March 1996 - Volume III, Issue 3

It's In The Bag:
(Understanding Turfgrass Seed)

David M. Kopec, Extension Turfgrass Specialist

All to often, homeowners want a quick fix for a chronic or sudden problem with a lawn - and that quick fix is to "put a bag of seed down" to restore it. There are several items to consider regarding seed selection (grass species selection) and seed quality.

Quick Seed - Quick Fix
Homeowners may not be aware of the type of existing grass they have on their lawn and in such cases "lawn grass seed" is the easiest way to re-establish a lawn. Most commercial mixes of this type include a fair amount of any of the following grasses. Annual ryegrass, open pollinated perennial ryegrasses which are either 30 year old varieties, or comprised as no variety at all or variety not stated (VNS). Others include old fashioned tall fescue types (used for both forage and utility turf), and inexpensive common types of Kentucky bluegrass. Most of the seed blends available are actually (and legally) seed mixtures. A mixture is two or more different grass species (e.g., 40% perennial ryegrass, 60% Kentucky bluegrass). A "blend" of turfgrasses is (legally) two or more cultivars (variety names) of the same turfgrass species. An example would be a blend of 20% 'Futura' ryegrass, 20% 'Brightstar' ryegrass, and 60% 'Acclaim' ryegrass. Note that all three components are the same grass species (perennial ryegrass).

Common Seed Mistakes
High altitude (cool season grass areas)

Cool season grasses are best adapted to the higher elevations (4500 ft and above) such as Flagstaff, Prescott, Payson, and Showlow. Other areas (which I call no man's land) can grow either cool season grasses or have bermuda for 4-6 months. Areas such as these include Kingman, Globe, Safford, and the higher elevation areas of Cochise County (Bisbee), the Verde Valley area, and Window Rock.

Mistakes to avoid include the following conditions:

1. Planting these grasses in the heat of the summer (except Flagstaff).
2. Planting these grasses after Thanksgiving Day to patch-up areas which were not in good shape in the fall.
3. Planting very high seed rates by hand to enhance fill in.
4. Planting tall fescue as an overseed in bermudagrass in hopes of a simple conversion to tall fescue.

Common Seed Mistakes
Low altitude (warm season grasses, primarily bermudagrass)

Bermudagrass exists primarily as two types. There are vegetative types which make no pollen or seed. They must be established by vegetative means, such as sod, plugs or stolons. The most frequently used varieties include Tifway, Tifgreen, Santa-Ana and E-Z Turf (Midiron variety). The second type of bermudagrass includes varieties which are available as seed. These include Arizona 'Common' and the newer improved turf-type seeded bermudagrasses. (More on this topic in an upcoming issue).

Mistakes to avoid with bermudagrass seeding include:
1. Trying to establish or reseed weak areas in the early fall. The bermudagrass may emerge and produce short stolons, but does not store a lot of food for the winter, nor have a lot of underground rhizomes.
2. Trying to establish or reseed weak areas in the early spring. The soil temperature is critical for bermudagrass to germinate and emerge quickly. The bermudagrass seed just 'sits' (and may rot) until the soil temperature warms up. A rule of thumb is to plant seed when the night time low air temperature is 60.
3. Seeding 'common' into any of the hybrid bermudagrasses. The resulting area will have a very different appearance than the other vegetative variety.

If you avoid these temptations, you can maintain the integrity of the lawn when you 'do the right thing'. 

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Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, James A. Christenson, Director, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, The University of Arizona. The University of Arizona is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation in its programs and activities.

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