helps keep the seed where you want it.
Applying too much water can prevent the seed from germinating, as it rots in the wet conditions. Too much water can also cause problems with gas exchange, keeping the seed from getting the air it needs to grow well.
It is much better to water in small amounts frequently than to simply put a lot of water down at one time. Drier or sunny climates may need to water as often as daily or twice daily during hot conditions to keep the seed moist but not waterlogged.
If the soil is a light brown, it will need to be watered.
When should I put down fertilizer?
If you’ve gotten a good soil test, it will include how much of which fertilizer and how much lime you’ll need to put down to amend the soil perfectly.
A starter fertilizer provides the necessary nutrients to help the new grass seedlings grow, develop a strong root system and become well established.
Do not use standard lawn fertilizer on newly planted seeds and seedlings! Regular fertilizer can chemically burn the grass, killing it. If your grass seed does not include fertilizer in the mix, you’ll want to put down starter fertilizer with the new seed, either at the same time as spreading seed, which is how many professionals save time, just before or just after spreading seed.
This helps the seeds grow as quickly as possible without feeding weeds that are not wanted in the lawn. After your new lawn has been growing for 6 to 8 weeks, you can begin applying regular lawn fertilizer.
By starting from when your grass is growing rather than when it was planted, slower-sprouting varieties also get the opportunity to become well established before adding fertilizer.
Lime, either regular limestone or dolomitic limestone, is not technically considered a fertilizer as much as a soil amendment to adjust the pH. It should be spread at seeding unless you’ve otherwise been advised by your agricultural extension office.
Lime helps to neutralize acidic soil, with the ideal pH falling between 6.5-7. It also adds calcium to the soil, which helps your seedlings grow strong cell walls.
If you’ve had problems in the past with fruit or vegetables developing blossom end rot, basically brown rotted spots on the flower end of the fruit, you have a calcium deficiency in your soil. For the very few soils that are naturally alkaline, applying sulfur will help lower the pH to a more tolerable level.
Should I use weed killers?
Herbicides are used to kill undesirable weeds in a lawn.
They can be applied at a variety of times. A pre-emergent herbicide will prevent weeds from germinating, but will require specific soil temperatures to be effective.
Contact herbicides kills weeds by changing or limiting their growth.
Selective herbicides will kill only the type of weed indicated on the label. Once your grass is growing and you’ve begun fertilizing it, you can begin applying herbicides as needed in your lawn.
I have a number of resources available to help you select the best solution for your weed problem.
We know that picking the best grass seed can be confusing…..seed is expensive and you want to make sure that you get the right stuff.
I’ve put together what we feel is the most comprehensive list of grass seed reviews available on the internet.