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Penn State Mix

Where did this grass seed misnomer take root?

Years ago a man called me to discuss renovating his lawn from Zoysia grass to a traditional Pennsylvania grass seed mix. It wasn't that he hated Zoysia as much as some people do --since it is straw brown for most of the year-- he was more concerned with the way it was invading his neighbor's lawn.

During our conversation I was describing the steps we would use to accomplish this sort of task. When I got to the part where we discussed reseeding the area, he asked, "Are you going to use Penn State Mix?"

I went on to tell him what I am about to tell you: There is no such thing as Penn State Mix!

Where did this misnomer get started anyway?  I have no idea, so if you know, please send an email to tell me. Here's the official line from Peter Landschoot, associate professor of turfgrass science at Penn State:

A lot of companies that sell turfgrass seed in Pennsylvania market something called ‘Penn State Mix.’ Penn State has absolutely nothing to do with these companies, the makeup of the mix or the seed. These mixes can contain just about anything — sometimes you’ll find it’s a good mix, but sometimes it’s very poor quality.

Two reasons it didn't add up for me:

1. Most Penn State Mix contains too much Perennial Rye, sometimes as much as 60 or 70%

During our turf classes at Penn State in the late 1970's we learned that if you used more than 20% to 25% perennial ryegrass in your seed mix the lawn was going to end up being predominantly perennial ryegrass. This isn't to say that perennial rye is a bad thing (as long as it is a good variety of seed) only to point out that since it germinates and grows so fast, that it will overpower most other varieties in a seed mix, such as Kentucky Bluegrass. Consider the basics: Perennial rye germinates in one week, while Kentucky Blue takes three weeks.


There is the Penn State Nittany Lion, but there
is NO SUCH THING as 'Penn State Mix'

2. No seed varieties developed by Penn State are on the seed label of Penn State Mix

You have to study a seed label to find out what's in the mix. Labels will tell you what type of seed, if any of the varieties are "named" and what percentage of the seed will germinate. As I began looking at more and more labels of grass seed labeled 'Penn State Mix' it was soon obvious that none of the seed had been developed by Penn State.

Penn State has a proud tradition of developing improved grass seed varieties, especially bentgrass for golf courses.

How do you know if a variety was developed by Penn State? The variety name will begin with 'Penn' as in 'Penneagle' or 'Pennlawn' or 'Pennfine.'

In summary, it was clear that Penn State Mix was a misnomer from the start due to these two reasons; 1) More perennial rye was used in the mix than Penn State typically recommends, and, 2) No Penn State varieties were used in the seed mixes.

Let's put this misnomer to rest, once and for all!

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