Turfgrass Cultivars: Which Is Best for Your Area?

Article excerpt

If you plant grass or sod on a regular basis as part of your service mix, you probably have your favorite, whether it's a brand-name cultivar that produces a monostand; a blend of cultivars from the same species; or a mix of cultivars from different species.

The major cultivars all undergo intensive testing at private and university-sponsored research sites throughout the country. But--considering the preponderance of new, improved grasses on the market today--it might not be a bad idea to set aside some little test plots of your own if necessary.

"I would recommend, first off, to seek out your particular state test trial that the state land-grant university usually puts out," says Dr. Doug Brede, research director for Jacklin Seed, Post Falls, Ida. "If you have a site that departs from the state test, in distance or in soils or something like that, then it would be a good idea to put out test plots. Not one little 3x3-foot square because you can't tell much from that, but a larger area. Plant a variety you have a question about, see how it performs and make some judgments based on your own individual locations."

Tuffgrasses are commonly selected for their geographical adaptability and lumped into the general categories "cool-season" and "warm-season." Here are characteristics of the most popular.

Cool-season (Northern) grasses

Kentucky bluegrass: by far, the favorite lawngrass; heals areas of thin grass; crowds out weeds; germinates slowly; established by seed or sod.

Perennial ryegrass: versatile; heat tolerant when not stimulated with too much fertilizer; better wear tolerance than Kentucky blue grass; germinates quickly; found in seed mixtures, blends and in quality sod.

Turf-type tall fescue: a dense turf with good resistance to disease and insect injury; tolerant of high summer temperatures; good drought and shade tolerance; often sold as blends of two or more named varieties.

Fine rescues (red, chewings, hard): generally used in mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass and/or perennial ryegrass; germinate quickly and establish in either sun or shade; the most shade tolerant of all lawngrasses; low fertilizer requirements; do not compete with slower-growing grasses in mixtures; hardy and low maintenance.

Warm-season (Southern) grasses

Bermudagrass: very aggressive grass that demands full sun and has very little tolerance or shade; one type established by seed, the other type planted from sprigs or sod; no significant disease or insect problems when properly mowed, fertilized and watered; low water and fertilization needs; dormant when temperature drops to less than 60 degrees F.

St. Augustinegrass: greatest shade tolerance of the warm-season grasses, but also thrives in full sun; easily established by sodding or plugging with proper fertilization and watering; quite sensitive to freezing temperatures and winter kill; wide variance in cold tolerance among varieties; choose only varieties resistant to St. Augustine Decline (SAD).

Centipedegrass: medium texture; forms a good, low growing, dense turf that remains green throughout the year; not as shade tolerant as St. Augustine, but more so than bermuda; excellent drought tolerance; low wear tolerance; slow growth rate; established by seed or vegetatively by sod or sprigs; leaves can be killed during hard freezes.

Zoysiagrass: excellent wear tolerance; good drought tolerance; not as shade tolerant as St. Augustine, but considerably more so than bermuda; most winter-hardy of the warm-season grasses; most often planted as sod or plugs; can take as much as two growing seasons to completely establish.

Tuff-type tall fescue: used in place of St. Augustine in upper South; good heat and drought tolerance; stays green all winter; generally better performance from blends than monostands. …