Seeds 4 Thought…Drew Kinder’s seed blog


Seed Customizer Mixes in Spring of 2008
July 10, 2008, 3:26 am
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Here are some really interesting seed mixes and blends created using the Seed Customizer program in the spring of 2008.

I do not intend to rank them.  Every custom mix is as good as the next, so they are all tied for first place in my opinion.  My policy is to never ship a seed mix that I would not plant on my own lawn, assuming I lived in the same zip code as the customer.  If I do not like a mix, which is very rare, I will call the customer to discuss it.  In the eight year history of SeedSuperStore.com I have never failed to reach agreement on a suitable custom mix.

Timothy J., Marquette Heights, IL ……..Shady but Spreading Mix

  • 20% Brilliant Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% A-34 Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% Celestial creeping red fescue
  • 20% Intrigue chewings fescue
  • 20% RaZor creeping red fescue

I like this mix because Timothy combines scientific evaluation with old fashioned instinct to solve his shade problem. 

Three of the components of his custom mix are improved cultivars of species with known shade tolerance (Celestial and Razor creeping red fescue and Intrigue chewings fescue).  Kentucky bluegrass is not particularly shade tolerant, but Brilliant has the highest shade tolerance rating of any bluegrass, and it spreads.

Finally, Timothy added 20% A-34 Kentucky bluegrass to his “Shady but Spreading” Mix.  A-34 is a legendary variety that predates the NTEP evaluation program, so we can’t statistically compare it to newer bluegrasses.  A-34 was made famous by Warren’s Turf Nurseries in Illinois and many homeowners in the Chicago area have had great luck with it.  I suspect Timothy is one of them, or the son of one of them.

Jonathan G, Roslyn, NY ………

Backyard Fescue Blend

  • 60% Inferno tall fescue 
  • 20% Justice tall fescue
  • 20% 2nd Millennium tall fescue

Front Lawn Bluegrass Blend

  • 30% SS1100 Bluegrass blend
  • 20% Midnight II Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% Moonlight Kentucky bluegrass
  • 30% Bedazzled Kentucky bluegrass

April ’08 Maine Mix

  • 20% Jasper II creeping red fescue
  • 20% Longfellow II chewings fescue
  • 40% Intrigue chewings fescue
  • 20% Oxford hard fescue

As you can see, Jon is a great believer in the Seed Customizer program.  The Maine Mix is for a lakeside cottage where he is limited in his use of fertilizer and herbicides.

Jon and I communicate by phone and email so frequently, I feel like I know his lawn as well as he does.  Since his first order in the fall of ’07 we have exchanged over a dozen emails.  We talk about weeds, spreading tall fescue, herbicide tolerance and just about anything that helps Jon create a perfect lawn. 

Jon was nice enough to send me this photo of his front lawn 51 days after seeding with his custom bluegrass blend.

Jon\'s bluegrass front lawn 51 days after planting

Jon"

 Jason D, Norman OK ……DixonKBGFY08 Blend

  • 30% Bedazzled Kentucky bluegrass
  • 30% NuDestiny Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% Midnight II Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% Fahrenheit 90 Hybrid bluegrass

Jason obviously studied up on bluegrass.  His blend combines three great Kentucky bluegrasses with Fahrenheit 90, the new heat tolerant bluegrass, which is designed to tolerate hot summers in Oklahoma.

Jason S, De Pere WI …………Campground Mix II  

  • 20% Paragon GLR perennial ryegrass
  • 20% Garnet creeping red fescue
  • 30% Gotham hard fescue
  • 30% Brilliant Kentucky bluegrass

Three of these components were added to our product list this spring and Jason wasted no time including them in a really superior shade mix for his campground.

Mark S, Marshalltown IA …….. Markie’s Customer Selected Shade Mix

  • 20% Spartan II hard fescue
  • 20% Longfellow II chewings fescue
  • 20% Zodiac chewings fescue
  • 20% America Kentucky bluegrass
  • 10% Jasper II creeping red fescue
  • 10% Oxford hard fescue

Mark even mentioned the type of trees (black walnut) this mix is planted under.  He clearly subscribes to the theory of genetic diversity in his custom shade mix.

