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DALY: Not all lawn grasses are created equal

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

A lush green lawn improves the aesthetics of your home and may increase its value. Furthermore, lawns help cool the air during the summer, prevent erosion, decrease rainfall runoff, and have recreational value. Correct installation and maintenance does require some effort. By knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of turfgrasses, you can choose the one that has the qualities you desire for your situation.

Several types of turfgrasses thrive in our climate. They are divided into two basic categories: warm season and cool season. The warm season grasses, such as bermuda, centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine, are most vigorous during the warm weather months. They turn brown and cease growth during the winter. Cool season grasses, such as tall fescue, have a rapid growth during the cooler weather and stay green throughout the winter. In the summer, their growth rate slows down and is not as attractive.

Bermuda is the most common turfgrass used for lawns in our area. Bermuda, with its rapid growth rate, will establish rather quickly if given proper growing conditions. Once established, it has excellent heat and drought tolerance. The grass does not tolerate shade. Common bermuda can be grown by seed. However, it has a tendency to thin out and produces unattractive seeds heads that require frequent mowing. The hybrid varieties are denser, have a better color, finer texture and increased resistance to diseases. These hybrids do not produce any viable seeds and must be installed by sod, sprigs or plugs. ‘Tiftway’, ‘Tiftgreen’, and ‘Tifton 10’ are some of the most popular hybrid varieties.

Zoysia forms an attractive, high quality lawn. With its coarse to fine texture, bright green color, and ability to form a dense stand of grass, it has many positive attributes. It can tolerate filtered shade but not deep shade. Zoysia is established by sod, plugs or by sprigs. Zoysia has a slower growth rate, in comparison to other types of grasses and takes more time to become established. The hybrid ‘Meyer’, one of the most popular varieties, has a medium texture, is tolerant to cold temperatures and spreads more rapidly than other Zoysia hybrids. ‘Emerald’ zoysia is an attractive fine-textured hybrid with dark green color and is best suited for high quality lawns that have a good maintenance program. However, it does have a tendency to develop excess thatch at a more rapid rate, and it is less tolerant of extreme cold.

Centipede is sometimes referred to as “the lazy man’s grass” since it needs minimal maintenance. However, the grass cannot be planted and then neglected. Since it has a slower growth rate, it requires minimal mowing and fertilization. The plant is adaptable to infertile soils. Centipedegrass does best in soils that are somewhat acidic, in the pH range of 5.0 to 6.0. If the pH is higher, the grass may start developing a yellow color. Centipedegrass can be installed by both sod and seed, with the best months to plant being May and June. Common centipedegrass is the variety most frequently planted. Several hybrid varieties, such as ‘Tiftblair’, are also available.

St. Augustine is an attractive turfgrass that has large flat stems and broad coarse blue-green leaves. It is the most shade tolerant warm season grass. Like zoysia and hybrid bermuda, it can only be established by sod, sprigs and plugs. St. Augustinegrass is somewhat susceptible to extreme cold weather, and some local lawns may have been damaged by the cold temperatures from this past January. Some of the newer varieties, such as ‘Raleigh’, have greater tolerance to the cold.

Tall fescue is a cool season grass meaning it holds its green color during the winter months. During the summer months, its growth slows down and can suffer from extended periods of hot, dry weather, so it needs the application of supplemental water. Tall fescue is easily established through seed or sod during the fall, ideally between September 1st and October 15th. Periodically, most fescue lawns need to be re-seeded, since they have a tendency to thin out over time. Kentucky-31 is one of the most common varieties of tall fescue planted. K-31 is the old common cultivar of tall fescue that has been around for decades. New and more attractive varieties, referred to as “turf-type” tall fescues, are Southeast, Rebel, Plantation, and Millennium. They have a finer leaf blade, darker green color, and a greater density and shade tolerance than K-31.

You can have a lawn that can be the envy of the neighborhood if you are willing to make the investment and provide the appropriate care.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.