Different Lawn Types

In order to achieve that perfect lawn, you must take into account the types of grass and the role your grass will play in your landscaping plans, your area's climate, and your personal tolerance for lawn maintenance.

There is no doubt that Americans have a love affair with green lawns. Even in the arid climates of Arizona and Southern California, gardeners struggle against nature to preserve a perfectly green carpet. And it is no wonder that lawns are so popular. A well-maintained lawn complements a garden's flowerbeds and softens the edges of brick walkways or cement sidewalks. Lawns also figure prominently in late summer family barbecues. For those of us that live in the city, even that small square of emerald green grass can remind us of more tranquil meadows of the quiet countryside.

Essentially anyone with a small patch of dirt can have a lawn. But not everyone will have that picture perfect lawn. Lawn cultivation is a near science these days - particularly with new strains of grasses and highly specialized fertilizers. As a gardener, you must take into account the role your grass will play in your landscaping plans, your area's climate, and your personal tolerance for lawn maintenance. Ignoring these basic facts might find you spending large amounts of money planting a lawn that will quickly die because it did not meet your needs.

Before considering the type of grass you will plant, determine for what purpose you are planting that lawn. Do you want a durable grass over which your children can ride their bikes or you can practice your croquet swing? Or are you looking for a more ornamental lawn whose specialty blades will complement the rest of your well-manicured garden? Grasses, which have a low wearability such as Dichondra or Red Fescue, might not be an option if you plan on hosting that garden birthday party for your child and all her young friends.

Not all grasses grow well in all types of climates. Grasses are typically divided into cool and warm season grasses. According to the Ortho book All About Lawns, cool season grasses grow best in northern climates with short warm seasons, and snow cover in the winter. Cool seasons grasses grow actively during the cooler seasons of spring and fall, and will stay green year round with proper irrigation. Warm season grasses grow best in warmer climates, particularly the southern United States. These grasses grow actively during the warm season but fall dormant and turn brown if cool weather sets in.

A final point to keep in mind before planting your next lawn is the amount of time you wish to spend on its maintenance. If you want a no-maintenance lawn you might want to reconsider having a lawn at all. Although all grasses require some sort of maintenance from applying fertilizer to mowing, some require more than others and low-maintenance types do exist if you don't care to spend every weekend behind the lawn mower.

With that in mind, now it is time to choose the type of grass for your new lawn. There is a myriad of grasses to chose from, not to mention the multitude of cultivars of each grass type. The following is a list of sixteen of the most popular grasses used throughout the United States as stated in the Ortho book All About Lawns. For easier reference, the grasses have been divided not only into warm and cool season varieties, but also durable and non-durable, and high and low maintenance categories.

Cool Season - High Maintenance:

Durable cool season grasses that are high maintenance include Creeping Bentgrass (Agrostis palustris) and Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis). Well tended Bentgrass lawns with their fine textured, shiny, even turf, capture the ideal carpet of green so desired in a lawn. To obtain such a lawn requires an enormous amount of time in terms of feeding, watering and mowing. Bentgrass is most often used on golf courses and putting greens where full-time professional landscapers can prevent disease or thatch build up. Bentgrasses are fairly durable and hold up to the average wear and tear of most households. Certain strains of Bentgrass such as 'Pencross' and 'Emerald' are particularly tolerant of high-traffic areas.

Another rather durable cool season grass is Kentucky Bluegrass and is one of the best known grasses in terms of producing a rich, deep emerald green cover. Its legendary color is not easy to maintain, however. Kentucky Bluegrass requires large amounts of fertilizer and frequent dethatching. The grass easily succumbs to diseases such as leaf spot and summer patch. In general, Bluegrass holds up to average wear, with some strains more durable than others. Some bluegrass strains include 'Columbia', 'Glade' and 'Nugget'.

Cool Season - Low Maintenance

If you live in a cool season area, but prefer a low maintenance lawn, some of your choices include Hard Fescue (Festuca ovina), Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea), Annual Rye (Lolium multiflorum) and Turf Type Perennial (Lolium perenne). These four grass types are highly durable and ideal for lawns that will be exposed to a lot of foot traffic. Although slow to establish, Hard Fescue makes a nice solid lawn that is remarkably drought resistant. Hard Fescue requires low amounts of fertilizer and works well in shady spots. Tall Fescue is the ideal play lawn and is a popular grass for athletic fields. This grass produces coarse, broad-leaf blades that have a tendency to clump. Tall Fescue strains include 'Alta', 'Bonanza', 'Mustang' and 'Olympic'. Annual Ryegrass has low fertilizer needs, but requires a good amount of water to maintain its color. Ryegrass only lasts for one year, so it is not recommended as a permanent lawn. Ryegrass is ideal as a seasonal grass to replace those that go dormant during the winter. Ryegrass does quickly germinate and spread, but tends to form clumps rather than a seamless carpet of green. Various Ryegrass strains such as 'Derby' provide more density, while 'Premier' has a finer texture. Turf-type Perennial grass holds many of the same characteristics as Ryegrass, but lasts a bit longer and produces a more even covering.

