Lawn renovation begins with grass selection. And in my mind, the best bang for your buck is turf-type tall fescue. It is a well-adapted, cool-season grass for a year-round lawn.
Although Kentucky 31 tall fescue seed (K-31) has been planted for many years, the newer turf-type cultivars far surpass it in quality and desirability. Turf-type tall fescues are denser, finer-textured, darker green and not as prone to clumping as K-31.
Choosing seed can be confusing and sometimes frustrating. Keep in mind though, that a small investment in time and money up front will pay big dividends in the quality of the turfgrass to come.
The current variety recommendations from Kansas State University Research and Extension are taken from the most recent tall fescue trial, which was conducted in the fall of 1996. This trial included the newest cultivars, some holdovers from the 1992 trial and some old standards such as K-31 for comparative purposes.
Based on performance at 13 test sites, the top cultivars are Rembrandt, Plantation, Shenandoah, Shenandoah II, Millennium, Masterpiece, Jaguar 3, Rebel Sentry, Olympic Gold, Scorpion, Southern Choice, Renegade, Genesis, Crossfire II, Pixie E+, Arid 3 and Mustang II.
It's better to purchase or create a blend of multiple varieties to minimize risk of failure and increase turf health. Blending three or four varieties is OK because growth differences among the turf-type cultivars are often subtle. However, their disease and insect resistances vary greatly.
Likewise, there is a tremendous difference between the turf-types and K-31. While K-31 seed is popular for its price and availability, seedlots have been historically contaminated with the perennial weed orchardgrass, which cannot be selectively removed from tall fescue.
Fall seeding greatly increases your chances of success when establishing a cool-season turf. Likewise, purchasing high-quality seed at a premium price will reward you with a healthy, weed-free lawn.
Remember that proper seed bed preparation, seeding rate and seed moisture during germination are also important these first few weeks.
So, if you are like me and must replant your lawn, good luck -- and let's hope for rain.
-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.