There are new products on the market every year. This year, the new lure is grass seed mixes that claim to thrive in any condition — sun, shade, heat — and stay lush and green all season long.
Some of the seeds are fused with fertilizer, and are advertised as needing no additional fertilization during the growing season.
Water absorbent coatings are also added to the seeds, so that less water is needed for the emerging lawn.
Will they work? Water absorbent coatings on seeds will only help during seed germination. However, once the seeds have germinated, the seedling grass plants will get water through their developing root systems. Whatever was on the seed can’t help very much at this time. If you plant coated seeds, you will still have to water your lawn during the grow-in phase if it doesn’t rain.
Same thing goes for fertilizer coatings. The amount of fertilizer you can put on a seed is relatively small, and will only feed the seeds for a few weeks. It may help with quicker initial growth, but to sustain the grow-in, you’ll need to add more nitrogen a few weeks after the plants emerge.
Another important note about seed blends like this is that often they contain cool-season grasses, which are only marginally adapted for Southeastern summers.
Most sun and shade mixes contain a mix of creeping red fescue with other fescues, Kentucky bluegrass and/or perennial ryegrass. These are going to be hard to establish in the spring in Alabama, since it will be too hot for optimal growth before they get a chance to fully establish.
If you really want to use cool-season grasses, I recommend planting them in the fall, not April or May.
And if you’re looking for an easy lawn for sun and shade with no fertilizing or watering, you may need to go with artificial turf.
Grass by region
If you need to establish or re-establish a lawn, first consider the type of lawn you want to grow. Do you want high-maintenance bermudagrass? Or maybe lower maintenance centipedegrass?
A few different turfgrasses are recommended for home lawns in Alabama: bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipede, St. Augustine, tall fescue and heat tolerant bluegrass. (These grasses are not recommended for all areas and all situations, though.)
In northern Alabama, turfgrasses that grow well include heat-tolerant bluegrass, bermudagrass, tall fescue and zoysiagrass. Centipedegrass and St. Augustine do not do as well in north Alabama, where winter temperatures often cause killing injuries to the lawn.
Down in central and southern Alabama, you may find the heat too much for tall fescue and heat-tolerant bluegrass. But centipedegrass and St. Augustine do better with the milder winters.
Grass by season
Grasses can also be separated into groups based on the time of year they grow.
Tall fescue and heat-tolerant bluegrass are cool season grasses. They look their best in the cool temperatures of fall, winter and early spring. During the warmer months, these grasses may become thin, heat-stressed and brown until the cooler temperatures come back around.
Most lawns in Alabama are warm season grass lawns: centipede, bermudagrass, zoysiagrass and St. Augustine.
Sun or shade?
Now that the typical lawn grasses have been divided by region and season, let’s divide them into sun/shade grasses.
The easy answer is: All of these grasses grow in full sun.
Bermudagrass needs full sun. Centipede and zoysiagrass need full sun.
While some zoysiagrass is somewhat shade-tolerant, underneath the canopy of trees is too much shade.
Shade-tolerant means the grass will tolerate a little bit of shade. It doesn’t mean that the grass grows well in the shade.
St. Augustine and tall fescue will grow in shady conditions. Again, full shade may not be the optimum area, but they can survive.
Danielle Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.