What Type of Grass Seed Should I use for my Lawn?

By Allyn Paul, filed under Lawn Tips.

I get dozens of questions each week through my contact email. By far, the biggest question I get is “What type of grass seed should I use for my lawn?” Below I will list some of the most common and hardy turf grass varieties for lawns in the Midwest, zone 5. (you can stretch them to zones 4 and 6 too)

USDA zonesKeep in mind that there is a difference in adding seed to an existing lawn, filling in bare or thin spots, and starting a lawn from scratch. Whatever you do, never use only one type or species of grass in your lawn. Seed mixtures are best as one will pick up in place of the other during drought, disease or insect pressure. Temps should be above 60 degrees during the day and above 40 at night for best germination.

Kentucky Bluegrass

The primary grass planted in zone 5 is Kentucky Bluegrass.  It’s a quality turf kentucky bluegrass up closegrass and makes a fine, soft textured lawn.  It has the ability to fill-in thin areas without reseeding (a bare spot the size of a basketball will fill in within a couple months with proper watering, mowing and fertilizing).  Newer varieties are more resistant to disease and drought as well.  It performs best in full sun, but can be mixed with a fine fescue for use in shady areas.  Bluegrass can take several weeks or more to germinate and establish depending on site conditions, so be patient and keep it moist.

If you use fertilizer with iron in it, your Bluegrass will turn a true “blue” color. Bluegrass can be seeded or sodded for establishment.  90% of sod you purchase from nurseries is mostly bluegrass.

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial Rye is the ultimate companion grass. It mixes and blends in with almost any lawn. Most of the perennial ryegrass used in lawns is in a mix of Kentucky Bluegrass or Turf Type Tall Fescue.  Its fast establishment time works well with the slower establishment time of Bluegrass and Tall Fescue.  It is also a fine textured grass that does well during drought. It is not as cold tolerant as Bluegrass but will survive just fine. This is why I always recommend seed blends!

Fine Fescues

Red, hard and chewings fescues are all used throughout the midwest.  Their primary use is in blends with either Tall Fescue or Kentucky Bluegrass on shady lawns.  While they can be planted alone, usually they are a part of a mix.  Creeping Red is the most popular of the varieties because it looks best as turf.  Hard & chewings are used in blends for areas in which increased shade or bad soil types are more of a problem. Here is an article on testing your soil and lime treatments. In addition, there is the Eco Lawn Fescue seed available that can be grown in shade or sun with similar astounding results. It is a good choice if you are unsure of your lawn’s sun and shade content.

turf type tall fescue grass Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue is a cool season grass with a coarser, wider blade texture.  Leaves usually range as wide as 1/4 inch (like the cultivar called ‘Kentucky 31′), though most modern varieties are finer leaved (’Armada’ is a cultivar that is softer and thinner, see pictures here of Armada Tall Fescue).  It has increased in popularity in the midwest due to its good drought and heat tolerance allowing the turf to stay green in hot summers that usually send bluegrass into dormancy.  It is often used on home lawns, roadsides, parks and playgrounds. If you are looking for a turf type tall fescue seed that is both drought tolerant and softer under foot, the Eco Lawn Fescue seed is your best bet.

Turf Type Tall Fescue is very susceptible to leaf spot fungus in later Spring and rust fungus is summer. However, proper soil pH can reduce the effects and help it recover. My lawn is a mixture of Tall Fescue (Armada) and Perennial Rye. I apply a granular fungicide once per year to reduce disease in my lawn. I am also careful to only water my lawn in the mornings before 9AM. In addition, when disease is present, I catch my clippings instead of mulching so as not to spread the fungus.

Zoysia Grass

zoysia grass up close(disclaimer: I do not recommend using this grass anywhere in the Midwest because it will not green-up until early June… but if you must…)

Zoysia Grasses are grown successfully from Northern Georgia to Northern Illinois.  Zoysia makes a beautiful, thick lawn with a medium textured leaf.  There are several lawns in Chicagoland that have been seeded or plugged with Zoysia and they do just fine.

Zoysia grass originated from areas in Southeast Asia, China and Japan. It is a low growing, creeping grass, heat resistant, and crunchy under bare feet. Zoysia is slow to establish but aggressive and chokes out weeds and doesn’t get grubs. Once it’s established, it’s extremely thick!

Final notes

If you are starting a lawn from scratch, you can do like I did and use Turf Type Tall Fescue mixed with Perennial Rye. If you are seeding bare spots and are not sure what grass types your existing lawn contains, choose a seed with bluegrass and rye grass mixed and you’ll be just fine. Never buy anything labeled “quick grow” as this is oftentimes made up of annual grasses that die after the first season.

If you are doing a general overseeding after aeration, you can add a mix for sun or shade. It’s a good idea to add new cultivars to older lawns to improve their resilience.

If your lawn is bluegrass, DO NOT add tall fescue to it as the fescue will stick up above the rest and look funny.

For information on overseeding or reseeding your lawn, see this article: How to seed your lawn.

This has been another lawn tip delivered by Life and Lawns. Tell a friend!


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21 Responses to “What Type of Grass Seed Should I use for my Lawn?”

