Selecting Grass Seed
James A. Murphy, Specialist in Turfgrass Management
[Editors note: The October '98 Gardener gave information on reviving drought damaged lawns. This year reseeding is likely to be needed. The following excerpts from Rutgers Fact Sheet gives general guidance for choosing the best seed. For a copy of the complete fact sheet, which includes a table of suggested seed and seed mixtures for various site conditions and the seeding rate, send a SASE to RCE Hunterdon County, 4 Gauntt Place, Flemington, NJ 08822 or visit the RCE website at and go to the Home Grounds section of the Agricultural Publications.]

One of the most crucial decisions made during the establishment of a turf is the proper selection of seed or seed mixtures. Turfgrasses must be selected according to their adaptation to the particular site and intended use. Improper seed selection and/or poor seed quality will lead to poor turf.

The selection of adapted varieties and mixtures of grasses is an important first step but does not guarantee long term success. In addition to adequate preparation of the seedbed, all lawns require proper maintenance (mowing, watering, fertilization, liming, dethatching, and aeration) in order to maintain turf vigor and reduce the level of stress and pest problems. Even resistant grasses can become susceptible to diseases and insects under poor management conditions such as close mowing, shallow or excessive irrigation, poor drainage, soil compaction, excessive thatch accumulation, and improper applications of fertilizers, lime, growth regulators, and pesticides. The best time to seed cool season grasses is in the late summer or early fall. Spring seeding can also be quite successful, however, preemergence herbicides may be required to control annual weeds (especially crabgrass). Refer to Rutgers Cooperative Extension publication FS584, Seeding Your Lawn, for more information.

Seed Label Information
The seed label provides important information needed to select quality seed or seed mixtures and should be read prior to purchase. All seed sold is required by law to bear a label or tag which indicates the kind and quality of the seed. The basic information found on a seed label includes:

  1. Name and address of labeler.
  2. Kind or kind and variety of turfgrass seed. (kind refers to species of turfgrass)
  3. Percentage by weight of each species (kind) and variety.
  4. Germination percentage and date of test.
  5. Percentage by weight of all weed seeds.
  6. Percentage by weight of other crop seed.
  7. Percentage by weight inert matter.
  8. Lot number.
  9. Name and amount of each kind of noxious weed seed present.

The name and address indicate the party responsible for labeling the container. the commonly accepted names of the turfgrass species (kind) or species and varieties must be listed on each label in order of predominance when present in greater than 5% by weight of the contents.

The percentage by weight of pure seed of each species named must also be listed. The germination percentage for each turfgrass indicates the viability of the seed determined by test samples. The germination test date must be no more than 9 months old at the time of purchase.

The percentage of weed seed should not exceed 1.0% by weight. Undesirable grass seed cannot exceed 0.5% of the seed, but high quality seed contains no undesirable grass species. Seed containing timothy, meadow fescue, orchard grass, tall oat grass, or annual ryegrass is not recommended for use in turf.

The percentage of other crop seed includes all agricultural crop seed present. It is best to select seed free from other-crop seed since most coarse pasture hay grasses are not compatible with desirable turfgrasses. Inert matter refers to all material that is not seed such as chaff. Lot number identifies the original source of seed. Restricted noxious weed seed must be identified and indicates the presence of a difficult to control weed.

Grasses Not Recommended for Lawns
Some "patch kits" or quick establishment seed mixtures intended for repair of damaged areas contain a large percentage of annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass forms a coarse, open turf and will not persist as a permanent turf. Turf-type perennial ryegrass should be used rather than annual ryegrass when rapid establishment and cover is needed to control soil erosion and dust. When rapid establishment is not as critical, the seed used for seeding damaged areas should be matched as closely as possible to the existing turf. This will ensure a uniform appearance between the repaired area and the surrounding turf.

Suggested Seed and Seed Mixtures
Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue are the more traditional species recommended for lawn grasses

Procedures and suggestions to establish or renovate your lawn are described in Rutgers Cooperative Extension Publications FS584, Seeding Your Lawn, and FS108, Renovating Your Lawn.

When using a seed blend or mixture, in order to provide enough diversity, three to five unrelated varieties should be used if possible. This is especially true if Kentucky bluegrass is a component because essentially all of the seeds of a Kentucky bluegrass variety produce genetically identical plants. Using three to five varieties increases diversity and improves the overall resistance to diseases and tolerance to other pest and environmental stresses

Recommendations regarding perennial ryegrass or tall fescue specify "turf-types." This distinguishes between the finer-textured grasses developed for high-quality turf use and the coarser-textured, "pasture-type" grasses such as 'Kentucky 31' and 'Fawn' tall fescue and less-persistent perennial ryegrass such as 'Linn' and 'Nui.' The coarse-textured varieties form an open, unattractive turf.

Fine fescues can be divided into five groups; strong creeping red, slender creeping red, Chewings, hard, and sheep. Sheep fescue is generally used for low maintenance turf or ornamental plantings, and not for highly managed turf. The fine fescues, especially the hard and sheep fescues, perform well under low maintenance conditions. Higher maintenance, including moderate to high levels of nitrogen and close mowing may result in extensive thinning of fine fescue turf, especially during the hot, humid summer months.

High quality seed or seed mixtures that can not be found at your local retail outlet store are generally available at larger landscape/garden centers or through local landscape contractors.