Choosing a grass seed can be tough. Most of us know what we want in a lawn: a lush verdant carpet, laser-edged, and healthy green. But, walking into a local garden center, the average homeowner might be overwhelmed with the variety of available seed. The Kansas City area also has hot summers and cold winters, making choosing between warm and cool season grasses difficult. How do you decide what is best for your lawn? Before you go shopping, consider these factors: location, light, and use.
Turfgrasses can be divided generally into two types: warm season and cool-season varieties. Warm-season grasses, like zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass and buffalograss are ideal for hot, dry weather and do best at temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees. Cool-season grasses, like tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass, are ideal for temperatures in the 60-75 degree range.
Kansas and Missouri are in a transition zone when it comes to turfgrass. Our area is known for summers that tend to be too hot and dry for cool-season grasses and winters that are too harsh for warm season varieties. As a result, cool-season grasses turn brown in summer without irrigation. Warm-season grasses, however, green up much later in Spring than cool-season grasses, and go dormant earlier in the Fall. As a result, most home lawns in our area do best with a Tall Fescue blend, and require irrigation in the hot summer months.
Lawns need light, and determining how much light each area of your lawn receives is the first step in choosing a seed. Turfgrasses love sun, and are in constant stress in shaded areas. Stress makes your lawn more vulnerable to disease and pests. Most turfgrasses need direct sun for most of the day–even shade resistant blends need at least four hours per day. Shade resistant varieties include Fine fescue and Tall fescue. While it is possible to grow turfgrass in full shade, doing so requires constant maintenance and is such a considerable challenge that most homeowners find it more manageable to plant a shade loving groundcover. Use the following guidelines when assessing your lawn:
- Direct sun – 6 hours per day, or dappled sun all day.
- Part shade – at least 4 but less than 6 hours of sun.
- Full shade – less than 4 hours per day, low light, under tree canopies. (It is worth noting that proper pruning may increase available light to turf grasses).
After you determine your available light, consider how you make use of your lawn. Is this a front lawn, primarily ornamental with little foot traffic? If so, a Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, or perennial ryegrass might be a good choice. Is this a recreational area, used for family leisure, pets, and routine foot traffic? If so, ryegrasses are generally tougher than tender bluegrasses. For heavily trafficked play areas, overseed as needed with a tall fescue blend.
Purchase quality or “certified” seed from a reputable retailer, and keep in mind that a blend of grass seed may be the way to go. Lawns with differing species of grasses are more adaptable to the conditions in your yard, and the genetic diversity improves resistance against disease and pests.