Today is a big day. It’s tip number 4 and it’s a big one….
Let’s take a few seconds to review. I am Rob Lundholm and my company is Lundholm Landscaping. We are a full service landscape design and construction firm out of Cape May, New Jersey. After noticing so many, brown and burnt up lawns during the recent heat waves, I decided to revisit a ten step program that I wrote last spring and give it a touch up… actually an overhaul. This time around, I decided to go into a lot more detail, especially in the area of building healthy soil. If you have not read any of the previous 3 steps, feel free to click on the links that are listed in the right hand margin so that you are up to speed!
In step 1 we identified soil texture. Step 2 we learned about the importance of soil testing, where to buy a soil test kit and how to gather a quality sample. Step 3 taught us exactly how to analyze our soil sample and formulate a plan of attack for creating the PERFECT LAWN. Today it’s time to identify and choose the right seed for our lawn.
In our area of the country, the 3 main varieties of grass are Rye Grass, Fescue and Blue Grass. The fourth variety is often mistaken for a weed and is called Bermuda Grass.
Listed below are the common turf grasses and a brief description of each….
Commonly referred to as Annual or Perennial Rye. Rye grass is a clumping variety and usually the first grass to green up in the spring(often called Winter Rye). Rye grass is very common in Northern Climates as its easily adapts to cold weather and rarely turns completely brown. Preferring a sunny spot, Rye is a fast grower and affords the ability to be cut lower than other varieties which makes it an ideal choice for golf courses and athletic fields. Let’s compare annual rye to perennial rye…
Annual Rye– Similar to the growing cycle of an annual flowering plant, Annual Rye Grass completes its life cycle in one year. Annual Rye germinates extremely fast(3-5 days) and has vigorous growth habits. Common applications for Annual Rye are temporary uses, temporary erosion barriers, forage for livestock, hayfields and for a quick fix while waiting for slower germinating varieties to establish themselves.
Rye grass is easily identified by taking a close look at a lawn in early spring. A tell tale sign is noticeable clumping and dark green grass plants. Rye grass is amongst the easiest to grow as it is extremely resistant to disease, drought and heavy traffic.
In my opinion, Fescue is the finest quality grass available. Fescue is a bit of a late spring bloomer, is hearty, has a nice color and is a matting type grass that spreads through a vigorous rhizomatic root system. There are new varieties of Fescue and hybrids coming on the market on a regular basis. My personal favorites are Black Magic and Kentucky 31. Both are somewhat slow to germinate but are well worth the extra time. If sewing Black Magic, Kentucky 31 or any other variety, make sure your seed blend contains a fast germinating seed like Annual or Perennial Rye. Once these tougher varieties of Fescues germinate, they will muscle out the weaker Rye grasses and establish a thick healthy green carpet.
Fescue can be difficult to identify because of the numerous varieties. Tall Fescue is tall(obviously), extremely thin bladed and clumping while Turf Type or Dwaft Fescues have thick grass blades and form a thick carpet like lawn which actually chokes out weeds and has a natural resistance to insects because of naturally occurring endophytes. Tall Fescue does well in extreme heat circumstances but may need frequent reseeding due to it’s clumping growth habits(similar to Rye). Turf Type Fescues have been hybridized to the point where vertical growth rates are extremely slow so that less frequent mowing is necessary while the grass spreads. Fescues can be planted in either sun or shade and adapt well in a variety of climates.
Blue Grass is by far the most beautiful. On the flip side, certain blue grass varieties are extremely high maintenance. Blue grass is easily identified by it’s tall thin blueish grass blades. Most varieties go dormant and turn brown in extreme summer heat as well as winter. Be extremely careful when selecting Blue Grass as some varieties are extremely susceptible to disease, do not like traffic and will not grow in shade. Blue Grass requires frequent, managed watering as well as regular fertilization. Newer, more improved varieties of Blue Grass are much less fickle and are frequently used on Golf Courses and Athletic Fields.
Although the look of a finely manicure Kentucky Blue Grass lawn is second to none, if you are not a seasoned gardener, be really careful planting Blue Grass as you may be overwhelmed at the amount of attention it needs.
We have all seen this one. In northern climates, this emerges into our lawns and gardens as an invasive weed, in southern climates, Bermuda Grass makes up every lawn on every block. In a recent visit to southern Florida, I took a close look at the lawns in a random neighborhood. I noticed that no matter how well a homeowner kept their house, Bermuda grass was thick, light green in color and basically weed free. I found it interesting that my arch nemesis in the north not only made up every lawn but appeared to be extremely low maintenance and quite attractive. Hmmm??? No wonder local sod farms are working new varieties of Bermuda Grass into their fields. If you can’t be ’em, join ’em!
Bermuda grass takes over our northern lawns when it gets hot and it spreads like wildfire. It loves our sandy soil, it works its way into our planting beds, its impossible to kill(with or without chemicals) and it’s UGLY. I have spent the majority of the last 6 years trying to come up with a reasonable method to control Bermuda Grass.
Bermuda Grass has a sub-surface root like rhizomatic structure that runs underground from a few inches to several feet. Bermuda Grass is very hard to pull up and the roots can be sharp and course. That’s about all I will mention on the subject of Bermuda Grass at this point, but look for future articles on controlling invasive weeds in the near future.
Now that we have identified the major grass varieties, it’s time to decide which variety is right for you. Since there are so many varieties of seed on the market today I recommend doing research on which grass varieties will work best in your specific area. A simple way to accomplish this is by going to a local garden center, nursery or landscape supply and taking a look at the variety of different blends and seed mixtures. I prefer local garden centers to chain stores because the products are much more localized and you can expect a more knowledgeable staff. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the seed, the higher the quality. As always, buy the best seed that you can afford.
Pictured below is a sample label on the back of a bag of grass seed.
Seed companies are required by law to post this label on their packaging. This may look like Chinese at first, but it’s actually very simple. As we read through, I notice that this is a very common “Contractor’s Mixture” which translates to cheap and simple.
The primary Seed in this mixture is “Prospect Tall Fescue” and makes up 47% of the seed in this bag. The remaining varieties are 24% Annual Rye, 14% Boreal Red Fescue and 10% Blue Grass. If we keep reading, we notice the small presence of Inert Matter, Other Weed Seed and Other Crop Seed. These are small seed particles work their way in with the actual seeds during the harvesting process and are almost irrelevant.
I interpret this grass seed mixture to work in the following manner…
Quick germination of the annual rye- 3-10 days from sewing of seed.
Germination of Red Fescue- 10-14 days from sewing of seed.
Germination of Blue Grass- 14-21 days from sewing of seed.
Germination of Tall Fescue- 14-21 days from sewing.
The premium tall fescue will germinate in as little as 2-3 weeks but takes much longer to establish itself as turf grass. The quick germinating annual rye grass will add stability to the soil, control erosion and provide instant gratification. Once the soil is stabilized, the fescue and blue grass varieties will have a much better environment to thrive.
This seed mixture is an ideal mixture for most lawns in my immediate area. When shopping for seed, take special considerations into effect such as shade, traffic and irrigation. Picking the correct seed mixture before you start is crucial to creating your “Perfect Lawn”. Check, then double check that the seed mixture that you buy will work with your individual property. Trial and error is costly and time consuming!
Whew, that was a lot of information and could be confusing. If you have made it this far, you are well on your way! Now go buy some seed and get to work!
If you are having trouble identifying what type of grass you have or are interested in learning what type of grass would be best for you, feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation. If outside of my work area, I suggest contacting your local extension center.
Thanks again for reading and be sure to check back or subscribe to this blog for future updates.
P.O. Box 1066
Cape May, NJ 08204