Planting Grass Seed in Illinois

by Dallas Piscopo

Planting grass seed in Illinois should be done between August 15 and October 1. Seeding in late summer/early fall provides warm soils, cool temperatures, and autumn rains that create a good environment for seed germination. Grass can be established in the spring and early summer but you will have a problem with weeds taking over your lawn. Avoid it if possible. Planting grass in late summer or early fall will produce the thicker, 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.

Kentucky Bluegrass

The primary grass selected and planted in Illinois, especially in the northern areas of the state is Kentucky Bluegrass. 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. Bluegrass is additionally a lot more winter-hardy compared to the remaining lawn types used in Ohio. 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 and time of year. It makes an outstanding athletic field. Bluegrass could be seeded or sodded for establishment. Plant at 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet or 1.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet for over-seeding projects.  Mow at 2 to 3 inches.

Perennial Rye Grass

The majority of the perennial ryegrass used in Illinois lawns is usually blended with a Kentucky Bluegrass variety. Its quick seed germination time works well with the slower 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 nicely in some Illinois lawns.  Seed rye grass at 5 to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. 

Tall Fescue

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 and will stay green for the duration of most Ohio summers without extra irrigation. 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 Illinois 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. Tall fescue should always be planted by itself. Its not compatible with other grass varieties. Seed at 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet under a well prepared soil. 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.

Fine Fescue

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. 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 lawn density. With ideal management, the fine fescues could make an attractive turf for your lawn. In Illinois, fine fescues are seldom seeded by themselves. 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.

Bent Grass

This grass can form an extremely fine-textured, dense and uniform high-quality turf whenever managed properly. Nonetheless, good cultural practices are really pricy and time-consuming, therefore very few homeowners can handle growing a bentgrass lawn. In general, bent grass can mostly be seen on golf courses, and isn’t suitable for home lawns. It doesn’t blend with Kentucky bluegrass and should not be part of a lawn seed mixture.

For detailed information on soil preparation and planting grass seed, click on these links.

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