Choosing Lawn Grasses
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They're not all the same! If you are renovating or reseeding your lawn, it's important to pick the right kind of grass for your situation. Each of the four most popular cool-season lawn grasses (profiled in the slideshow) has its strengths and weaknesses.
Types of Lawn Grasses

Consider the following before you choose which grass will work best for different areas of your lawn: (See chart below for summary.)

Shade tolerance. Grasses are sun-loving plants. They need an absolute minimum of 4 hours of direct sun a day. Areas that get much traffic require at least 6 hours. If your light is marginal, fescues tolerate shade better than bluegrass or ryegrass.

Drought tolerance. If you don't plan to water during summer droughts, or your soil doesn't retain much water, fescues again are your best choice.

Wear tolerance. Fine fescue does not stand up well to traffic. Chose one of the other species for lawn areas that take a lot of wear and tear.

Establishment. Perennial ryegrass is quick to germinate and protect the soil -- an important consideration on slopes that are vulnerable to erosion. Kentucky bluegrass is the slowest to germinate, while the fescues fall between the two.

Growth habit. Kentucky bluegrass spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. It forms a tough sod. When damaged, the rhizomes can creep back in to cover the bare spot. The other grasses are bunch grasses that don't spread as well or form as dense a sod.

Leaf texture. Fine fescue has very thin, fine leaves. Tall fescue's leaves are coarse. Ryegrass and bluegrass fall in between.

You also need to consider how much time and money you plan to invest in your lawn, and how good you want it to look. The fescues are good choices for low-maintenance lawns that you won't have to fertilize often, and that you won't mow closer than 3 inches to the ground.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky bluegrass makes a fine-looking lawn, but requires more careful management to stay healthy. Plan to fertilize it three or four times a year, and keep in mind that it is more susceptible to drought and pests.

When you purchase grass seed, it is often a mix of several species. Read the label to find out what's in the bag before buying. "Variety not specified" on the label means "buyer beware".

Try not to purchase a mix that is more than 20 percent perennial ryegrass. Because it germinates quickly, ryegrass will overwhelm the other species if there is too much in the mix. (Also avoid annual ryegrass. It will germinate and grow quickly, but usually dies over winter.)

Some typical mixes matched for different situations:

Sunny, medium- to high-maintenance lawn:

  • 65% Kentucky bluegrass blend (several different varieties)
  • 15% perennial ryegrasses
  • 20% fine fescues

Seed at 3 to 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Sunny, low-maintenance lawn:

  • 65% fine fescue blend
  • 15% perennial ryegrasses
  • 20% Kentucky bluegrass blend

Seed at 4 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

or

  • 100% tall fescue blend

Seed at 7 to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Shady areas:

  • 100% fine fescue blend

Seed at 4 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

Summary of cool-season lawn grasses
Kentucky Bluegrass
Perennial Ryegrass
Tall Fescue
Fine Fescue
Shade tolerance
Poor
Poor
Good
Excellent
Drought tolerance
Poor
Poor
Some
Some
Wear tolerance
Good
Good
Good
Poor
Establishment
(days)
Slow
30 to 90
Fast
14 to 21
Ave. to Fast
21 to 30
Average
21 to 50
Growth habit
Rhizomatous
Bunch
Bunch
Bunch
Seeding rate
(lb./1000 sq. ft.)
1 to 2
5 to 9
5 to 9
3 to 5
Nitrogen fertilizer
(lb. N/1,000 sq. ft./year)
3 to 4
2 to 6
2 to 4
1 to 2

Choosing Lawn Grasses
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