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Missouri Environment & Garden


Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 884-8785

Late Winter Seeding for Home Lawns and Selecting Turfgrasses

Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
(573) 884-8785

Published: February 1, 2008

Late Winter Seeding

Late winter seeding techniques can vary depending on which month your seeding occurs. The old remedy of seeding prior to a snowfall does warrant some credibility if done at the right time of the late winter or early spring. This procedure will work from late January through February if there is an excellent chance of getting the seed down to the soil surface. Melting snow will mud-in the seed just enough to achieve germination. This is not necessarily the best method; however germination rates should be sufficient to improve a thinned stand of turfgrass.

A second option is to broadcast seed on mostly bare soil that may have been tilled or loosened the previous fall. This can be done through the month of February when weather conditions will still bring forth a series of freezing and thawing periods. Freezing and thawing of bare soil produces small ice-forming, peaks and ridges in the surface of the soil creating cracks and crevices for seed to fall into and eventually cover with soil. Germination rates for this type of seeding is very good and allows seed to establish very early offering some competition against summer annual grasses and broadleaves.

Normal late winter/early spring seeding practices after the final thaw can involve two procedures. The first includes complete tillage of the area being seeded, however this requires drier conditions for the soil to work. Over-seeding on freshly tilled, graded soil offers a perfect seedbed and only requires minor raking or dragging to work the seed into the soil. Germination should be as complete as the seed label specifies. Straw may be needed to help hold the soil and serve as a little mulch until germination takes off. One bale of straw per 1,000 square feet is recommended on freshly tilled soil.

Seeding with a power-seeder or slit-seeder will plant turfgrass seed without the need for complete tillage. These can be rented at most rental or hardware stores for a nominal fee. They can be used for complete renovation jobs as well as partial renovations on thinned out areas of your lawn. They simply plant seed into a powder seedbed or actually plant the seed into shallow furrows on 3-inch centers. Achieving good seed to soil contact is the most effective way to get complete germination of your seed, as these two techniques perform. These procedures generally do not require the use of straw.

Keep in mind that late winter/early spring seeding may not allow the use of many pre-emergent herbicides (crabgrass preventers) for annual grass control, however there are two that are available. Tupersan (siduron) can be applied at any time seed is planted, but is best with applications during the last week of March through the first two weeks of April even though grass seed may have been planted much earlier. Dimension is a product that can be used for annual grass control (crabgrass, foxtails, etc.) after a new stand of grass has had two mowings. Grass seed planted very early could possibly receive two mowings by mid-April, therefore allowing for an application of Dimension. Many other pre-emergent products require the grass to be well established.

Seed Selection

A quality lawn containing the recommended mixtures of species or blends of turfgrass varieties can be a difficult decision and process. Selecting turfgrasses is dependent on how you manage your lawn and what you expect of your lawn. Managing a lawn involves frequency of mowing, how often you fertilize, will you water your lawn or not and will you use crabgrass preventers and/or products to control turfgrass diseases and insects. Once you know the answers to these questions, you can then decide which specie blend or mixture of species you wish to establish.

All seed bags will have a seed label printed, pasted or sown on the bag. There are several pieces of information on a seed label that needs consideration prior to purchasing the product.

Species name, name of variety, purity, germination, weed seed and noxious weeds should be noted when looking at a seed label. Species name and name of variety will obviously tell you if it is the seed you want. Purity of the seed should be greater than 90%. Germination of the seed should be greater than 85% with a test date no longer than 12 months ago. Two other key pieces of information include the weed seed content and noxious weed percentages. Avoid products containing large amounts of weed seeds such as annual bluegrass or common bluegrass and others; as well as products containing noxious weeds.

Specie Selection

Blends of Kentucky bluegrass look very rich with dark blue-green colors, have pretty good resistance to brown patch disease, however, they do require more inputs of fertilizer and water to maintain that rich cover through the summer months. They are also more susceptible to dollar spot, leaf spot and summer patch diseases. Selecting bluegrass varieties that offer some resistance to some of these diseases is a practical first step in lawn establishment. Bluegrasses do develop tillers and small rhizomes, which allow bluegrasses to recover from thinning or other problems.

