Selection of the proper turfgrass species is one of the most important decisions to be made when establishing a lawn. Since a lawn is meant to be permanent, it is important to select a grass species adapted to the area and to the intended level of management. The species selected must also be capable of meeting the aesthetic expectations of the homeowner. Many lawn problems result from the failure to address these subjects during the grass selection process.
In Ohio, only a few species of grass are useful for home lawns. The recommended species include: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and fine fescue. Information about the recommended uses of these grasses, their potential quality, relative management costs and seeding rates are summarized in Table 1. For information on the specific turfgrass cultivars, refer to Home, Yard and Garden Fact Sheet HYG-4027-91, "Lawn Grass Cultivar Selection," available from county offices of the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service.
Review the characteristics of the recommended species before making a species selection.
Kentucky bluegrass is the primary lawn turfgrass grown in Ohio. With proper management, Kentucky bluegrass forms a fine-textured, high-quality, long-lasting turf. This species produces rhizomes (underground stems) that give rise to new bluegrass plants. This ability enables bluegrass to rapidly recuperate from injury and fill in thin areas in the lawn. Kentucky bluegrass is winter-hardy and capable of withstanding temperature and moisture extremes. During hot, dry periods it tends to become dormant and lose color. If high quality is desired during the summer period, lawn irrigation is often necessary.
Kentucky bluegrass requires moist, well-drained soil to develop into high-quality turfgrass. It will not tolerate extremely acid or alkaline soils or heavy shade. Germination and establishment rates are slow, and weeds may develop if seeded in late spring or early summer. Kentucky bluegrass requires a medium to high level of management with routine applications of fertilizer. All varieties respond well to a mowing height of 2-2 1/2". Although Kentucky bluegrass performs best in full sun, some cultivars are adapted to shade. For moderate to heavy shade, seed a mixture of Kentucky bluegrasses and fine fescues. The improved cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass have resistance to leaf spot, melting out and other turfgrass diseases. For best results, seed blends of 2-4 cultivars. Because of its durability and exceptional appearance, Kentucky bluegrass is often used in establishing athletic fields.
Perennial ryegrass, like Kentucky bluegrass, is a fine-textured species with the potential to develop into a high quality lawn. Perennial ryegrass has rapid seed germination and seedling establishment qualities. This species has a bunch-type growth habit, which enables it to form density through tillering. The cold tolerance and disease resistance capabilities are less than for Kentucky bluegrass but are acceptable for most areas of Ohio. All perennial ryegrasses require well-drained soils of medium to high fertility. The maintenance, fertility and pH requirements are similar to the improved Kentucky bluegrasses. Perennial ryegrass has better drought tolerance than Kentucky bluegrass but normally requires irrigation to maintain quality during most Ohio summers. The optimal mowing height is 2-2 1/2" inches.
In recent years many improved perennial ryegrasses have been commercialized. These improved cultivars have greater cold tolerance, better density, darker color and better disease resistance than the older, common ryegrass selections. These new releases also have substantially better mowing qualities than the common types.
Perennial ryegrass is seldom seeded alone. Many commercial mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass are available. When mixed with Kentucky bluegrass, the ryegrass component of the mixture is usually between 10-50%. As with Kentucky bluegrass seedings, the perennial ryegrass component should be comprised of at least two different cultivars.
Many seed products on the market today contain annual ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is not recommended for use in Ohio lawns. The attributes of annual ryegrass (i.e., rapid seed germination and establishment, erosion control, etc.) can be satisfactorily met with the improved perennial ryegrass cultivars.
Tall fescue has been used traditionally as a low-maintenance grass in areas where a coarser texture is not objectionable. This species is coarser textured than the other recommended turfgrass species. Tall fescue tolerates soils of low fertility, persists well under low maintenance and possesses good tolerance to insects and diseases. This species germinates and establishes quickly but slightly slower than perennial ryegrass. When mature, tall fescue has excellent wear tolerance and, due to its deep-rooted nature, tolerates drought and will remain green throughout most Ohio summers without supplemental irrigation. Juvenile tall fescue seedlings are not cold-tolerant and will be prone to winterkill. However, well-established seedlings and mature lawns will endure most Ohio winters.