Daniel M, State College PA ….. NTEP Nuglade-Bluegrass-Fescue Mix

  • 20% Award Kentucky bluegrass
  • 30% Nuglade Kentucky bluegrass
  • 10% Spartan hard fescue
  • 20% Zodiac chewings fescue
  • 20% Midnight Kentucky bluegrass

I include Dan’s mix because I share his view of the appropriateness of mixing fine fescue with Kentucky bluegrass.  There are some self-appointed turfgrass experts on several internet lawn chat boards who decry this combination as ignorant.  “Fine fescue and bluegrass don’t mix”, they say. 

I disagree, and so does Dan.  In a yard with variable sun/shade conditions, the fine fescue component of the mix may prevent a bare spot in the shadiest areas.  In the full sun areas, the three Kentucky bluegrass cultivars will be so lush and rich during the growing season, you probably won’t notice the fine bladed hard and chewings fescue.

Years ago I planted a test plot of every turfgrass variety we sold at Kinder Seed Company in Buffalo.  One thing I learned from that plot is how much earlier the fine fescues break winter dormancy and green up compared to the elite Kentucky bluegrasses.  I suspect Dan’s lawn in State College will green up earlier than his neighbors who have 100% bluegrass sod.

Ken K, Hartford WI ……… Ken’s Special Red Thread Blend

  • 50% Dynamo Kentucky bluegrass
  • 50% Bedazzled Kentucky bluegrass

Ken did his homework to select two Kentucky bluegrass cultivars with above average red thread disease resistance.  After Ken created this custom blend we added Brilliant Kentucky bluegrass to our product list.  Brilliant has even higher red thread resistance than Dynamo and Bedazzled, so I suspect if Ken reorders next year his new custom blend will include Brilliant as well.

Mike E, Pittsfield MA …… Mike’s Backyard Blend

  • 40% Moonlight Kentucky bluegrass
  • 30% Bedazzled Kentucky bluegrass
  • 20% Award Kentucky bluegrass 
  • 10% Blue Velvet Kentucky bluegrass

Mike is another serial custom mixer.  He started with this mix and reordered several times this spring, finally settling on a 70% Moonlight/30% Award blend.  It’s a shame Mike’s lawn is not visible from the street.  It has to be one of the finest lawns in all of Pittsfield MA.

Michael L, Stillman Valley, IL ……. and every other customer who uses 10 different varieties in their custom mix.

Measuring out ten separate components and labeling a 10 pound custom mix is kind of a pain for me, but I love it when customers do it.  It proves you are paying attention to the differences between varieties and taking full advantage of our extensive product selection.

Jim W, Medford NJ …….. 

Front Yard

  • 30% Jamestown V chewings fescue
  • 20% Midnight II Kentucky bluegrass
  • 50% SS8000 hard fescue blend

Back Lawn

  • 80% SS1001 Brown Patch Blend
  • 10% Total Eclipse Kentucky bluegrass
  • 10% Midnight II Kentucky bluegrass

Jim is a long time acquaintance from the 1980’s when he worked for Cornell Co-operative Extension in Rochester NY.  In New Jersey he obviously has different growing conditions in his front and back lawns. His custom mixes combine our specialized blends with adapted varieties to solve problems and maximize the beauty of his entire yard.

I apologize for leaving out all the other really great custom mixes that have come across my laptop computer this spring.  As I said, there is no such thing as a bad custom mix at SeedSuperStore.com.  I just ran out of room to mention them all.

 

Drew Kinder

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Top 10 List of Seed to Avoid In 2008
July 4, 2008, 8:40 pm
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How would you feel if you bought a box of Raisin Bran cereal and later found it was filled with bite size Shredded Wheat?

That’s how I feel when I examine packages in the lawn seed departments at the large national brand stores in Buffalo, NY.

