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Schmidt: Time to sow grass seed

By Staff | Aug 29, 2014

Now until Sept. 15 is the best time to sow grass seed. The soil is warm and the seed will germinate quickly. Weed seeds won’t germinate in fall so our lawn seedlings can get off to an unimpeded start. Our young turf will also benefit from the cool temperatures and refreshing dews of autumn nights.

Selecting the right seed can make a big difference. Popular grass types in North Dakota include Kentucky bluegrass, the fine fescues and perennial ryegrass. Each of these types has advantages and disadvantages. Kentucky bluegrass is very hardy, durable, and will develop a thick turf. Most quality lawns in our state (and all sodded lawns) are composed mainly of Kentucky bluegrass. The drawbacks of bluegrass include it cannot tolerate shade or a salty soil.

The fine fescues include chewings red, creeping red and hard fescues. These skinny-leaf types tolerate shade better than bluegrass but are not as vigorous. Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly. It can get established in 5 days, compared to 21 days for Kentucky bluegrass.

The drawback of perennial ryegrass is its marginal hardiness. Since these grasses all have strengths and weaknesses, a blend of grass types will give you the most reliable results. Likewise, a blend of cultivars within these grass types will protect you from diseases and other stresses that may damage one cultivar but not the others in the lawn. You need to match the grass seed to the environment you are growing it in and how you plan on using the lawn.

According to Tom Kalb, NDSU Extension Horticulturalist, many people just want some healthy green grass in the backyard. They don’t want to irrigate the lawn and they don’t want to mow more than once a week. They won’t fertilize their lawn more than once a year; and maybe not at all. This approach to lawn care is called Low Input Lawn Care (LILaC). For a SUNNY area, LILaC gardeners can choose at least a couple “common” Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. Among the most widely available are ‘Kenblue’, ‘Newport’, ‘Park’,’South Dakota Certified’, ‘Ram I’ and ‘Monopoly’. Kentucky bluegrass should be 50-60 percent of the mix. Add a couple cultivars of fine fescue.

Recommended cultivars include ‘Pennlawn’, ‘Dawson’, ‘Cindy’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Jamestown Chewings’, ‘Scaldis’ and ‘Reliant’. Fine fescues make up 20-40 percent of the mix. Every mix will benefit from about 10-20 percent perennial ryegrass. This quick germinating grass will stabilize and shade the soil, helping the other grasses get established. If the lawn is partially SHADY, fine fescue should be the dominant seed in the mix. Kentucky bluegrass will take a lesser role. Add the perennial ryegrass to get the turf off to a strong start.

Some gardeners take lawn care more seriously. They irrigate the lawn all summer and will feed it up to five times a year. They mow it regularly. Under these management conditions, the “improved” Kentucky bluegrass varieties will thrive and give you a thicker, richer green turf than what is possible in a lawn of “common” Kentucky bluegrass.

Most Kentucky bluegrass cultivars not mentioned previously are improved types. A quality fine fescue like ‘Pennlawn’ can be added to the mix (about 25%) and a little perennial ryegrass (about 15%) will nurse the young planting along. As stated earlier, Kentucky bluegrass cannot tolerate salty soil. Crested wheatgrass is a good substitute for Kentucky bluegrass in such soils and for droughty sites.

The most popular cultivars include ‘Fairway’ and ‘Ephraim’. Native grasses such as blue grama grass and buffalograss are low-maintenance and drought tolerant. These grasses will look best in summer, but are slow to warm up in spring and turn yellowish in fall.

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