good brands of grass seed?

Can anyone recommend a "good" brand of grass seed or tell me how to determine if a bag of seed is "good quality"? I ask because I've come to the conclusion that I need to seed, fertilize and weed control the yard better if we want grass, and I keep reading that I need "good" seed that doesn't have weeds in it. How do you tell? (because they all claim to be the best)
And on the subject of grass, how do you pick a variety that will do well? I have such a mix of conditions, full sun, heavy shade, partial, on poor soil with dry summers and winters (zone 5). The yard is bare in spots and a foot deep in others. I'd really like something a little more even.
Dawn
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There is something called a landscapers mix and I hear it works well in many different conditions. Chuckie
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Most grass seed comes from Oregon. They have strict laws about noxious weeds and can produce a purer seed. Brand only matters in it may reflect on the integrity with which they select better more expensive seed when it is required. I look at the better brands and then buy the cheapest that has the same contents. Usually bulk is the cheapest if you can get it. You can make your own mix.
I am only familiar with grasses grown in the northern states. They have some very strange grasses in the deep south: Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, etc.
There are three main types of grass for the northern areas:
Blue grass is a nice grass but needs a lot of fertilizer and is very labor intensive. It is best to get a mixture of several varieties in case something comes along that kills one variety. It will not tolerate shade, drought or poor soil.
Fescues are tougher, more shade tolerant and a little courser. Creeping fescue is good for shady areas. Tall fescue is good for drier areas and withstands heat the best, but is less shade tolerant and cold tolerant. Also, fescues are the greenest grasses in winter.
Rye comes in annual which is a quick germinating grass that lasts one season and perennial which is also a very tough but course grass. It will tolerate shade but does not like dry conditions.
Usually one selects the mix they need such as shade mix, playgound mix, or regular high grade blue grass. Shade mixes have more fescues. Playground mixes have more perennial rye. Scotts mixes have more blue grass since it requires the most fertilizer, etc.
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I'd start with a soil test, if at all possible. See: http://www.cjnetworks.com/~sccdistrict/soilspub.htm

Can you stand to wait till late summer/early fall to seed? You'll get much better establishment then. In the meantime, you can figure out what you want, do some liming and fertilization, and perhaps some spot tillage and then head after the perennial weeds.
Here's pretty much how I'd do it: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/news/sty/2001/wantgoodlawn.htm
There are a couple of possible gotchas here: most lawn seed is sold in the spring. Most lawn seed available in the fall has sat on some hot storeroom shelf all summer long, and will not be as viable as it was when it was tested. I'd buy now and store it in the basement over the summer, on a pallet, not directly on the concrete floor.
What seed to buy? Brand name is usually immaterial. Buy the species you want (in Kansas, usually Kentucky bluegrass for sunny areas, turf-type fescues for shadier areas. If you've got distinct sun and shade areas, it makes more sense to buy some bluegrass and some fescue separately, rather than a mix.) I don't go for high maintenance lawns, so I prefer to see a variety of cultivars (variety of one species) rather than a single cultivar. Or I'd prefer to buy seed that has not been selected for uniformity. No point in putting your eggs in one genetic basket, imho, unless you like being a lawn slave.
How to buy: look on the label. You'll see several things on it: -- species that you're buying -- percentage germination -- species you don't want (weed seeds) -- amount of loose, inviable matter (usually bits of broken chaff) (inerts)
What I do: 1) reject seed lots that have weed species I don't want to deal with (weeds in one part of the country may not be bad in another)
2) figure the actual cost of pure, live seed. Take the percentage of the seed you want (let's say you're dealing with 96% Kentucky bluegrass), and multiply by the germination rate (let's say 85%), and divide by 100: (96 Ky bluegrass * 85 germination)/100 = 76.5% PLS (pure, live seed)
What this means is that of every 100 seed bits you plant, you can expect a maximum of 76.5 to come up and be what you want.
3) figure the cost per pound of PLS: in this case, let's say the price per pound is $1, but really only 76.5% is seed that's going to grow. So the real cost per pound is 1.00/0.765 or about $1.31/lb of pls This turns out to be really useful in figuring out the better deals.
I'd also urge you to consider some of the new "high endophyte" turf grasses if you live in suburbia and aren't likely to ever have grazing animals. They're more resistant to pests and diseases. Or you might consider some of the native grasses, perhaps buffalo grass, Buchloe dactyloides, for a very drought tolerant lawn.
Kay Lancaster snipped-for-privacy@fern.com
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Thanks to everyone who replied, I've learned a lot.

No problem, we've lived it with a year already. I don't mind storing seed in the basement until fall.

That pretty much exactly covers my yard, thanks.
Dawn
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Kay Lancaster wrote:

Do you think I could store it tightly wrapped in a refridgerator? I happen to have an extra one in the garage. I'm worried about the basement, which gets quite damp in the summer. (damp enough that laundry won't dry there)
Dawn
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Sure, but seal the seed so it isn't dessicated. A frost free refrigerator would be bad. Also, turn the temperature up to the 50s.
Planting in the spring is not bad. Grass can even be planted in mid summer. However, most grasses are cold weather plants and do best in cool weather. Depending upon where you live, if you plant it now and keep it deep watered, it will do very well. Deep watering is a good drenching approximately once a week. Daily sprinkles do more harm than good. You want the surface to dry out between waterings so the roots will grow deep. Most people spread straw over the ground after seeding to keep the soil cooler and shade the new seedlings. If you have a choice, fall planting is best, but spring planting is second best. If the spring germination is not too strong, you can then overseed in the fall and it will fill in nicely. Also, annual ryes only work in the spring and shoot up first and help shade the perennial grasses. A mix with annual rye is a waste of money in the fall.
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Might be a bit damp in the basement (have you looked at dehumidifiers? Or the cause? That much humidity in a house can be more than problematic -- e.g.: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_solutions.hm_improvement_dampbasement http://www.homemoisture.org/kyhh/ae1204-1.htm ).
Yes, refrigerator storage is great. 50oF at 50% relative humidity is what we used for a year's storage in a seed laboratory. Generally, for every 10% drop in relative humidity, or 10oF drop in temperature, seed life doubles (or halves, with each increase). James' rule for orthodox seed storage is the sum of relative humidity and temperature in degrees F should be 100 or less for satisfactory storage.
Kay
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