The lawn seed industry has lost its way.  Some large seed companies focus almost entirely on beautiful packaging pronouncing outlandish claims of quality and performance.   The result is an exercise in marketing that has almost no basis in fact.

How do I know this? After 28 years in the lawn seed business I know how the system works.  More importantly, I know how it can be done differently, which is the way we do it at SeedSuperStore.com.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not begrudge the industry for selling inexpensive seed that satisfies the expectations of many customers.  What I object to are the exaggerated quality claims used to convince homeowners they are buying seed that will produce the highest quality lawn.

Here is how it works:

At one end of the lawn seed pipeline are the plant breeders, a small and dedicated group of scientists who devote 7-10 years of their life selecting succeeding generations of the same grass seed plant to isolate a particular attribute, such as disease resistance, insect resistance, drought resistance, color, growth habit, etc.

At the culmination of that painstaking process the new plant is submitted to an independent body of plant breeders who confirm it is distinct, stable, and different from other varieties of the same species.  Once cleared, the plant is registered by variety name, and in many cases is protected from unauthorized copying through a US government program called Plant Variety Protection or through a patent.

Next in line are the professional seed growers.  These specialized farmers grow individual seed varieties on large irrigated fields free of all other vegetation.  They carefully prevent contamination from the remnants of previous crops and aggressively remove weeds.

Most grass seed is grown in the US Pacific Northwest where winter temperatures are ideal for grass plants and summers are hot and dry.  Dry weather is required for drying seed to proper harvest moisture without fear of rain, which can cause the seed to sprout on the stalk. Finally, after mid-summer harvest the seed is stored in sanitized storage facilities.  This step is critical to preserve the identity of the variety, since seed varieties of the same species are indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Seed Certifying Agencies in the state where the seed is produced verify this process.  These independent professionals visit the seed growers to verify the seed planted by the farmer is authentic foundation seed which was produced from a breeder seed plot maintained by the plant breeder.  Seed certifiers also physically examine the fields for the presence of noxious weeds, contamination from previous seed crops, and isolation from other pollen sources of the same plant species.

The final quality step is field testing of commercial and experimental varieties in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP), which compares the performance of seed varieties under diverse growing conditions in approximately 35 states.  These plots are almost always located at state universities and are evaluated at regular intervals by trained, independent evaluators who are not aware of the identities of the varieties they are rating.   These independent evaluations are published annually and posted on the internet at www.ntep.org.

Several things are clear from the NTEP trials;

  • There are measurable quality differences between seed varieties
  • Old seed varieties become obsolete and newer varieties almost always do better in the trials.

The other end of the turfgrass pipeline:

At the other end of the pipeline are the mass merchants and a handful of seed companies large enough to supply their massive volume requirements.

Genetic quality is not an issue here.  In fact, at this end of the pipeline genetic differences in varieties might as well not exist.  I know this because when I examine identical packages on the shelves, containing identical quality claims, I find different seed varieties in the bag (according to the seed label, which thankfully is required by law).

This leads me to the shredded wheat in the raisin bran box analogy.  In one particularly egregious case, one seed company packs two entirely different seed mixes, containing different grass species, in identical “Expert Gardener” brand bags proclaiming “Perfect Seed” that “Grows Anywhere”.  In the national chain store I visited, one size of this branded product contained 100% tall fescue and another size contained a mix of bluegrass, ryegrass and fine fescue.  Unless the unsuspecting homeowner flipped the package over to find the small seed label on the back, he or she would never know the two identical bags produced dramatically different lawns.

Here is my top 10 list of lawn seed products to avoid in 2008:

1. Scotts “Heat Tolerant Blue”. A reasonable person who presumes this product is Kentucky bluegrass would be dead wrong. “Heat Tolerant Blue” is 90% tall fescue,  and 10% Thermal hybrid bluegrass, which is a cross between Texas bluegrass and Kentucky bluegrass. Thermal is bred for summer survival in the south, not the relatively cool growing conditions we have in Buffalo.

