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Where Does Grass Seed Come From?

Grass seed is something that we often take for granted. We see it every day, we walk on it and we play on it. It is the starting ingredient for a healthy lawn and at the heart of every lawn care plan. But where does grass seed come from and how are lawn seed made? Grass seed production is a specialist business and in this article we will explain the process from the farm all the way to your lawn.

Grass Variety Breeding

Grass variety breeding is the process of developing new types or cultivars of grasses through selective breeding techniques. This practice plays a significant role in the production of grass seed, as it ensures the availability of improved and desirable grass varieties for various applications such as lawns, sports pitches, golf courses, parks, and pastures.

Grass seed is not just grass seed! There are many different grass species and within each grass species group there are grass varieties (sometimes called grass cultivars). A grass seed variety is created when a plant breeder selectively breeds grass plants for particular qualities. For example, in perennial ryegrass  the focus is often on creating a hard wearing grass seed for football pitches. Bentgrass often gets used in golf greens, so the focus of the breeder there is to create something grass plants with dense grass blades to create a smooth surface.

Selective grass seed breeding and production of grass seed varieties was pioneered by Joseph Barenbrug, founder of the global seed breeding company the Barenbrug Group. The first recognised variety of Perennial Ryegrass, a Perennial Rye grass called Barenza, was produced by Barenbrug was launched in 1948.

Selective breeding of different types of grass seed has resulted in the quality of grass seed increasing dramatically over the last 70 years.

Grass Seed Breeding

Drought shelter at a grass seed breeding station.

Grass Seed Breeding

Grass variety selection plots at a breeding station.

Sowing a Grass Seed Crop

A farmer will treat a crop of grass seed just like they do a crop of wheat or barley. The farmer will select a field that they know does not suffer badly from weed grasses that might contaminate the crop. They will then cultivate the soil to create a suitable seed bed to help achieve successful germination.

Once the soil has been prepared for sowing the seed, it is time to sow the seed. Sowing a grass seed crop is very different to sowing your lawn at home. When sowing a lawn from scratch it is normal to apply the seed at a rate of 25g to 35g per square meter. With grass farmers, the sowing rate is much lower at just 1g per square meter. Why is the sowing rate so low when compared to sowing a lawn from seed? The answer is simply because in a lawn the aim is to get a very dense population of small pants. Whereas in a grass seed crop the aim is to get a smaller number of plants that can grow much bigger.

Grass seed crops can be sown on the spring or in the autumn. A grass seed crop sown in the spring will not be harvested until the following year. This is because the plant must first go through a winter first to trigger off its reproductive cycle, this process is known as vernalisation. Sowing in the autumn is usually preferred due to favourable weather conditions and the chance of extreme weather conditions (mainly heat and drought) being reduced.

Once the seed has been sown with a precision agricultural seed drill it will be ‘rolled in’ to ensure good seed to soil contact which will help the germination of grass seed. Grass seed germination is influenced mainly by availability of moisture and suitable soil temperature. By rolling the seed in it helps to lock the moisture into the soil and keep it close to the seed.

Looking After a Grass Seed Crop

Once the seed is planted, has germinated and has begun to grow, it is a low input crop due to grass seed crops not needing huge amounts of fertiliser. The main task is to ensure it stays free of weeds. There are only a limited number of weedkillers that can be used, so often it is the old fashioned method of pulling out unwanted grass seed heads by hand. This is often performed by large groups of labourers who are mainly looking for unwanted grass seed types.

During the growing process the crop will be subject to periodic crop inspections. These are carried out by a licenced crop inspector who will check that the crop is of a suitable quality and that it meets the descriptive criteria of the individual variety.

A grass seed crop looks just like a field of long grass, so they are very hard to spot. The grass is allowed to grow tall and will produce a flowering seed head, just like a crop of what or barley. It is within this flowering seed head that grass seed is formed and held.

Perennial Ryegrass Seed Crop

A seed crop of Perennial Ryegrass being grown in the UK.

Red Fescue Crop

Red Fescue seed crop grown in the UK.

Harvest Time

After months of careful management, the seed crop will start to mature to a harvestable level from July. At this point the crop is very vulnerable to damage from heavy rain and hail storms that can flatten the crop and dislodge the seed from the plant. So it is crucial for the farmer to get stuck into the harvesting as soon as the conditions are favourable.

When it comes to harvesting the grass seeds, it is done with a combine harvester. The combine may have been slightly modified to be able to harvest the seed better. The combine cuts the grass down to about 125mm and separates the seed from the leaf blade, stalks and other parts of the grass plant. For this to work effectively the crop must be dry.

Once the seed is taken from the combine it will be stored in a barn with ventilated floors that blow fresh, cool air through the seed. This helps the seed to dry down further and prevents the seed from heating up which could lead to reduced seed germination.

Grass Seed Harvesting

Combine harvester harvesting a crop of grass seed in the UK.

Where is Grass Seed Grown?

There is a significant amount of grass seed that is grown right here in the UK. Typically it is grown in the south-east of England where the climate is more favourable. The main species grown in the UK are Perennial Ryegrass and Slender Creeping Red Fescue.

In Europe there is significant grass seed production carried out in Holland, Denmark, France and Germany. The biggest production area in the world is in the USA, specifically in Oregan. The main area famous for grass seed production is the Willamette Valley area. Main grass species grown in the USA are Perennial Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Kentucky Blue Grass seed.

Where does Grass Seed Online’s seed come from?

We are proud to say that a significant amount of our grass seed is grown right here in the UK. We are proud of this because;

  1. We are supporting UK farmers.
  2. Home grown is more means it has travelled less miles, which all helps to reduce our carbon footprint.