Selecting Lawn Grasses

By The Old House Web

Selecting Lawn Grasses

A beautiful lawn is not maintained year after year without some effort. Before planting a lawn consider whether or not its worth the time and expense required to keep it beautiful.

A lawn can be as low maintenance as mowing whatever grows and letting nature do the rest. At the other end of the spectrum is the lawn that needs monthly fertilization and regular watering. If the lawn is watered and fertilized regularly it will need more mowing and dethatching. The maintenance required for these two types of lawns is vastly different.

The maintenance level of the lawn is determined by the grass selected, the desired lawn quality and the site. Be aware that some landscape features are incompatible. For instance, you can have a very shady landscape or a high quality lawn but not both. Grass does not grow well in the shade.

A good lawn becomes possible when a proper mix of grasses is planted. Most lawns are combinations of Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue, and perennial ryegrass. A mixture of three different grass species provides the maximum amount of pest resistance and environmental adaptability. Each of these three grasses has distinct traits.

Kentucky bluegrass is the most common lawn grass. Blends of Kentucky bluegrass cultivars can provide a very high quality lawn but such lawns usually require above average maintenance levels. The spreading growth habit helps fill in bare spots but the grass goes dormant during hot, dry, summer weather.

Creeping red fescue has thread-like leaves and is the most shade tolerant lawn grass. This does not mean the grass grows only in shade or that it will tolerate total shade. It grows well in full sun and in fact requires some sun during the day.

Only named cultivars of perennial ryegrass should be used in lawns. Common perennial ryegrass often dies during the winter and does not mow well.

A fairly adaptable mix is listed below. It is unlikely that it can be matched exactly but a number of mixes will come close. This mix will provide a good quality lawn with below average to average care. The mix will provide a lawn suitable for sun or partial shade.

50% creeping red fescue

30% Kentucky bluegrass

(can be 15% each of two cultivars)

20% named perennial ryegrass

Under some conditions the mix can be varied. If the lawn will be subjected to heavy traffic increase the bluegrass to 50% and reduce the fescue to 30%.

Less desirable grasses are available and should be avoided. Here are the most common problem grasses.

Annual ryegrass is often sold as the major component of some very low priced grass seed. It will die out during the winter so forms a lawn that lasts for a single season.

Rough bluegrass is often found in shady grass mixes. It has a light green color and does not blend well with other lawn type grasses. It does however do well in moist, shaded sites.

Tall fescue is one of the two worst lawn weeds. Yet seed is available in most stores. The grass blades of a clump of tall fescue always seem to stay taller than the rest of the lawn. There is no selective control for this grass as the chemicals that kill tall fescue also kill other lawn grasses. Pure stands of this wear tolerant grass are often used on playgrounds or roadsides.

Zoysia is a warm season grass that turns brown early in the fall and stays brown until late into the spring. It is not better than the cool season grasses more commonly used in Michigan.

Bentgrass becomes established in a lawn and is the other of the two worst lawn weeds. The grass can tolerate very low mowings as on golf greens. At normal lawn heights it is shaggy and often kills out during the winter or during hot dry weather. There is no selective control for the problem.

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