Which Lawn Grass Is Best For You?

Establishing a healthy, lush and beautiful lawn requires diligence. Proper lawn care really means a schedule for mowing, nutrition, and maintenance which must be adhered to throughout the growing season.  Whether establishing a new lawn or overseeding an existing one, a homeowner needs to match the best cool- or warm-season grasses to their growing region.  We will see that warm-season grasses flourish in southern regions where seasonal summer temperatures run high while cool-season grasses show vigorous growth in northern regions with cool spring and fall seasons and moderate summer temperatures.

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Annual Versus Perennial Grasses

Why use annual grass?  Annual bluegrass and annual ryegrasses are often planted to quickly fill in bald spots in lawns while waiting for slower growing perennial grasses establish themselves. Although these grasses are sometimes seeded into lawns, many varieties of weedy grasses such as crabgrass are annuals. Remember, you have to reseed annual lawn grasses yearly; think of annual grasses as a cover crop to prevent soil erosion.

Most lawns consist of perennial grasses including Bahia, bentgrass, Bermuda grass, blue grama grass, buffalo grass, fescue, perennial bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass.  If you are buying grass seed from a major supplier or local hardware store, then you are receiving perennial grass.  If you are buying cheap grass seed online then buyer beware.  Remember all seed companies are required by law to list the composition and percentages of seed in their products.

Which grass types are best for you? Use the tables below to help you decide which turfgrass along with their characteristics is best. But success also rests on choosing the correct turfgrass for your region. Find your grass zone.

Cool-season perennial grasses are those species with optimum growth at temperatures between 60 and 75°F

Grass Mowing Height Traffic Tolerance Soil Type Sun
Bentgrass 1/2-1 inches light tolerates acidic full
Bluegrass 2-2 1/2 inches light pH 6.5-7 neutral full
Perennial Ryegrass 2-3 inches high most types full
Fine Fescue 2-3 inches light most types full/shade
Tall Fescue 2-3 inches high most types full/partial

The majority of northern lawns are a combination of Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescues. Kentucky bluegrass will form the nicest lawn, but it has a very low shade tolerance. Ryegrass can tolerate heavy foot traffic but does not tolerate extreme conditions of drought. Fescues are often found in mixes due to their tolerance of shade, foot traffic, cold, and drought. When combined correctly, these grasses will form a dense lawn suitable for most northern conditions.

Warm-season perennial grasses are those species with optimum growth at temperatures between 80 and 95°F

Grass Mowing Height Traffic Tolerance Soil Type Sun
Bahia 2-2 1/2 inches moderate many types full/moderate
Bermuda 1 1/2-2 inches high light textured full
Centipede 1 1/2-2 inches light tolerates acidic full/partial
St. Augustine 2-3 inches high prefers sandy full/partial

Warm-season grasses are best suited for tropical and subtropical climates with scorching sun and high temperatures. They are a perfect choice for Southern lawns due to their low-water requirements, increased salt tolerances and heat tolerance.  These grasses do most of their growing in the summer. When the weather cools down in late fall and winter, warm-season grasses go dormant and turn brown.

Dainty Dogwoods

The flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is a small deciduous tree in the family Cornaceae. Other older names for this tree include American Dogwood, Florida Dogwood, Indian Arrowwood, and false boxwood.  It is native to the southeastern United States with an endemic population that once spanned from southern Maine south to Florida and west to the Mississippi River. When in the wild their blooms are white.  They can typically be found at the forest edge and frequently on dry ridges.

They are impressive trees to have around and can be used in small groupings, as a lawn tree or along borders.  Their form is often wider than it is tall with a trunk diameter of up 1 foot at maturity. Dogwood trees are extremely sensitive to stem and trunk injuries so mulching around the base is recommended. The leaves are simple and opposite with a length of approximately 3″ to 6″ long.  The leaves of this tree can exhibit good fall foliage color. Dogwoods are commonly planted as an ornamental in residential and public areas because of its showy bracts and interesting bark structure.

dogwood-1208222_960_720Around twenty inconspicuous flowers are produced in a dense, rounded, umbel-shaped flower-head up to 3/4″ in diameter. The flower-head is surrounded by four large white, pink or red “petals” that are actually considered bracts or modified leaves. Each bract is nearly 2″ long with a distinct notch at the apex. The flowers are perfect with both male and female parts. They typically flower in early April in the southern part of their range, and late April or early May in Northern regions. The bloom time is effective for about two weeks. Flowering occurs before leaf out.

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Remember that in the wild, dogwoods are typically an understory tree. The best planting site should be selected and should have well-drained soil high in organic matter with an acidic pH. Dogwoods can be planted in full sun or partial shade, though partial morning sun is best. Plants should be watered weekly during droughts, with watering done in the morning, avoiding wetting the foliage. Their hardiness zone is from 5–9.

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In 2012, the United States sent 3,000 dogwood saplings to Japan to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Washington D.C. cherry trees given as a gift to the U.S. by Japan in 1912.

 

Dandelions: If you can’t beat them, eat them

Dandelions are broadleaf perennials that can grow in any soil and are most numerous in full sunlight. In the early spring, new sprouts will emerge from the taproot, which can be 2 to 3 feet deep in the soil. They grow yellow flowers that mature and turn into white fluffy seedheads.

I usually write lengthy descriptions about plants, like flower parts and leaf types, cross-pollination or plant evolution.  But not this time.  This time, I’m writing about people who either hate or love this simple weed, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

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So I would guess that there are two types of people, those that hate dandelions and those that love them…  Maybe some of us change, as we get older.  From children who play with dandelion flowers and make wishes with their irresistibly entertaining seedy puffballs to serious lawncare adults hellbent on eradication.

So if you are part of the latter, what is the best method to control this botanical nightmare? I remember my father and how he controlled dandelions.  The best way to get rid of dandelions was to remove them by hand. The key is to get as much as possible, of the long taproot, since the plant can regenerate from its roots. He would use a narrow tool, such as a flat screwdriver.  Stab, cut, drop in the bucket. Repeat until tired.  Be prepared, this is going to take time, it’s like a management position that requires constant due diligence.

If you decide on this type of dandelion control the next step is promoting lawn health.  Don’t let bare spots remain uncovered for long, or you’re just inviting the invasion of opportunistic weeds. In the fall, fill in those bare spots by overseeding with perennial grass.  You can also top dress your lawn in the fall with compost to help improve the overall nutrient level.  Lastly, mow your lawn on a high setting.   Remember, a thick lawn is the best method for preventing dandelions and other broadleaf weeds in the lawn.

So if you can’t beat them, eat them.  Part of that bucket my father filled ended up on the kitchen table. He would take the leaves and wash them clean with water from a garden hose.  Thirty minutes later, they were on the dinner table as a salad prepared by my mother.  Dandelion greens taste like other salad greens like chicory or escarole. As a child, I never liked the taste.

Dandelions are high in vitamins A and C, and iron. The best time to harvest is early spring before the flowers appear because the leaves are tenderest and least bitter.  Just avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt, metals or other toxins may be present. Do not harvest where there is high traffic of animals such as deer.  Additionally, you obviously shouldn’t harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been applied.

Bon Appetite

 

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