5/6/2019 5:00:00 AM
How to care for the grass in your yard
Grass is grass, right? It's green, it grows, and it needs to be cut. While all of that may be true, lawn care shouldn't be approached with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Though all grass may be green, grass in North America comes in more varieties than are known to the average homeowner. All grass types, or breeds, are unique to certain regions, have specialized characteristics, grow differently and have exclusive care needs. From Bermuda grass to Kentucky bluegrass to Zoysia grass, and more, we compiled a rundown of seven common North American grass types and how to care for them so you can learn how to get a healthy lawn naturally.
Grass is no different than plants in a garden. It needs water, sunlight and has a growing season. Like plants, all grass types, except St. Augustine grass, grow only between spring and fall and go dormant in winter as temperatures cool, even in the far southern portions of the U.S. Depending on the season of the grass breed, the dormancy schedule varies.
Grass breeds are classified as either a warm-season grass or a cool-season grass. Warm-season grasses have low tolerance to cooler temperatures and grow only in southern parts of the U.S. and up through the nation's midsection, known as the transition zone, where both warm-season and cool-season grasses can survive. When winter closes in and temperatures start dipping below a certain temperature on a consistent basis, the grass becomes dormant, or stops growing, until it comes back to life when temperatures rise in the spring.
Warm-season grasses like Zoysia and St. Augustine thrive in the warmer, subtropical climates of the southern U.S. and need lots of water. Cool-season grass are grasses that grow well in cooler temperatures of the transition zone and north. Their typically shallow root systems grow best in the spring and fall, don't fare well in heat or droughts, but are more resilient to winter and don't become dormant until late in the season.
Warm season grass
What is Bermuda grass?
Bermuda grass is often confused with crabgrass because of its similar, sprawling look. Bermuda grass grows low and dense, has dark green blades with cream-colored stems, and has one very distinguishable feature that makes it easier to identify over crabgrass and other grass species, which are its nodes. Nodes, or "runners" crawl over lawn beds and dig back into the soil, establishing a very strong root system that spreads and reproduces rapidly. In fact, Bermuda is almost too good at growing that it can become invasive.
Bermuda grass, which is one of the most resilient types of grasses in the country, is technically classified as a weed, however, it's a useful weed. Bermuda grass is widely used for turf in sports fields and golf courses, as well as in residential yards because of its durability and ability to withstand drought, salt air and foot traffic. In fact, Bermuda grass is one of few grass species that can even repair itself.
How to care for Bermuda grass
As could be assumed from its name, Bermuda grass grows only in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the southern U.S. It thrives in hot temperatures, needs plenty of sunlight and requires as much as one to 1.25 inches of water per week. This high-maintenance grass grows fast and needs to be kept short, meaning that it requires more haircuts.
Cut Bermuda grass to a length of just one to two inches, and never cut more than one-third of its height in a mowing. For example, if the grass grows to a length of 2.5 inches, cut the grass no shorter than a height of about 1.7 inches. However, remember to cut Bermuda grass as short as three-quarters to just one inch in the first cutting after winter dormancy. Leading up to winter dormancy, Bermuda should be cut about one-half inch higher than normal.
What is Zoysia grass?
Zoysia is not only a fancy-sounding name, but it's an extremely desirable grass breed. Introduced to North America in the late 19th century, its tolerant characteristics leaves a thick, moderately green-colored hue in lawns of warmer climates in the deep south and all the way through the northern portions of the transition zone.
Zoysia, which is the last to go brown during winter dormancy and the first to turn green in the early spring, is popular among homeowners who value family time over chores. Zoysia's low-maintenance, deep root systems require as little as one inch of rainfall per week and can withstand a brief drought without turning brown. Zoysia's high density does well in both sunny and moderately shady areas and is naturally effective at choking off sunlight to weeds, reducing time spent on lawn maintenance and increasing time spent entertaining. Zoysia can withstand foot traffic, so feel free to show it off at your outdoor party.
How to care for Zoysia grass
Zoysia is a slow grower. When it reaches a height around 1.5 to two inches, it can be cut down to one to 1.5 inches. Though Zoysia won't require as much mowing as other grasses, the time saved in outdoor chores should be reinvested to aerate and dethatch in the early spring to improve the air exchange with the root system and help it access nutrients more easily.
St. Augustine grass
What is St. Augustine grass?
St. Augustine grass likes heat, all 80 to 100 degrees of it, plus humidity. Mainly present in the Gulf states, St. Augustine is strictly a tropical grass breed, but can still survive in areas as far north as South Carolina where it won't get below 55 degrees and put the grass into dormancy until late in the season. In certain regions like Florida, St. Augustine and its extremely dense, wide-blade texture grows year-round in both sunny and shady areas.
This course-textured grass breed has extreme sensitivities to cold and dry weather. In other words, it's needy. It only takes a consistent spell of sub-55-degree weather to put St. Augustine into dormancy. Additionally, these lawns are susceptible to two main threats: St. Augustine Decline (SAD), a viral disease, and the chinch bug.
How to care for St. Augustine grass
Trying to plant St. Augustine is a fruitless effort. St. Augustine takes a solid three months for the root system to take hold, which is why it's typically only planted in sod farms. If you want St. Augustine, you'll need to order it rather than plant it.