Blends of turf-type tall fescues can give deep emerald green appearances with a slightly coarser texture than the bluegrass. They tend to be a deeper rooting plant, therefore requiring less water than the bluegrass. They are not as susceptible to dollar spot and summer patch, but generally will require fungicides for the control of brown patch. There are several varieties of turf-type tall fescues that offer better resistance to brown patch than other varieties, therefore selecting the more resistant varieties will improve turf quality. Tall fescues will tiller to help with recovery, but tend to be clumpy with severe thinning.

Mixtures, such as turf-type tall fescue with bluegrass (90% fescue, 10% bluegrass), combine the advantages of each species to mask the weaknesses of the other. Mixtures with perennial ryegrass should not exceed 20% perennial ryegrass as it is very susceptible to most of the diseases list above. Ryegrass is not very heat or drought tolerant and does not recover from thinning of cover.

Variety Selection

So which varieties do you select once you decide on a blend or mixture? There are many resources available that list turfgrass varieties for Missouri. State turfgrass specialist, MU guide sheets, garden centers and other lawn care experts are good sources for information about turfgrass selections and varieties.

The difficulty for most individuals is trying to find the varieties suggested. Lowe’s, Home Depot, hardware stores and other garden centers cannot carry all of the premium varieties. However, they do carry some acceptable blends and mixtures.

Specific varieties, blends and mixtures available

The number of seed products being sold over-the-counter can be overwhelming to homeowners. However, by looking at the seed tags on products, several can be eliminated immediately. These include products that contain large percentages of ryegrasses. Many of these seed products are packaged for national sales and while they are excellent products for many areas of the country, they are not the best for the type of climate we deal with in Missouri. Concentrate more on the products that are tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass blends or mixtures of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. By doing this the selection choices becomes more narrow and simplified.

Individual varieties (from different venders) of tall fescues can be found locally to create your own blends. Measure equal portions of each variety used and combine thoroughly in a large clean bucket or trashcan. You have now created your own tall fescue blend. Some of the tall fescue varieties available locally include:

Turf-type Tall Fescue VarietyVendor
Falcon IIAce Hardware, MFA
Houndog VMFA
Rebel IIILowe’s
Rebel ExcedaHome Depot

Several pre-packaged blends of tall fescue can also be found. These will generally have some of the better varieties acceptable for Missouri, but it still does not hurt to check those seed tags. These include:

Turf-type Tall Fescue BlendsVendor
RevolutionAce Hardware, Williams Lawn Seed
Winning ColorsLebanon Turf
Pennington (turf-type) Tall Fescue BlendLowe’s and other fine retailers
Rebel Supreme Blend Grass SeedLowe’s and other fine lawn & garden retailers
Rebels EliteHome Depot
Scott’s Classic Tall Fescue BlendLowe’s, Home Depot

The next selections are Kentucky bluegrasses; some may have only a single variety, others are blends. One can always check the seed tag to know what you are purchasing. These products usually offer some of the better varieties acceptable for Missouri as well. They include:

Kentucky BluegrassesVendor
Scott’s Classic Kentucky Bluegrass SeedLowe’s, Home Depot
Pennington Kentucky Bluegrass Lawn Seed BlendLowe’s and other fine retailers
Tournament Quality Kentucky Bluegrass Lawn Seed BlendLowe’s
Pennington Kentucky Bluegrass Penkoted Lawn SeedLowe’s and other fine retailers
Scott’s Turf Builder Kentucky Bluegrass Grass SeedHome Depot

The mixture we discussed with tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass has several nice combinations available over-the-counter. Many venders also feel the 90/10 combination of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass is an excellent choice. Of all mixtures, this is possibly the best for Missouri. Some of these products include:

Tall Fescue/Bluegrass MixturesVendor
Revolution PlusWilliams Lawn Seed
Winning Colors PlusLebanon Turf
Tournament Quality Ultra Premium Fescue Plus Lawn MixtureLowe’s
Pennington Tall Fescue & Kentucky Bluegrass Lawn Seed MixtureLowe’s and other fine retailers
Master Turf Ultimate Blue Lawn Seed MixtureWal-Mart

The above information is intended to make the selection process for turfgrass seed less troublesome and giving you more confidence in your choices. Be sure to always check with your local garden centers first for availability of these products, since all stores do not carry complete product lines.

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REVISED: November 20, 2012