  1. Hans Says:
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    Why are you telling people to seed aeration? In the areas around Philadelphia, PA where we have to do several passages with the aerator because our soil is nothing but clay, not percolation, we would loose a huge amount of seed into the deep holes.

  2. Allyn Paul Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    Hi Hans, in the Chicago area, we also have clay based soil.
    I have done thousands of overseeds and very little of the seed actually “falls into the holes”
    Most of it gets stuck just below the thatch layer where it contacts the top of the soil and stays moist. (you only get about 15% germination in the best case scenario when seeding an existing lawn)
    I always do double-pass on my aerations.
    FYI–if seed does fall in the holes (which are no more than 2″ deep in most cases), that’s a good thing because that is the ultimate in seed-to-soil contact.
    Please feel free to comment often, you are welcome here.

  3. BigPappa Says:
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    Sweet. Seriously though, do you use tall fescue on anything??

    Is it weird that I am into grass this much?

  4. Allyn Paul Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    Better sweet than sour! ;)
    Turf Type Tall Fescue is an excellent choice for lawns. There is, however, clumping tall fescue that grows in lawns and it is undesireable.
    If you buy tall fescue seed in the store, it will be the turf type and not the clumping type.
    I am glad you are into grass BiG Pap! Me too!

  5. How to seed and fill in bare and thin spots in your lawn | Life and Lawns Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] “Grass seed types for your lawn” [...]

  6. Growing Grass in High Traffic Areas | Life and Lawns Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] The other side of the equation is keeping the turf itself healthy under stress. I would recommend using Turf Type Tall fescue blended with perennial rye grass. Tall fescue is a bit more coarse than bluegrass and stands up to a beating a little better. If you lived further south, I’d recommend Zoysiagrass, but where you live, it will stay dormant until later May. If you can live with brown grass until May, then go for Zoysia. (but I think the Tall Fescue will do just fine) Here’s a great article on grass seed. [...]

  7. Protecting your turf and landscape from winter salt damage | Life and Lawns Says:
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    [...] Here’s a great article on lawn grass seed. [...]

  8. Landlocked Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    Do you have any knowledge of EcoLawn from Wildflower farms in Canada. I live in the Chicago area and I am going to start from scratch on my lawn and thought that this looked intriguing. Thanks.

  9. Allyn Paul Says:
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    LandLocked– I have seen the Google ads for the ecolawn fescue and I have been on their site. I agree that the seed they sell looks interesting but I have never used it.
    I also don’t know what the cost is, but I would not pay more than $4.50 per pound.
    Hope that helps you and good luck.

  10. common grasses on midwestern lawns Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    [...] turf grass varieties for lawns in the Midwest, zone 5. you can stretch them to zones 4 and 6 too …http://lifeandlawns.com/2008/02/26/what-type-of-grass-seed-should-i-use-for-my-lawn/What Type of lawn grass is most common in the Triangle? Raleigh …What Type of lawn grass is most [...]

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    [...] You can also find information on which type of grass seed to buy here. [...]

  12. jessica Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    i was wondering what kind of grass seed we should use for our yard? we live in alabama around the montgomery area and our front yard consist mostly of hard red clay. our back yard is plentiful with grass, in fact it grows very thick, but we just cant get anything to grow over the front. what type of grass should we use and how should we go about doing it? thank you.

  13. Basic Lawn Tools For A Well Manicured Lawn | Review of Information about Landscaping Says:
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    [...] Haneson offers lawn tips about Choosing Grass Seed and Planting Grass Seed over at his blog, Life and [...]

  14. Simple Lawn Tips For September | Home Improvements & Repairs Says:
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    [...] you aerate the lawn, lay down some fresh ecolawn grass seed. We want a general over-seeding that will add fresh cultivars to the lawn that are more disease and [...]

  15. Diy Lawn Tips For Fall Time | Garden Resources Says:
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    [...] you aerate the lawn, lay down some fresh ecolawn grass seed. We want a general over-seeding that will add fresh cultivars to the lawn that are more disease and [...]

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    [...] Seed For Fall After you aerate, you should spread out some fresh grass seed. We want a general over-seeding that will add fresh Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Rye to the [...]

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    [...] If you have big bare spots in the lawn, here is an article on seeding bare spots in the lawn. I also have an article that tells you what type of grass seed to use. [...]

  18. Basic Lawn Tools For A Well Manicured Lawn « Information Warehouse Says:
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    [...] Haneson offers lawn tips about Choosing Grass Seed and Planting Grass Seed over at his blog, Life and [...]

  19. Grasshopper Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    I plan to overseed this fall with tall fescue, because I like the low maintenance and water requirement. Living in lower Michigan. How can I finf out what variety isn’t clumping.

  20. Allyn Says:
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    buy something labeled “turf type tall fescue” and you will be fine!

  21. Wdoug Says:
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1

    We have made a new lawn and used seeds labelled “contractors blend”. I live in a cool zone ( PA). The new grass is about 5-6 weeks old but seems very very soft and hard to cut. Could it be that the grass is still young and may toughen up after cutting and cutting? the blades seems very fine and easy to dry. Any advise?

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