Recently, a number of improved "turf-type" tall fescue cultivars have been commercialized. These improved tall fescues are finer textured than the old "Kentucky-31" cultivar. These improved cultivars are less coarse, grow more upright, tiller more readily and exhibit a darker green color. All tall fescues grow rapidly in the spring and require more frequent mowing than Kentucky bluegrass. The popularity of the improved turf-type tall fescues is increasing and they are now being used on many lawn sites, playgrounds, parks and low-maintenance athletic fields where the use of coarser textured grasses is not objectionable (See HYG-4027-91 for names of the newer, improved tall fescue cultivars).
Red, hard and chewings fescues are fine-leaved turfgrasses that grow well under conditions of shade, low soil moisture, low fertility, and soils with unfavorable pHs. The fine fescues require well-drained slightly dry soils with minimum levels of management. Excess applications of fertilizer, frequent irrigation or establishment on poorly drained soils will result in a decline in quality and plant density.
With correct management, the fine fescues can make an attractive turf of fair to good quality. In Ohio, the fine fescues are seldom seeded alone, or intended to be the principle species where other cool-season grasses can be cultured. Fine fescues are commonly used in mixtures with the other cool-season turfgrasses on low maintenance or shady lawns.
The bentgrasses form an extremely fine-textured, dense and uniform high-quality turf when managed correctly. However, good cultural practices are so expensive and time-consuming that few homeowners are capable of growing a bentgrass lawn. In general, bentgrass is cultivated on golf courses, and is not recommended for home lawns. It does not blend with Kentucky bluegrass and should never be included in a lawn seed mixture.
Additional turfgrass species occasionally found in Ohio lawns include:
Zoysiagrass is used primarily in regions of the country south of Ohio. This species is not compatible with cool-season turfgrasses. The biggest drawback is that zoysiagrass becomes dormant and turns brown in mid-fall and does not re-green until mid-spring. The lack of winter color, slow establishment rate, low mowing heights and proneness to develop heavy thatch layers make it incompatible with the other cool season turfgrasses. Therefore, it should not be grown in Ohio.
Annual bluegrass is better adapted to cool, wet climates. Because of the shallow root systems, this grass dies out during hot, dry periods, especially in areas where irrigation is not performed. The inconsistent nature of this grass reduces its acceptance for use in Ohio.
Annual ryegrass is a stemmy, coarse-textured grass that germinates
and establishes very rapidly in lawns. This grass only persists for
one growing season or less. The need for quick germination and cover
can often be satisfactorily met with the improved perennial ryegrass
Table 1. Selected Lawn Grasses
|Grass Blend or Mixture||%||Potential Quality Weight of Lawn||Sun or Shade||Amount of Care and Cost of Upkeep||Seedling Rate (lbs/1000 sq ft)|
|Improved Kentucky; Bluegrass Blends1||100%||Excellent||Sun||Average to Above Average||1-2|
|Improved Kentucky Bluegrass; Improved Perennial Ryegrass -||80% / 20%||Good to Excellent||Sun||Average to Above Average||2-3|
|Improved Kentucky Bluegrass;Fine Fescue2||30-50% / 50-70%||Good to Excellent||Shade||Average||2-4|
|Common Kentucky Bluegrass;Fine Fescue3||50-70% / 30-50%||Fair||Sun or Shade||Below Average||2-4|
|Improved Kentucky Bluegrass;Improved Tall Fescue||10-20%/80-90%||Fair to Good||Sun or Shade||Average to Below Average||6-8|
|Improved Tall Fescue4||100%||Fair to Good||Sun or Shade||Average to Below Average||6-8|
|1 A blend is a combination of 2 or more cultivars/varieties.|
|2 Where improved grasses are used in mixtures (a combination of 2 species like bluegrass and fine fescue), it is recommended that at least 2 varieties of each species be used. Use shade-tolerant bluegrass varieties if available.|
|3 Used for low-maintenance lawns.|
|4 Use only improved tall fescue cultivars/varieties. Do not use "Kentucky 31" tall fescue.|
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-1868