How to choose the right seed for your project

Photo: AlasdairJames/E+/Getty Images
Photo: AlasdairJames/E+/Getty Images

There are dozens of questions a lawn care operator (LCO) should ask before choosing turf seed. What type of terrain is the project on? What is the soil like? What kind of seed will grow in your region of the country? What is the site used for? Experts say LCOs should seek to answer those questions, and several others, before choosing a type of seed to use for a project.

Jim Beveridge, owner of Yards Done Right in Westlake, Ohio; Jeremy Bigler, senior brand manager for LebanonTurf; and Brad Farmer, business distribution manager for Pennington Seed, share tips for answering those questions and how to navigate the current seed supply chain issues.

Twenty questions

Jeremy Bigler
Jeremy Bigler

Bigler suggests considering the project’s location, as your USDA plant hardiness zone could eliminate some choices right off the bat.

“Is there a lot of shade, or is it a relatively warm area, like the transition zone? Certain types of grasses do better in those warmer climates,” he says. “Similarly, if you’re looking for cool-season turf in New England, you’ll want a turf that handles cold temperatures or recovers from the winter quicker.”

Once Beveridge, whose company provides services for a 98 percent residential client base, gets his answers to those questions, he’s ready to select the right seed for the job.

Jim Beveridge
Jim Beveridge

“The type of seeding project definitely reflects on our seed selection for most jobs,” says Beveridge. “For instance, I try to use a mix heavy in perennial ryegrass for quick germination and immediate coverage. For a sturdier drought-resistant all-purpose mix, it would be turf-type tall fescue.”

Drought resistance is a highly coveted trait, even more so with water restrictions implemented in parts of the country. Depending on the project, other traits to look for include insect resistance, disease resistance and wear tolerance.

“When selecting a quality seed, we look for a seed that has tested well in national trials and something that is enhanced with endophytes, which give the seed more insect and diseases resistance,” Beveridge says.

The drought effect

The seed industry isn’t immune to supply chain problems, Bigler says. Droughts across the Western U.S. in 2021 — where most seed is grown — have put a strain on the supply.

“This past year’s harvest has been probably one of the worst on record and definitely the worst of the last few decades,” Bigler says. “That’s put a real big crimp in the supply chain as far as availability of seed. So certain types of seed are not as available as others.”

Logistics haven’t helped the seed supply chain either. With most seed being grown out West, shipping to the rest of the country — specifically the East Coast — has taken longer, and as a result, prices have gone up significantly, according to Bigler.

LCOs must plan and place orders ahead of time to ensure they receive seed on time, he adds.

Importance of application

There’s a wide range of ways to apply seed. LCOs have options as simple as hand seeding to ones as advanced as hydroseeding. Like choosing the type of seed, selecting an application method depends on the task at hand.
Beveridge prefers a mechanical broadcast spreader for larger areas and a drop spreader along flower beds and paved surfaces to reduce wasting seed in nontarget areas.

Brad Farmer
Brad Farmer

According to Farmer, mechanical seeding is the most common way he sees LCOs apply seed. Farmer also says, however, that hydroseeding has been on the rise.

“It protects the seed; it keeps the moisture there for the seed,” he says. “You’re starting to see more (hydroseeding) instead of the seed and straw.”

Hydroseeding works by creating a slurry of water, mulch, seed and other amendments. LCOs then spray the slurry onto the site with a hydroseeding machine.

“The mix has everything you need for that yard,” Farmer says. “You’re putting this mulch bed down that has water in it already, and it solidifies the seed and keeps it in one place. So, if you have rainfall or some weather event, you’re not losing all of that seed into the storm drain.”

While hydroseeding is more expensive than traditional broadcast seeding, experts say it is helpful for some LCOs.

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Rob DiFranco

Rob DiFranco is Landscape Management's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Landscape Management, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio.

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