Buying the Right Grass Seed

The correct lawn seed for you


By: Sandy Feather ©2006
Penn State Extension

Q. I saw an ad for Brand Z grass seed mix in the newspaper. It sounds too good to be true. I would like your opinion before I waste $80. (The ad's headline states that Brand X grass seed mix "guarantees you a lush green lawn in all four seasons, in every climate.")

A. "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is" is one of the soundest pieces of advice I can offer home gardeners. In this case, it is highly unlikely that any one type of grass seed is going to yield fabulous lawns across the varied climates of the United States. The cool-season lawn grass species that we grow in the North would not tolerate the hot, humid summers in the South. Many of the warm-season species grown in the South would not survive winter in the North.

Buying a Seed Brand

After a little research, I found information on Brand Z grass seed from the Illinois Turfgrass Foundation and Grounds Maintenance magazine. It is a mixture comprised of 41 percent creeping red fescue (unnamed variety), 30 percent Kentucky bluegrass (unnamed variety), 25 percent annual ryegrass, 2.7 percent insert matter (soil, pieces of rock, etc.), .5 percent other crop seed and .5 percent weed seed.


Using a steel rake to prepare a new lawn

High Quality Seed Mixes

While those varieties will grow in Western Pennsylvania, it is always best to use a high-quality seed mix that uses named varieties of grass species. Grass seed hybridizers constantly work to improve species, looking to increase insect and disease resistance, drought tolerance and refine aesthetic characteristics such as color and texture. Named varieties are the result of this work. Unnamed varieties may be generic varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or the fine fescues. They may even be problematic varieties that have fallen out of favor because of severe disease problems.


Buy the best quality
grass seed available

High-quality turfgrass seed should contain very little, if any, annual ryegrass. It is an annual that will not grow for more than one season. Because it comprises 25 percent of this mix, you will lose a quarter of your lawn when it dies! It does germinate quickly and would give you a lush lawn for the first growing season.

Unfortunately, an ad like this does not tell the reader what species of grass Brand Z contains. At first glance, the ad makes it seem as though it is some new kind of miracle grass. Consumers will only know what it is when the package arrives and they read the seed label. Although named varieties of creeping red fescue are an important component of shade lawn mixtures, they are not good in full sun. Creeping red fescue dislikes heat, humidity and heavy foot traffic. What if all the kids in the neighborhood play on your lawn?

Home gardeners can arm themselves with knowledge about different species of grass and the cultural conditions each species prefers. Then they can make an educated decision about the types of grass that will work best for their site conditions and the way they use their lawns. Avoid buying grass seed if you cannot read the seed label before you buy. How else can you know what you are getting for your money?


September is “Lawn Month”

Seeding along new driveways

Planting a new lawn