Again, this grass is high-maintenance. St. Augustine likes to be wet, and it will tell you when you're not giving it enough attention. St. Augustine will turn a bluish color and its texture will harden when it needs a good watering, enough to penetrate three to four inches into the soil and reach the extent of its root system. Even though it's suggested to leave St. Augustine lengthy and cut to a height between three and four inches, it will still need to be cut at least once per week to keep it healthy.
What is Bahia grass?
Bahai (buh-HAY-uh) only grows in a very exclusive Southeastern region of the U.S., despite being a more tolerant grass breed that thrives well in many places, especially very hot and dry climates and in sandy soils. In fact, its reputation as a highly tolerant grass breed is the best choice for areas with poor soil quality. Its resiliency is well-suited for the occasional heavy rains in the Southeast because Bahia and its highly coarse blades can tolerate saturated soils and short periods of flooding.
Bahia germination is slower compared to other grass breeds. That slow, open growth pattern can leave it vulnerable for weeds to take hold, however once it becomes established, it requires little maintenance. Bahia doesn't require much water and will only go dormant and turn dark or tan during prolonged droughts. Its deep root systems give it tolerance to both warm and cooler temperature spells.
Bahia should be cut to heights between two and three inches to help keep its roots long, preserving its resilient qualities. Though relatively low-maintenance, the unsightly V-shaped seed stalks that grow faster than Bahia's grass blades may require more frequent mowing – not because those stalks need to be cut, but because your aesthetic preferences may not be able to stand the sight of them.
Cool season grass
What is Kentucky bluegrass?
It's not just a unique blend of Appalachian-inspired music. Kentucky bluegrass, which ironically originated in Europe and Asia, is a fan favorite because of its ability to grow full, thick and lush. Its dark green to blue color and, fine to medium texture and dense root systems make it the ideal species for sod and is an attractive choice to those living in northern areas. Kentucky bluegrass is the best choice for cooler climates, does best during the spring and fall, but can also thrive in warmer climates if watered adequately.
Though KBG takes a strong foothold from its seed, its root systems are shallow, which is why it's sensitive. Hotter temperatures and drought will quickly show their effects on KBG and halt its root growth, but a good soaking rain on this water-loving species leads to a quick rebound. In the transition zone of the U.S. where temperatures can get hotter and more humid compared to northern and coastal areas, Kentucky Bluegrass will need about two inches of water per week to maintain its desired look and feel. In normal, cooler conditions, one inch of water per week is enough.
How to care for Kentucky bluegrass
Kentucky bluegrass is a thirsty grass and can be sensitive to its watering, which is why it should be given a regular dethatching at least every other year. By reducing the amount of thatch on the lawn bed, water can reach its root systems more easily.
Cool-season grasses are all meant to be cut higher, and Kentucky bluegrass is no exception. With regular rainfall and normal temperatures, Kentucky bluegrass should be cut to lengths of around 2.5 to three inches. However, if drought or a heat wave sets in, cutting heights should be increased to anywhere from three to four inches to encourage root growth and to provide more blade area for photosynthesis to occur and relieve stress from the heat and or dryness. Cool-season grasses do better when cut higher in the hottest summer months.
What is perennial Ryegrass?
Don't try to use these seeds to make beer. It won't work.
Ryegrass comes in two common varieties, perennial and annual. Perennial meaning that it comes back after going dormant in the winter and annual meaning that it's only sticking around for one season. The reason Ryegrass is common in both varieties is because it's an extremely fast-growing grass breed that can help grow a temporary lawn quickly, making its application especially useful in the construction industry to help mitigate soil erosion. Ryegrass' fast growth also makes it useful in grass blends as a protector to other newly-planted, slower-growing grass breeds. Because Ryegrass germinates so quickly, it shields other grass breeds that take longer to establish their roots.
Ryegrass' tradeoff to its fast growth rate is that doesn't spread well. New Ryegrass will require reseeding, however, once established, it grows hearty and provides a low-maintenance solution to areas where its application is popular, such as the Pacific Northwest and other northern climates. Though Ryegrass is a cool-season grass, its fast-growing capabilities give it popularity in southern neighborhoods and on Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the Masters. As the choice of one of the most iconic and beautiful landscapes in the world is enough to make anyone think more seriously in favor of its application on their own property.
Ryegrass, like other cool-season grasses, has shallow roots, doesn't fare well in hot and dry conditions, and will require moderate levels of water and a healthy dose of direct sunlight. Because Ryegrass grows in bunches, it's suggested that it be cut no shorter from 1.5 to 2.5 inches to maintain a full appearance.
What is tall Fescue grass?
Fescue has an enhanced adaptability to a wide range of climates, and though it's technically a cool-season grass, it can tolerate a heat drought and shade as well as the cold. Still, as a cool-season grass, it grows best at the beginning or the end of the growing season. Because it grows in bunches like Ryegrass, over seeding is suggested to give Fescue an attractive, uniform-looking lawn.
Overall, Fescue is a very low-maintenance grass that allows you to enjoy it more than maintain it. It's naturally resistant to disease, rarely needs dethatching and is easy to contain around flower beds, berms and other decorative landscaping. Fescue's deep root system that extends up to a whopping three feet, (yes, feet) means it needs heavy, but infrequent watering and can weather a moderate drought without losing its color.
Tall Fescue lawns should be cut at a height of two to three inches, and as is the rule with nearly every lawn, should not have more than one-third of its length cut at a time.