FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Better Genes = Better Lawns


……. as of 11/21/18, has not been shared with JC / MS

(This post is adapted from an article originally written by David Millar, Red Hen Turf Farm)

Seeding companies usually put in quick germinating ryegrass and fescue, which in the short run pleases the customer with fast growth, but in the long run will disappoint them if they want a lawn with the best possible genetics.

Part of our job at Red Hen Turf Farm is to choose the grass seeds that we will use to form the sod we sell, so we are very familiar with the grasses that are suitable for the Michiana area. Here, we would like to share our experience of selecting grasses with homeowners so they can get the kind of lawn they want.

  1. The Basics
    The appearance of a lawn is determined by the interaction of three things.
    1.) The genetics of the plant.
    2.) How people take care of the grass. This includes soil preparation before establishment, mowing, fertilizing, and especially watering program after establishment.
    3.) The plants reaction to weather conditions, such as temperature, excessive moisture, and humidity.

The first thing a student in an agriculture class in college learns is to start every crop out with seed that has the best possible genetics. Unlike sports players who can give 110%, the best a plant can ever give is 100%. A plant can only look or perform as well as its genetic potential.

A person can have grass with ultra superior genetics, but if the lawn is not installed properly, or not mowed and watered properly, it will not look good. Also, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A person can care for a lawn perfectly, but if the turf has lousy genetics, it will never look GREAT.

The key to a beautiful lawn is to choose grasses that have the best possible genetics, and strive to make the lawn fundamentally healthy by mowing, watering and fertilizing properly. That way the lawn will be less damaged when it is faced with adverse weather and insect attacks. Fundamentally healthy plants are better able to resist disease attacks too. For example, newer varieties of Kentucky bluegrass will not get dollar spot disease if adequate nitrogen levels are maintained. Dropping nitrogen levels leave the plant open to dollar spot attack.

All important turf diseases are caused by different types of fungi. All turf diseases have a narrow range of temperature, moisture, and humidity at which they grow. A week of high daytime and nighttime temperatures along with high humidity will cause an outbreak of several lawn diseases. If a lawn is fundamentally healthy and has grass with disease resistant genetics, the disease attack will be light or absent. If the lawn has susceptible grasses, the disease attack can be severe.

There are four types (species) of grasses most commonly used in this area. Each species has its own set of unique genes that cause the grasses to look and perform quite differently under the same conditions. Here is how each species can be described.

Kentucky Bluegrass:

  • Has the most “sex appeal” of all grasses. It has the darkest green color, most pleasing texture, and thickness people like.
  • Has the widest range of disease resistance of all grass.
  • Looks much better after mowing.
  • Takes about 21 days to germinate and grows slowly for about 6 months.
  • Is not very shade tolerant.
  • Current varieties resistant to red thread.
  • Red Hen’s sod that we grow, harvest and sell the most of if by far our 100% Kentucky Bluegrass Sod


  • Is the group name for several species of fescues, like tall, fine, creeping red, chewings, and hard.
  • Are light green in color and have a narrow leaf blade.
  • Are like the P Ryegrasses in the fact they are more easily affected by diseases (red thread) that are very common during periods of hot weather and high humidity.
  • Generally are believed to have the best shade tolerance of these four grasses.
  • Red Hen grows, harvests, and sells a Red Hen 90/10 Tall Fescue Sod (aka Fescue Sod or Tall Fescue Sod) that has a deeper root system than our Kentucky Bluegrass Sod.  Read more about the differences HERE – Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Red Hen’s Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Red Hen’s Tall Fescue Sod

Perennial Ryegrass (P ryegrass):

  • Has a pale green color.
  • Very susceptible to often-occurring summer leaf diseases like red thread.
  • Very susceptible to a new disease called “gray leaf spot.”
  • Mows poorly. Lawns look almost white after mowing, especially after seed head stage.
  • Germinates fast and grows fast.

Annual Ryegrass:

  • Is a very pale green, ugly, short-lived plant whose only positive attribute is that it germinates quickly.
  • Is a major component of cheap grass seed.

Interpreting the Basics:
Once you understand the basics, you can apply your new knowledge to your lawn.
If I were to establish a plot of each type of these grasses, and have a group of people evaluate them every day of the year, the overwhelming winner would be Kentucky Bluegrass. If the same group were to look at the plots for problems every day, the grass with the fewest complaints would also be the Kentucky Bluegrass.

Kentucky Bluegrass and fine fescues are susceptible to summer patch. Summer patch is a disease caused by the people who care for the lawn because they have caused the lawn to be shallow rooted. Shallow rooting is caused by poor soil preparation, frequent and shallow watering, and improper fertilization. Since there is no perfect grass, selection comes down to this point: Do you want a grass that looks great (bluegrass) and is resistant to a wide range of diseases you cannot prevent and susceptible to a disease you can prevent? Or do you want a poorer looking grass susceptible to a wide range of diseases?

On the right is Kentucky bluegrass, and on the left is a mix of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue. Note how much darker green the bluegrass is. Note the disease spots on the mix of grasses and the absence of disease on the sod.

It is funny how the selection of the species of grasses gets lost in the method of establishing of lawns. In this locale, there are three methods of establishing a lawn, dry seeding, hydroseeding and sodding. For people who are very interested in their lawn, the issue should be in the selection of the species, not the method used in establishing. But, because sod is generally 100% bluegrass, and seed or hydroseed is generally a mix of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue, the method becomes the selection of the grass.

This is a close up of the disease in the seed mix. It is usually not fatal, but is not pretty and appears often.

Sod growers in this area primarily sell bluegrass because it is what most people want.

A hydroseeding company selling a 100% bluegrass blend has a real challenge trying to please their customers. Bluegrass requires a long period to germinate and as a seedling, looks very fragile. These traits do not inspire customer confidence or satisfaction even though the end result would be a beautiful lawn. Seeding companies usually put in quick germinating ryegrass and fescue, which in the short run pleases the customer with fast growth, but in the long run will disappoint them if they want a lawn with the best possible genetics.

The way to have your bluegrass “cake and eat it too” is with sod. Let the sod grower do all the hard work of growing bluegrass, and you can take the credit for knowing how to select a beautiful lawn.


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