Seed money: Invest now in a healthy, green lawn this summer

Varieties of grass seed fill the shelves at Westlake Hardware at 711 W. 23rd St. in Lawrence.

Pat Groundwater, manager at Westlake Hardware at 711 W. 23rd St., assembles a grass seed spreader at the store.

For most yard types in eastern Kansas, turf-type tall fescue is ideal.

Spring is finally on its way, and with it comes the time to fill in the last few bare spots in the lawn or do the overseeding that you didn’t have time for last fall.

Even though fall is a better time to seed cool-season grasses like Tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, seeding in March and early April typically allows the turf enough time to establish before warmer and more stressful weather arrives.

Generally, researchers recommend seeding prior to mid-April in Kansas to give the grass time to establish. If you plan to use a crabgrass prevention product, read the product label to see how soon it can be used after seeding – you may have to forgo the herbicide application to get good seed germination and establishment.

Deciding what kind of grass seed to buy is even more daunting than knowing when to plant it. At many garden centers, there is a whole aisle or section devoted to bags of grass seed with claims like “superior drought tolerance” and “fast-growing.”

For most yards, turf-type tall fescue is the best choice. In Kansas State University turfgrass evaluation plots, tall fescue shows good drought resistance, heat and shade tolerance, and resistance to disease.

Here’s a little tip that will help you sort out all the sunny and shady mixes: Every bag of grass seed has a label on it that explains its contents. Look past “carefully selected,” “skillfully blended” and take a look at “percent weed seed” and “percent other crop seed”.

If you can, ignore everything on the front of the bag. Forget about the brand name, the company, and the righteous claims. Look instead for that label, usually a four- to five-inch wide white sticker somewhere on the back.

Newer cultivars of turf-type fescue have creative names, so expect the label to list things like Millennium, Inferno, or Avenger tall fescue. There are so many cultivars that are well-adapted to this area that I usually just look for a bag that contains three or four different cultivars mixed together.

Avoid fescue mixes that contain red fescue, chewings fescue, and other fescue varieties. They are not well-adapted to Kansas summers and may fade under heat and drought conditions. Kentucky-31 or K-31, which is also grown in pastures, has poor disease resistance and is not as heat and drought tolerant as the turf varieties that were developed after 1980. K-31 also has a tendency to grow in clumps, giving your lawn an uneven appearance and making mowing more difficult.

Other turf varieties: Kentucky bluegrass grows well in this area too but generally requires more water than tall fescue. Bluegrass is finer-bladed than fescue. Perennial ryegrass is susceptible to some common disease problems in this area and may fade in mid-summer.

Buffalograss, zoysiagrass, and bermudagrass are warm-season turf varieties, meaning that they actively grow in the summer rather than the spring and fall. All are very drought and disease tolerant but do not offer the same appearance as cool-season grasses. These warm-season grasses are best seeded in June.

  • Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. She can be reached at 843-7058.