2. Vigoro seed. Vigoro showed up in Buffalo for the first time this year at one of the large home improvement stores. Their two offerings, “Ultra Turf” brand Shady Lawn Mix and “Ultra Turf” brand Sun-Shade Lawn Mix, both contain Pantara Italian Rye which is an annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass, as far as I know, has never been recommended for use on home lawns by any Cooperative Extension turfgrass expert in any state. It competes for water, air, and sunlight and then dies in winter, leaving a gap in the turf the follow spring.

3. Expert Gardener brand “Perfect Seed” that “Grows Anywhere”. See my comments above. Barenbrug Seed Company gets my award for chutzpa. They should change their claim from “Grows Anywhere” to “Grows Somewhere, depending on the components”.

4. Scotts Select Turf “Sun and Shade” (50% Boreal creeping red fescue, 35% Ragnar II perennial ryegrass, 15% Alene Kentucky bluegrass). Boreal is a fancy name for common creeping red fescue. Although it is adapted to shady growing conditions, Boral has none of the bred-in advantages of improved fine fescue varieties. Ragnar II, like all perennial ryegrasses, has no shade tolerance. Alene is a common type bluegrass that ranks at the bottom of the NTEP trials.

5. Pennington Sun and Shade (70% Integra Perennial Ryegrass). Why do they keep claiming shade tolerance for perennial ryegrass? It’s just not true.

6. Pennington Master Turf 3 way Kentucky bluegrass blend (50% Geronimo Kentucky bluegrass, 50% Kenblue Kentucky bluegrass). One plus one equals three at Pennington.

7. Front Lawn brand Shady Lawn Mix from Pennington (40% Airlie tall fescue, 30% Boreal creeping red fescue, 15% Annual rye, 15% perennial ryegrass).  This is a strange mix.  The perennial rye will die from lack of sun, the annual rye will die from winter kill, and what remains will be wide bladed tall fescue plants intermingled with very fine bladed creeping red fescue.  This is one of those lawns that looks best from the street driving by at 30 miles an hour.

8.  Scotts Reseed Supreme for Maximum Density (95% Tall Fescue and 5% Thermal hybrid bluegrass). In Buffalo the most common turfgrass combination in a home built in the last 25 years is 100% bluegrass sod in the front yard and a mixture of bluegrass, ryegrass and fine fescue in the back. Homeowners who overseed with Reseed Supreme may be adding a new species to their lawn plus a heat tolerant hybrid bluegrass which is not ideal for planting this far north.  In my opinion, if your goal is “maximum density” Kentucky bluegrass is your best bet in this area due to its natural ability to spread and to thicken up over time.

9. Pennington “Smart Seed” with the “Myco Advantage”. I went to the Pennington website to learn more about the “Myco Advantage”. I found slick videos and strong claims of environmental friendliness, but no scientific proof to substantiate their claim of water savings (“up to 30% water savings”). I will give them the benefit of the doubt on this new product, but after several seasons I hope for some sort of independent verification of the claim. Otherwise, “Myco Advantage” ends up in my dust bin of exaggerated marketing claims along with “RTF” (Rhizomatous Tall Fescue), which questionably claims to spread and fill in damaged spots.

10. Scotts Turfbuilder Sun and Shade (45% Divine perennial rye, 35% Boreal creeping red fescue, 20% Kenblue Kentucky bluegrass). The bag says it is adapted for sites with “2 -10 hours a day” of sun. Give me a break.  Perennial rye will not survive with only 2 hours of sun.  What happens if this lawn gets 11 hours of sun?  Does it self destruct?  Kenblue is inferior.  It has been around the seed business longer than I have and always ranks near the bottom of the NTEP trials.  Boreal is common seed.

Remember, perfect lawns begin with improved seed genetics.  When you plant second rate genetics, the time, effort and money you invest in your lawn will never be optimized.

Drew Kinder