Different Types of GrassUntil you own your own home and have to grow your own lawn, you probably aren’t aware of just how many different types of grass there are. The truth is that, to the untrained eye, most green lawns all look alike. When we grow up, grass serves as little more than something to roll around in or play on when we are sent outside to play. It becomes something we get tasked with mowing when we get older. It isn’t until we get to choose our own lawn that we can appreciate just how much work goes into choosing, “planting” and maintaining a yard.
One of the first things that will strike you when you start learning about growing your own lawn is just how many varieties of grass there are. The type of grass that will best serve your yard will depend upon a variety of factors. What region of the country do you call home? What is your town’s elevation? What kind of soil is in your yard? What are the winters like? All of these factors play into choosing the best grass for your yard.
Of course, one of the first things you will notice when shopping for your new grass is that, of all of the different varieties of grass that are available, almost every single one of them was brought to the United States from somewhere else. Most of the lawn grasses that we know and love today originated in China and other regions of Asia. They found their way to the US, for the most part, in the nineteenth century. Buffalo grass is pretty much the only grass that is native to the United Sates.
This is a perennial grass that is native to the Great Plains region from as far north as Montana to as far south as Mexico. It is incredibly durable; it survived all of the droughts that have plagued that region. It survived overgrazing as settlers domesticated local cattle and other animals. It also stands up well under extreme temperatures. Unfortunately it does not do very well in shade or places that see a lot of foot traffic. When planted correctly it forms a thin and soft picturesque lawn.
For the most part, grasses fall into one of two major categories: cool season grass and warm season grass. There are also transitional grasses that work well in the middle regions of the mainland US, where climates shift from one extreme to the other. These are usually contained within the states that stretch across the middle of the country: Ohio, lower elevations in Virginia, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri. Most transitional grasses, however, are categorized as “cold season grasses.”
Cool Season Grasses
Cool season grasses are grasses that grow best in climates where the winter temperatures regularly drop below the freezing levels and the summer temperatures are classified as “hot” but don’t stay super hot for extended periods of time. Most of the mainland United States homes can be well served by cool season grasses. Some of the grasses in this category also work well in the “in between” regions where warmer climates segue into cooler climates.
This grass is the most widely recognized and often used grass for lawns. It is popular because it creates a beautiful lawn. One of the reasons that this grass is popular is that, in addition to having beautiful blades, it can spread. This means that, even if you miss a spot when you are seeding, the grass will spread to cover those areas as well. You won’t have to worry about bald spots! Unfortunately, this grass is higher maintenance than other kinds of grass that are available. One of the drawbacks to this grass, from an aesthetic standpoint, is that it goes dormant during the hottest and coldest months of the year, which can leave your yards looking a little worse for the wear.
Many people mistake rough bluegrass for sickly Kentucky bluegrass. The truth is that this is its own type of grass. Unfortunately, this grass is very sensitive and doesn’t thrive in any but the coldest climates. If you are intent on having a grassy lawn year round and live in a very cold (but not regularly snowy) climate, this can be a great way to have a green lawn. It is important to note, as well, that this grass is happiest when it is lying down, not when it is standing up.
Tall fescues are popular in much of the mainland United States, with the exception of the southern most states and coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas. While there are some older and rougher styles of fescues still available in lawn stores, it is best to avoid these types of fescues because they aren’t as aesthetically pleasing or easy to take care of. For the most part, tall fescues are also considered “turf type” fescues. They grow really fast in the spring and fall and stand up well under regular wear and tear. They are also good choices for yards that sit under a lot of shade. Perhaps the nicest thing about this type of grass, however, is its resistance to pests and other problems.
The best part about fine fescue grasses is that they can grow in dry and shady areas. After that, they are harder to maintain than tall fescue grasses or bluegrasses. If you live in a cold, windy or dry climate this grass is a great idea—as long as you aren’t going to be spending a lot of time out in your yard (which, if the climate is frigid, you probably won’t). If you are intent on using fine fescues, it is a good idea to mix the seed in with other types of grass seed as well. This is a bunching grass, which means that if you don’t include other types of grass you could end up with a patchy looking lawn.
Many people use ryegrass to keep their lawns looking good while they wait for hardier and prettier grasses to grow. Ryegrass grows very quickly and can be a good “cover” to a yard that will someday be covered in bluegrass or fescues. In warmer parts of the country it is used as an “overseed” to keep the lawn green while the warm season grasses go dormant. It is not; however, a good grass for hot climates as it is unable to survive extended high temperatures. If you live in the Northeast or the Northwest regions, however, this is a perfect grass for your lawn because it survives well in cool and damp climates that don’t typically experience extreme temperatures.
In many ways, trying to maintain a green lawn in the south is a lot harder than it is in the middle and northern states. There are lots of reasons for this: poor soil conditions for grass growing, extreme weather conditions and unpredictable temperatures. For the most part, the grasses used in southern lawns turn brown during the winter, which is why many southern home owners seed their yards with ryegrass as well so that they can have green lawns year round. Don’t worry; however, if you live in the south and are desperate for a green lawn. You can make it happen! Warm season grasses are grasses that grow well in soils with varying fertility levels and that can handle the extremely warm temperatures for which the southern regions of the United States are famous.
Bahia grass is very popular in the southern states. It is especially popular in Florida. Not only does this grass grow well in most types of soils (sandy, clay and even soil that is usually considered unfertile), it is also resistant to bugs, disease and drought. This is handy in states that very rarely see rainfall. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have to water it. It is very important to water the grass regularly if you want it to stay green.
Bermuda grass, unfortunately, produces really ugly seed heads. If you can get past that, however, and wait for the grass to grow out properly, you can still have a beautiful lawn. This grass is very popular in southern states. It is often used for “turf” in sports arenas, golf courses and parks. One reason it is used in these places is that it stands up very well against heavy abuse. If you foresee spending lots of time out in your yards, this can be a great grass to choose. In addition to being used in the southern mainland US states, it also thrives in tropical climates as well.
In spite of its name, carpet grass does not “carpet” any particular region. This type of grass is finicky. It only grows in very specific conditions (low elevation, wet, low-fertility and acidic soils are best). It is not at all drought tolerant, so if you live in an area that is prone to droughts, this is not a good grass for your lawn. It works well, however, in southern coastal regions where the soil is wet but not rich in nutrients. It also works well in yards where there is shade (which makes the soil stay moist for longer periods of time).
Centipede grass takes a long time to grow properly but it is a fantastic grass for people who are afraid of weeds and other pests affecting the appearance of their lawns. It tolerates shade reasonably well and the lawn produced by these seeds is usually thick and very pretty. The best thing about this particular grass is that, if it is grown and adapted to your yard properly, it is very low maintenance. This makes it a great choice for families that don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on yard care but who want their lawns to be beautiful.
St. Augustine Grass
St. Augustine is the most shade tolerant grass of all of the warm climate grasses. It is the most popular grass in the most southernmost states. It grows best in sub-tropical climates and coastal regions where extreme winter temperatures are offset by coastal climate. It has a blue-green color which makes it a distinctive choice if you live in an area with lots of “regular” green lawns. It is not a good choice in northern states as it cannot handle low temperatures. It does, however, grow like gangbusters in very warm and humid environments. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to get seeds for this type of grass so it is better to grow it via sodding your lawn.
Choosing your lawn does not have to be all that difficult. Most of your decision will be dictated by elements that are out of your control (climate, soil conditions, etc). What does matter is that you are happy with the grass you grow. Talk to the lawn care experts at your local lawn and garden shop or plant nursery. They will be well versed in which grasses grow best in your area and will help you figure out which grass is best for you.
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