Lawn seed: choose the right one

Replacing your lawn with native plants, a natural meadow, or edible landscaping are all good ideas but what if you just like looking at green grass outside your window?

If you want a lawn, you want one that is lush and green at the lowest environmental cost. That's not always easy to accomplish, but planting the right kind of seed for your lawn's growing conditions is a step in the right direction.

"What seed mix you use depends a lot on soil type, the location and [whether] it's a high traffic area," says Darwin Cloud of Cloud Landscaping Maintenance in Medford.

A green strip for accent that won't be walked on requires different grass than a play area. Some grasses need full sun, some will grow better in part shade, and some mixes claim to cover both conditions.

"Avoid any mixes that have annual rye in them," says Pam Rouhier, lawn and garden advisor at Medford's South Grange Co-op. "Annual rye only lasts one season. It dies off, but it is [sometimes] used as cheap filler."

Because we have hot dry summers but cold winters, no one type of grass will produce the year-round green most people want, although dwarf tall fescue does very well in the Rogue Valley. Dwarf tall fescue is both cold and shade tolerant, can be walked on, and tends to stay green all year. It also resists most insects and diseases. Fescues go dormant when temperatures are above 90 degrees or below 50, so it is essential to get the lawn well established in the window between these extremes.

"Once established it develops a very deep root system and needs much less water," Rouhier says. "I water mine every three weeks for two hours." More frequent watering will be necessary if you have a granitic soil type, which drains very quickly.

Another good choice for our area is a blend of perennial ryegrasses, or ryegrasses mixed with dwarf tall fescue. Perennial ryegrass lives on from year to year, unlike the annual variety that dies in winter. These perennial ryegrasses are cool season grasses that originated in Europe, but various varieties have adapted well to our climate. They are very wear tolerant, so make good lawns for play areas. They tolerate shade, are weed and disease-resistant and grow quite rapidly.

Kentucky bluegrass is another cool season grass, and is often mixed with perennial ryegrass for lawn mixtures. It is winter hardy and can survive summer heat if irrigated. Kentucky bluegrass spreads from underground rhizomes, which allows it to fill in bald patches easily, and many of the newer developed cultivars are very disease-resistant. Don't use it for shady areas, as it requires full sun.

When the package says "shade tolerant," it doesn't mean full shade. Rouhier says nothing really grows well in full shade. Most grasses need four hours of direct sunlight a day.

Chewing fescue, red fescue and creeping fescue (also known as fine fescues) will also often be included in mixes for our area. They don't tolerate a lot of traffic, but do tolerate shade, drought and aren't fussy about soil types. However, they don't pair well with Kentucky bluegrass.

Watering and fertilizing properly for the types of seed you have planted is essential, Rouhier says. Whatever mix you purchase, read the package and follow maintenance directions exactly.

That's the first step to seeing green.


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