TYPES of GRASSES
by Wes Yohey
This article, and the accompanying second article, Grass Types (p2), covers the wide variety of different grasses seen in the United States.
We'll start with the most recognizable grass species, Kentucky Bluegrass.
This cold season grass provides a hearty, high-quality lawn that performs well in adverse temperature and precipitation conditions. Its underground stem shoots (rhizomes) allows this strain to expand and recouperate quickly, which makes it a popular mixing grass for filling patches.
Virtually all grasses prefer more alkaline soil that help retard weeds and thatch, and a little more so for Kentucky Bluegrass. It prefers a limed soil that is moist and drains well. It's at home in full sun but starts to struggle as more shade is added. There have been new strains developed that do perform a little better in more shaded areas.
Not surprisingly, this characteristic enables Kentucky bluegrass to be cut to lower heights with 1½" to 2½" being the recommended height.
Another popular cold season grass is Tall Fescue. Tall Fescue is much more forgiving than Kentucky Bluegrass but is a little courser. A deep root system helps it to stay green throughout the season. It will grow in soils with low nutrients, wears well and can fight off insects and disease.
As its name implies, Tall Fescue is a taller species with a recommended growing height of between 2½" and 3". Recent innovations have provided greener and less course Tall Fescue strains, which, when combined with its durability, is becoming more popular in parks, playgrounds and other high traffic areas. Tall Fescue is highly weed, heat, drought and disease resistant.
With a high tolerance to traffic and ability to withstand very short cuttings, Creeping Bentgrass is a favorite for golf course putting greens. While it's above ground shoots (stolons) enable it to recouperate quickly from traffic damage, Creeping Bentgrass requires a rigid maintenance regimand. Besides the increased mowings, Creeping Bentgrass requires regular fertilization, top dressing and perhaps the occassional fungicide along with high levels of watering, mowing, aerating and dethatching.
Another golf course putting green grass, Rough Bluegrass, or Roughstalk, is commonly used for winter overseeding. Otherwise, Rough Bluegrass is a relatively weak grass as it doesn't do well in higher temperatures, traffic or low precipitation. It also doesn't mix well due to it's clumpy growth pattern. Rough Bluegrass requires heavy watering and nutrient rich soils.
For more information on grass watering, see our article on Lawn Watering.
Another low maintenance turf is Carpetgrass. Combined with its adaptability Carpetgrass also grows slowly requiring fewer mowings. This general purpose grass performs well in both full sun and moist shade environments and, unlike most grasses, performs well in more acidic soils.
The first warm season grass on our list is Bermudagrass. Bermudagrass sends growth shooters both above and below the soil surface enabling it to recover quickly from damage and wear. Combined with it's high temperature, drought and salt tolerance, Bermudagrass is also very tolerant of high traffic, requires little water and enjoys few pest problems. If you're not growing Bermudagrass in your lawn, you might find this variety bothersome. Considered a weed to some homeowners, Bermudagrass can be difficult to get rid of once its landed in your lawn or garden. Originally a sturdier blade, new variations are less rigid.
Buffalograss is another turf that grows slowly. A native of the United States Great Plains, Buffalograss is very drought resistant and requires little nuitrients and maintenance. This warm season grass doesn't hold up well to traffic or shaded areas.
Another warm season grass is St. Augustinegrass. It grows best in warm, humid climates with a medium to dark green color. St. Augustinegrass has a limited range in the United States as it can't be exposed to long periods of cold weather. Like Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass requires less water and has few pest problems, however, it doesn't perform well in high traffic areas. St. Augustinegrass also requires quite a bit of nitrogen every year and can produce a high amount of lawn thatch.
Slow-growing Centipedegrass is a warm season grass that requires little maintenance. That's not to say it doesn't come with a few conditions. Centipede grass will struggle in soils that are highly alkaline or compacted. It also won't perform well in drought conditions or areas with heavy shade, traffic areas or lawns afflicted with heavy thatch.
Fine Fescue is some of the softest grasses. With its ability to recuperate quickly and excellent performance in shade, Fine Fescue is commonly mixed with Tall Fescue for greater lawn consistency.
Unlike its taller cousin, Fine Fescue has a recommended mowing height of between 2-2½".
In the proper growing conditions, warm season Zoysiagrass provides a very dense and traffic resistant lawn grass. With both above and below ground growth shoots, rigid Zoysiagrass recouperates quickly from weather extremes and disease and requires little nitrogen. Newer strains of this grass are more tolerant to colder temperatures.
Annual Ryegrass (Italian Ryegrass) is a low quality, economical grass species commonly used as a quick growing filler and winter overseeding. Well suited in moderate temperatures and direct sun, Annual Ryegrass maintains good color during cooler weather and dies in late spring to early summer before the warm season grasses awake from dormancy. Annual Ryegrass is not very tolerant of temperature extremes, drought or long periods of shade. Not typically used for widespread coverage.
Sharing many physical and growth similarities with Kentucky Bluegrass, cool season Perennial Ryegrass is commonly used as a quick growing filler and as winter overseeding in higher quality settings. Best adapted to coastal regions with moderate annual temperatures, Perennial Ryegrass performs well in high traffic areas making it popular around schools and parks. While it doesn't perform well in high heat, drought or long periods in the shade, Perennial Ryegrass will withstand longer periods of colder temperatures. It also germinates quickly for greater weed suppression and maintains good color during colder weather. Suggested mowing height is between 2-2½".
Warm season Bahiagrass can adapt to a variety of soil conditions and is very drought resistant. Generally an undesirable grass because of its poor color and texture, quick growing Bahiagrass is very effective in slowing soil erosion issues until other measures can take effect.
Continue to Page 2...
Images for this article were gathered from North Carolina State University.
Share your experience with United States grasses or if you'd like more information.