When planting grass seed in Virginia, choosing the right grass to plant is the first and most crucial step. No one type of grass is best suited for all situations and many factors need to be considered before deciding on which grass seed type to plant. The most important factor to consider should be in what region of Virginia you plan to establish your grass lawn.
West of the Blue Ridge mountains, cool season grasses will be best suited which include varieties such as, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, and perennial ryegrass. These grasses are best established when planted between August 31st and October 10th. These grasses can be established in the spring and early summer but weeds overgrowing your grass will be a problem. Planting grass in late summer or early fall will produce a thicker and denser grass lawn. Lawns seeded within a week of Labor Day are more likely to fill in completely for winter and produce a thicker turf appearance for the following spring compared to lawns seeded in late fall. It is a common practice to plant 2 or 3 different cool season grass in a blend for grass diversity. Keep in mind that tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are not compatible with each other and should never be planted together as a blend.
Warm season grasses like bermuda grass and zoysia grass can be planted in the southern Virginia regions of Piedmont and also the Tidewater areas. These grasses should be planted in late spring / early summer after soil temperatures are 65-70+ degrees or higher and all danger of freeze or frost is past.
Kentucky Bluegrass can produce a high quality, medium to fine-textured turf when grown in the right climate. Kentucky bluegrass is the most cold tolerant of the grasses and will grow best in the cooler mountainous regions of Virginia. It is considered the best quality turf grass and makes a fine textured lawn. It includes the ability to fill-in damaged parts without needing to reseed. Newer varieties will be more resistant against diseases. It performs best in full sun, but could be mixed with a fine fescue to use in shady areas. Bluegrass might need one to three months to germinate and establish, based upon site conditions. It makes an outstanding athletic field. Bluegrass could be seeded or sodded for establishment.
Good soil preparation is very important when planting Kentucky bluegrass seed. (Visit the soil preparation and planting grass seed page for detailed instructions.) Seeding rates range from 1 to 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet and Kentucky bluegrass grows best when mowed at a height of 2 to 3 inches.
Tall fescue has been used traditionally for a low-maintenance grass in places that a coarser texture is not a concern. Tall fescue can handle soils low in nutrients, grows well under low maintenance and features good tolerance to insects and diseases. Tall fescue seed germinates and establishes rapidly but a bit slower than perennial ryegrass. When fully established, tall fescue has outstanding wear tolerance and due to its deep rooting system, tolerates drought. Tall fescue seedlings will not be cold-tolerant and can die if planted too late in the season. However, well-established seedlings and fully developed lawns will withstand most Virginia winters.
Tall fescue grows rapidly and needs frequent mowing, especially during the summer. Mow frequently making sure not to cut off more than one third of the grass height which will prevent unsightly scalping of your grass. Seed at 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet under a well prepared soil. When planting grass seed, it is highly recommended to seed two or even three different tall fescue cultivars. This expands the genetic diversity which gives your lawn a better chance against a variety of different diseases and pests. Apply 1-1.5 lbs/1,000 sq ft of nitrogen in September and November and in May only apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
Red, hard and chewings fescues are fine-leaved turfgrasses that are suited well for conditions of shade, low soil moisture, low fertility, and soils with unfavorable pH levels. The fine fescues will need well-drained and somewhat dry soils with minimal amounts of management. Extra applications of fertilizer, frequent irrigation or establishment on poorly drained soils can lead to a drop in quality and plant body. With ideal management, the fine fescues could make an attractive turf for your lawn. In Virginia, fine fescues are seldom seeded by itself. Fine fescues are commonly found in mixtures with the other cool-season turf grasses on low maintenance or shady lawns. Plant at 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet and maintain mowing height between 3 and 4 inches.
The majority of the perennial ryegrass used in Virginia lawns is usually blended with a Kentucky Bluegrass variety. Its quick establishment time frame works well with the reduced establishment time of Bluegrass. It’s also a fine textured grass much like Bluegrass with good drought tolerance. Not necessarily as cold tolerant as Bluegrass but can fit well in some Virginia lawns. Planting rate should be between 8 and 12 lbs per 1,000 square feet.
Bermuda grass is a fine-bladed grass that grows aggressively and strongly bonds to the soil surface via surface runners with stolons and underground rhizomes. Bermuda grass will grow best in your warmer southern and coastal regions of Virginia and all varieties require sun and should be cut as low as possible (Some hybrid Bermudas can be mowed as low as 1/2 inch if using a reel-type mower). Bermuda grass looks best when thatch growth is managed well. Because of its vigorous growth, bermuda grass is extremely drought, heat, salt, and traffic tolerant. There are many seeded varieties of bermuda but all hybrid varieties must be established from vegetative plant parts (sod, stolons, and plugs), and not from seed.
If using a seeded variety, bermuda grass should be planted starting in mid-May and can be continued all the way up to July. Seeding rate should be planted at 1.5 – 2.0 pounds per 1,000 square feet. During the summer growing season, apply 2 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square for low maintenance lawns and for a darker and greener bermuda lawn, apply up to 4 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. (Keep in mind that the more nitrogen applied, the faster bermuda grass will grow and the more it will need to be mowed.) To maintain a green lawn all year round, you can over-seed bermuda grass in the fall with perennial ryegrass or a bluegrass. Visit this over-seeding page for more information.
Zoysia grass may be hard to establish because of it slow growth and having a long dormant season, but once established, it can make a wonderful fine-textured turf cover. It can be established by vegetative parts and by seeds. Zoysia grass is suited well for the south eastern coastal region of Virginia. The most common zoysia is a low maintenance turf grass whose leaf texture is like that of bermuda grass and like bermuda grass, forms stolons and rhizomes. Mow at ¾ to 1 ¼ inch. Zoysia leaves and stems are strong and rigid which enables it to handle a good deal of traffic when it is growing well during the hot summer season. With little water required, zoysia grass can grow well during the summer because of it’s heat and drought tolerance. It is more shade tolerant than bermuda grass but only in areas where it is warm year round. Zoysia grass suits well with low maintenance lawns where slow establishment is not a concern.
Visit the Planting Grass Seed page for detailed instructions on how to correctly plant these grass varieties mentioned above!