Grass Seed 101

posted by Randy Lemmon -

St. Augustine seeding

When first-time homeowners or transplants from other states first see their St. Augustine lawns going to seed, they typically have one of three reactions.

  1. Excitement, thinking the seeds will help thicken up the lawn. (It won’t.)
  2. Wondering if it’s anything to worry about. (It’s not.)
  3. Pondering a harvest of the seeds to use elsewhere. (Don’t bother.)

St. Augustine grass (above) can produce seeds at various times of the year. In Houston, it's normally June. Some say the phenomenon is related to the calendar, happening during the longest days of the year. I've also seen research suggesting it happens in the summer because that’s when lawns are subjected to lots of stress. And some propose that it only happens on St. Augustine lawns that are younger than three years old.  

In any case, there really isn't anything you can do to stop it. And since the seeds are sterile, they won't propagate on their own. So, mulch-mowed seeds will not enhance lawn growth.

All this applies to Bermuda grass (below) as well. It goes to seed consistently in May or June. With Bermuda, though, the process produces what look like little inverted umbrella skeletons. All bored little-leaguers seem to pluck taller stalks from the ball field to stick between their gapped teeth.

Bermuda seeding

If you’re worried that stress might cause your lawn to go to seed, just follow my schedule, mow tall, and make sure there is no drought damage.  If the grass looks otherwise healthy, then just write any seeding off to it being “that time of the season” or having a very young lawn.

And while we are on the subject of Bermuda seed, let me remind you not to get sucked in by grass seed advertisements.  They tend to pop up on late-night television and on the internet. 

In 2016, I offered this advice:

There really are only three grasses that work consistently during the spring, summer and fall in Texas: Bermuda, St. Augustine and Zoysia. I'm bringing this up because of the prevalence of Scott's grass seed for sale right now in the Houston market. Plus, there will certainly be a new seed mass-marketed, (especially on cable TV) like last year's Grassology. The year prior, it was Patch Perfect. And back when I first started hosting GardenLine, there was one known as Canadian Green. Do not be taken in by the "sounds too good to be true" marketing of such grass seeds.

The simple fact is that almost no grass seed other than Bermuda will work in Southeast Texas - definitely not blends of fescues, bluegrasses and ryes. Winter rye is an exception - it will work as winter cover, but, I don’t recommend that either.  While Scott's does sell a Bermuda seed — in fact, possibly a more scientifically developed Bermuda — they also have scores of fescues and likely some bluegrasses and ryes. Scott's Bermuda is usually quite good at germination, because it's been developed to germinate with scant moisture. But, please read the label carefully if you buy any Scott's seed.  The seed content is listed, just like active ingredients on a pesticide label.  And unfortunately, the big box stores and other mass merchandisers rarely ever stock seed designed for Southeast Texas.  More importantly, Bermuda’s best germination time is the end of April through July 1, so we’re really running out of time for 2018. 

And here’s another thing to consider: There's really little difference between one Bermuda seed and another, and the Bermuda seed sold at local nurseries and feed stores is radically cheaper than the stuff you’ll find at national chain stores. Some bags of seed claiming "water-smart engineering" or a coating of fertilizer can cost over $150 per bag, while a five-pound bag of common Bermuda at independent feed stores is often less than $20. And it only takes about two pounds to properly cover 1,000 square feet.

And don't be fooled by claims that any Bermuda seed will work in shade. It won’t. Only some Zoysia grasses and very, very few St. Augustines have a fighting chance in shadier environments.

And by the way, Zoysia and St. Augustine grasses are not sold as seed, only as solid sod.

So, the bottom line is Bermuda is the only grass we can grow from seed in Southeast Texas. If you want it to germinate properly, it has to make contact with dirt, and should be sown by the end of June.  Just don’t be suckered into buying some nationally advertised grass seed that won’t work here.

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