Yard & Garden Report


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Selecting lawn seed

Now is the best time of the year to sow grass seed. Learn which grass is best for your landscape.

Grass seedlingsNow though mid-September is the best time of the year to sow grass seed. The ground is warm and the seed will germinate quickly. Weeds are less of a problem in fall-sown lawns since weed seeds rarely germinate this late in the growing season.

The best grass species for North Dakota lawns are Kentucky bluegrass, the fine-leaf fescues, and perennial ryegrass.

Kentucky bluegrass is hardy, durable, and will develop a thick turf. Kentucky bluegrass is the principal component of most quality lawns.

Fine-leaf fescues (hard, chewings red, and creeping red fescues) are hardy and tolerate shade better than bluegrass.

Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly. It can get established in 5 days, compared to 21 days for Kentucky bluegrass. It is a good component of all seed mixes since it can stabilize the soil quickly. Unfortunately, it is marginally hardy and may not survive a brutally cold winter.

Match the grass seed to the environment it will grow in. Key questions include: Is the area sunny or shady? How much care is the lawn going to receive?  Will you accept a good looking lawn or must it be the best lawn in the neighborhood?

For a shady site, make sure the lawn mix specifies it is suitable for shade. These seed mixes will consist of fine-leaf fescues with some shade-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass added.

For sunny sites, the predominant seeds in the mix should be Kentucky bluegrass cultivars. “Improved” varieties respond well to regular fertilization, irrigation and mowing. These varieties are numerous, and most seed mixes sold today include them.

“Common” Kentucky bluegrass varieties adapt well to lawns that are rarely fertilized and irrigated. Varieties include ‘Kenblue’, ‘Newport’, ‘Park’, ‘South Dakota Certified’, ‘Ram I’ and ‘Monopoly’. These varieties will provide a decent, easy-care turf, but lack the vigor and fullness of improved types.

Crested wheatgrass is a popular choice for low-maintenance lawns grown under dry and more saline conditions. Popular cultivars include ‘Fairway’ and ‘Ephraim’. It is often mixed with common Kentucky bluegrass in rural lawn seed mixes. Crested wheatgrass has performed well in NDSU trials in western North Dakota.

Native grasses such as blue grama grass and buffalograss are drought tolerant and slow growing. They require minimal maintenance, but are slow to green up in spring and quickly go dormant in fall.

Stay away from zoysiagrass; it will not survive the rigors of North Dakota. Annual ryegrass will die over its first winter, too. Most tall fescue varieties are too coarse and clumpy for a quality lawn.


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, August 11, 2014. The photos was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographers: David Brookes.


Smith, R. and D. Herman. 1999. Turfgrass establishment and maintenance for home lawns and athletic fields. North Dakota State. University: Fargo.

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