Cool-season grass is what thrives in Michigan and most of the northern United States. This type of grass is able to withstand the cold Michigan winters. It is at its best (lush and green) in the spring and fall when temperatures are between 65°F and the upper 70’s and rain is plentiful.
Cool-season grass will turn brown during hot and dry conditions if not properly watered. A brown lawn means that the grass has gone dormant as a way to protect the lawn from dying out during harsh weather conditions. A drought that lasts 3 to 4 weeks can kill your dormant lawn. Be sure to water your cool-season grass during drought conditions to prevent potential death. It may not immediately green, but you will prevent it from dying.
Best Grass Seed for Michigan Lawns
There are three common types of grass seeds that are planted in Michigan: Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass.
- Kentucky Bluegrass: This is the go to grass seed for the Michigan homeowner’s lawn. Without a doubt, many varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass (KBG) seed produce a lush, thin blade, green lawn that can handle a lot of foot traffic. This grass typically can tolerate direct sun during the day, but it requires frequent watering during hot weather conditions without rain. A benefit of KBG is its ability to spread and fill in bare spots within your lawn through its stems or rhizomes. Be aware that Kentucky Bluegrass seeds commonly take a very long time to germinate. You may need to wait 14 to 30 days before you start to see sprouts of green. The slow germination process allows the potential for weeds to work into the seeding area have a negative impact on grass growth. Additionally, while fall is the ideal time to plant Kentucky Blue grass, if you plant it too late, you run the risk of not establishing sufficient root growth before the frost hits. KBG takes much more planning and consideration before seeding compared to other grass seeds.
- Turf-Type Tall Fescue: Turf-type tall fescue or TTTF is known for its ability withstand the summer heat, shady areas, insect problems, and drought conditions while maintaining its green. A few years ago, tall fescue was looked down on because of its thick blade that was undesirable compared to the much thinner blade grasses that were available. However, things have since change in the world of TTTF. TTTF seeds have been developed that produce much thinner and appealing blades while maintaining the desirable hardy characteristics of tall fescue. I personally planted TTTF in the fall of 2017 in Southeast Michigan at my home. I had an areas near my mailbox that was about 75% weeds, which I killed off and planted 100% TTTF seeds. This area receives direct sunlight for most of the day and is only watered with rain. The lawn came in amazingly lush by the end of fall with a desirable grass blade width. I will keep you updated with its performance during the summer.
- Perennial Ryegrass: This grass is known for its ability to grow very quickly. In the right conditions, ryegrass can begin to germinate in as little as 5 days. It is often planted with Kentucky Bluegrass to compliment the slow growth of this grass. In fact, many people mistaken the look of perennial ryegrass with bluegrass. Perennial ryegrass tends to grow in clumps and does not have the ability to spread due to the absence of rhizomes or stolons. It requires frequent watering, especially, during hot and dry conditions. If you plant this seed, you should be prepared to water and fertilize it as recommend to keep it looking beautiful.
When to Plant Grass Seed in Michigan
The best time to plant grass seed in Michigan is the last week in August to about mid to late September. The long summer days full of heat have typically died off by this time. The cooler but warm soil temperatures are ideal for growth. Weeds and insects tend to be minimal. Additionally, the season commonly brings rain and morning dew, which will assist in keeping the seeds moist.
If you seed during this time, you will likely have ample time to establish your lawn before the cold weather sets in. If you have a fast growing seed, you may be able to plant it in early October and have success. However, there is always a risk of an early winter setting in. Again, Michigan’s favorite grass seed, Kentucky bluegrass, typically takes a long time to establish. Plan accordingly when you plant in the fall.
You can plant in the spring but you may run into a problem with weeds battling your grass seed for growth. Keep in mind that you cannot apply “weed and feed” or most crabgrass preventers to grass seed. You should only use starter fertilizer or certain organic fertilizers on new grass. You will have to tolerate some inevitable weeds and deal with them once the grass has fully established.