Informed spending

Informed spending

Features - Lawn Care

Seed and sod season will be here before you know it. Be ready with these questions when you make your purchases.

January 8, 2013
Carolyn LaWell
Industry News

Hard to believe, but spring is only a couple months away. Your customers’ lawns will be in dire need of seed or sod as they recover from the summer drought and winter conditions.

While you have downtime during the winter months, you should prepare for customer requests and determine how you can make the seed and sod selection process easier, faster and more productive. We spoke with distributors and suppliers and developed a checklist of questions you should have in hand when you make next year’s purchases.

The first conversation should take place between you and your client: What type of grass do they want? How long are they willing to wait for it to grow? Do they want a high-end upkeep or low maintenance property?

“If you’re already talking to the end user upfront and know what the outcome of the property is that they want, that just makes the process flow a little bit easier,” says Lee H. Smith, turf and agronomic sales at Ewing.

Second, perform research before you head to your supplier. New varieties are always introduced and more and more seed and sod is being produced in hybrid forms for drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant conditions. State university extension offices and turfgrass associations offer access to the latest research and recommendations on the varieties that are best suited for your region.

Supplier. Now you have an idea of what you might want to purchase and you’re armed with questions to ask your supplier.

The first bit of information you should share with your supplier is what you’re planting. “The application is important,” says Evelyn Dennis, category manager for seed at John Deere Landscapes. “Are you planting an athletic field, home lawn, commercial lawn? What kind of traffic is there going to be? Is there sun? Is there shade? Is there a combination of the two? Also, what maintenance levels will be practiced?”

Next you should ask about the amount of water needed for the seed or sod to mature and whether an irrigation plan should be established.

Finally, what soil prep needs to be done before the application is set? At minimum, the soil needs to be raked and cleared of debris before seed is thrown down. When it comes to sod, you have to make sure the soil is compatible to the soil on which the turf was grown.

“The biggest misconception is a lot of landscapers think it’s just dirt,” Nick DiLorenzo, landscape division specialist at Horizon Distributors, says about soil. “The first thing that landscapers need to ask their supplier is: What is in the dirt? Do you provide soil testing?”

By now, the options should be narrowed. With a shortage in the seed and sod market in recent years, the next question should be availability.

“I think availability is the main key because the seed market fluctuates so rapidly,” Smith says. “If they need something quick, how quickly can I get this product? Then you may start looking at how good the product is.”

Tags. Once you’re debating a select number of varieties, it’s time to review the seed tags. It’s a red flag if the product doesn’t have a seed tag. The seed variety will differ between suppliers, so items to check for on the tag include: pure live seed count, germination rate, organic matter percentage and types of weeds in the bag.

“I think it’s important to buy seed products with all the varieties named,” Dennis says.

Careful analysis might require reading the tag and then returning to the office to do more research. A trusted dealer should steer you in the right direction.

“Buying a quality product saves you time and money in the long run,” says Michelle Williams, account manager for turfgrass sod sales at John Deere Landscapes. “Contractors don’t want call backs.”

What’s with the different colored tags?

Purchasing certified seed is important to ensure the product’s quality. The seed tag can come in a number of colors and provide different information. Jim Novak, public relations manager at Turfgrass Producers International, describes in his own words what each tag means.

The white tag is used for the general truth in labeling laws. It contains the information to meet labeling requirements under the Federal Seed Act. Most often these tags are mass printed with the minimum requirements. As long as the test results are at or above those printed on the tag, the shipper feels comfortable that the tag represents the seed contents in the bag.

The blue tag was created to give the buyer some degree of confidence that the seed is indeed the variety he wants to purchase. There are minimum physical quality requirements that the seed test must meet before the blue tag will be issued; however, there is great misunderstanding about this. For example, certified perennial ryegrass can have up to 0.50 percent weeds, equating to more than 50 annual bluegrass seeds, exceeding 4,500 seeds per pound. The blue tag does not mean contaminate-free, it is an indication of genetic purity.

The gold tag, “Sod Quality Tag,” was created as a step-up from blue tag. The testing behind this tag is an additional analysis of a specific quantity of seed in the search for any objectionable seeds. Since different U.S. states have their own list of seeds that are objectionable, the gold tag does not mean the same from each issuing agency. There is also the misleading belief that the additional search is a complete search. Kentucky bluegrass sod quality standards require that a search is done on 25 grams. However, further in the law it states that annual bluegrass is only searched for in the first 10 grams during the examination for the blue tag, not in the additional search for the sod quality tag.



The writer is a freelancer based in Lakewood, Ohio.