Rough Bluegrass (Poa trivialis), Chewings Fescue (Festuca rubra), and Red Fescue (Festuca rubra rubra) are also cool season, low maintenance grasses, but none takes well to extreme wear. Rough Bluegrass is a broad leaf grass that thrives in shady, moist conditions. Feeding requirements for Rough Bluegrass are minimal, but significant irrigation is essential. This creeping grass with its shallow roots and purple tinged leaves will not survive any sort of heavy foot traffic. Chewings Fescue and Red Fescue both frequently show up in Bluegrass blends. Both Fescues require little fertilization and do not have high water needs and the Red Fescue is particularly drought resistant. The Chewings Fescue tolerates low mowing, while the Red Fescue if left unmowed creates a meadow-like look. Neither of these Fescues holds up under intense trampling.

Warm Season - High Maintenance

If you live in the southern United States where the summers are warm to hot and the winters are mild, warm season grasses will flourish in your yard. A particularly durable warm season grass is the Improved Bermuda (Cynodon species). As with most warm weather grasses, the Improved Bermuda will go dormant in the winter, but its dormancy period is shorter than that of the more common Bermuda varieties. The Improved Bermuda is cultivated for its soft, dense and fine textured blades. To maintain the carpet-like effect, the Improved Bermuda needs regular watering, feeding and thatch removal and absolutely no shade. Despite its fine textured look, this grass is particularly hardy and holds up well against foot traffic.

The two most popular, less durable grasses for warmer climates are St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) and Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha). St. Augustine grass is a robust, fast growing grass that prefers shady areas. The 'Bitter Blue' variety has a special blue tint on the broad leaves. This grass requires heavy maintenance in both watering and feeding. It is also quite susceptible to cinch bugs, and low mowing will create thatch problems. This grass is also slow to recover from wear and tear. Dichondra is the quintessential ornamental lawn. Not a grass at all, Dichondra is actually a low-growing, round leaf plant that resembles a field of clover. Dichondra requires little to no mowing, but has high feeding and water needs. Weeding is also a chore, as even the smallest weed will disrupt the uniform pattern of the lawn. This type of lawn prefers shade, but requires a lot of heat for maximum growth. Dichondra is a delicate plant and will not tolerate random games of touch football or even fetch with the dog.

Warm Season - Low Maintenance

Grasses that fall into this category and are rather durable include Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), Common Bermuda (Cynodon dactylon) and Zoysiagrass (Zoysia species). Bahiagrass is a moderate to aggressive grower with an extensive root system that adapts it well to drought conditions, although it prefers plentiful rain. This grass needs little fertilization, but requires frequent mowing to keep the tall, course grasses from looking straggly. Good cultivars of Bahiagrass include 'Argentine' and 'Pensacola'. Common Bermudagrass requires little maintenance, loves heat and is particularly drought resistant. It prefers open sunny areas and stands up to considerable abuse. This grass makes an ideal play lawn, although it will go dormant in the winter. Zoysiagrass is a dense, hardy grass that is quite resistant to weeds and most diseases. Zoysiagrass has low feeding and waters needs, but frequent mowing will tame the wiry blades. This grass is slow to establish itself, even more so if growing the shade. Although, this grass is better adapted to shady areas than the Bermudagrass.

Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), although low-maintenance, is rather slow to recover from damage and is less ideal for high traffic areas. Centipedegrass adapts well to poor soils, but is rather sensitive to drought. The Time Life Encyclopedia of Gardening book, Lawns and Ground Covers, calls the grass a popular choice among new gardeners because it rarely needs mowing. The grasses never reach above four or five inches. Centipedegrass has a more yellow-green appearance than other grasses and is susceptible to chlorosis, which will turn the entire lawn yellow. The 'Raleigh' variety is particularly cold hardy, while 'Centiseed' is successfully grown from seed.

Trying to plant that deep green Kentucky Bluegrass under the hot and humid South Carolina sun will prove as unsuccessful as Dichondra at the local football field. Certain types of grasses are more adapted to particular climates and to specific uses. Furthermore passionate lawn lovers will be better able to handle high maintenance lawns than those not wanting to worry about frequent feedings. Luckily the bountiful strains of grasses that exist today means that there is an ideal lawn just waiting for you, whether you hire a professional to care for your finely cultivated St. Augustine, or are part of a family of six ready to rough house with the kids over the common Bermuda.

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