All About Turf Grass Species in Ohio
Turfgrasses are fine textured grass species that form a uniform, persistent population of plants and that tolerate traffic and a variety of mowing heights. These grasses can be divided into two groups, the cool season and the warm season turfgrasses.
Cool season turfgrasses- include species that are adapted to the cooler portions of the United States and make maximum growth during cool spring and fall. They may become semi dormant during hot and dry periods of summer. Cool season grasses adapted for turf use in Ohio include Kentucky bluegrass, rough bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, the fine fescues, tall fescue, and the bentgrasses.
Warm season turfgrasses- include species that are best adapted to southern areas of the United States. Some of the warm-season turfgrasses also are adapted to the transitional regions between the northern and the southern states. These grasses make maximum growth during hot weather and are dormant during winter, and early spring. Zoysiagrass is the only warm season turfgrass that has sufficient winter hardiness to survive and persist as high quality turf in the southern-most portions of Ohio.
Turfgrass species vary in their adaptation to soil moisture, temperatures, soil fertility, pH levels, disease and insect resistance, wear tolerance, and mowing tolerance. They may also vary in such characteristics as leaf texture, color, growth habit, density, growth, and uniformity. Considerable variation in these attributes can also occur within an individual grass species. Turf grasses which exhibit different characteristics from other members of the same species are called varieties or cultivars.
Characteristics that plant breeders search for or incorporate into turfgrasses may include improved tolerances to climates, increased tolerance to reduced fertility levels, resistance to diseases and insects, and better wear and mowing tolerances. Breeders also search for plants that exhibit medium to fine leaf textures, an aesthetically pleasing color, a decumbent growth habit, increased recuperative potential, good density, & uniformity. Ability to produce good seed yields is also an important consideration in developing improved turfgrass species.
- Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
Kentucky bluegrass is a persistent and attractive species that is used in many residential home lawns, institutional grounds, parks, and athletic fields. This species has a medium to fine leaf texture and a medium to dark-green color when it is properly fertilized. It produces extensive underground stems, called rhizomes, which provide good sod forming characteristics and superior recuperative potential when compared to most other cool season species. Kentucky bluegrass is cold tolerant, traffic tolerant, and moderately heat and drought tolerant. It makes optimum growth during the spring and fall and becomes semi-dormant under prolonged periods of heat stress and drought. It usually recovers quickly from dormancy with the advent of cooler temperatures and adequate soil moisture in the turf.
Kentucky bluegrass performs the best when grown in well drained soils and open, sunny areas. This grass does not tolerate poorly-drained soils or heavily-shaded conditions.
Kentucky bluegrass generally requires a higher amount of nitrogen than other cool-season turfgrasses and tends to produce a significant amount of thatch. The germination and establishment period for Kentucky bluegrass is slower than for most other turfgrasses, requiring up to two weeks for emergence from the soil.
Some of the more damaging diseases that Kentucky bluegrass can get are leaf spot, dollar spot, stripe smut, necrotic ring spot, and summer patch.
Some commercial seed lots have 'common Kentucky bluegrass' printed on the label. Common Kentucky bluegrass is a non pedigree form consisting of many genetically different types. An upright grower, it is very sensitive to low mowing heights and very susceptible to leafspot diseases. Unfortunately, seed laws permit named varieties of Kentucky bluegrass to be sold as common Kentucky bluegrass for turf. Some named varieties develop turf inferior to that of non pedigreed Kentucky bluegrass but are extremely high seed yielders. For this reason, some seed producers grow and do market named varieties as common Kentucky bluegrass.
- Rough Bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
Rough bluegrass is similar to Kentucky bluegrass in appearance, however, it has a lighter green color and produces above ground stems called stolons that allow it to spread and generate new tillers in the soil. It is a highly shade tolerant species that prefers mostly moist soils. It is used for lawns with shaded conditions where there is adequate or excess moisture. When used in well drained, open, and sunny areas, it normally will decline during the hot, dry months of the summer but may recover in cool, wet weather.
Because of its light-green color and tendency to form patches, it's generally not used for mixtures with other Canal Fulton turfgrasses.
- Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Perennial ryegrass is a persistent, dark-green, fine to medium textured turfgrass that is used for residential home lawns, parks, grounds, golf courses, and athletic fields. This species produces a bunch type growth habit & does not form rhizomes. Its recuperative potential is not as strong as Kentucky bluegrass will be for turf. Perennial ryegrass germinates rapidly and establishes quickly. It is very competitive with other turfgrasses and is used extensively for overseeding thin or damaged areas. Because of its aggressive nature, perennial ryegrass is generally not used in amounts over 20 percent in a mixture with other grasses. It is suitable for use alone or in combination with Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues.
Perennial ryegrasses is wear tolerant and very heat tolerant. It is only moderately tolerant of shade or drought. This species will withstand low temperatures, however, it tends to be susceptible to ice damage in the winter. Perennial ryegrass performs best on moderate to high fertility soils and well drained soils.
Improved varieties of perennial ryegrass have good characteristics for mowing, although some may have leaves that shred and form a gray cast when cut with dull mower blades.
When grown in infertile soils or on soils of low pH, ryegrass may become thin and very clumpy. Thatch forms in perennial ryegrass turf is slower than with Kentucky bluegrass and the fine fescues.
The diseases found and are most damaging to perennial ryegrass include brown patch, Pythium blight, dollar spot, red thread, and rust. Perhaps the most significant improvement in perennial ryegrass within the past few years has been the development of varieties with enhanced endophyte performance. Endophytes, in this case, are beneficial fungi that will reside within the seed and grow and persist in the developing plant. Endophytes produce compounds that discourage leaf and stem feeding insects from destroying the grass. Ryegrasses containing endophytes have shown significant increased resistance to sod webworms, billbugs, fall armyworms, chinch bugs, and green bugs.
- The Fine Fescues (Festuca spp.)
- Creeping Red Fescue - Festuca rubra
- Chewings Fescue - Festuca rubra var. commutata
- Hard Fescue - Festuca longifolia
- Sheep Fescue - Festuca ovina
The fine fescues are composed of narrow leaved species in the genus Festuca. The most common grass type fine fescues include creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra), Chewings fescue ( Festuca rubra var. commutata), hard fescue (Festuca longifolia), and sheep fescue (Festuca ovina). These species are used extensively for residential lawns, grounds, and parks. They are ideal for low maintenance turfs, but, are not typically used for sporting turfs. During cool weather the fine fescues produce an attractive, uniform stand with a medium-green to dark-green color. These grasses are extremely fine textured and are compatible in mixtures of most cool season grasses. As a group, the fine fescues tolerate soils of low fertility and low pH, drought prone soils, and shaded conditions. They are not well adapted to hot and humid conditions; poorly drained soils; high-traffic areas such as athletic fields or playgrounds; and high rates of nitrogen. Kentucky bluegrass, the fine fescues become semi dormant under prolonged periods of heat and drought and recover very quickly with the advent of cooler temperatures and adequate soil moisture. They tend to produce a significant amounts of thatch and generally do require periodic dethatching. Diseases that can cause severe damage the fine fescues include leaf spot, red thread, and dollar spot.
Creeping red fescue produces rhizomes, thus, allowing it to fill in thin areas of turf and to make good recovery from the injury. This species has good seedling vigor when they are compared with hard and sheep fescues. Chewings fescue lacks strong rhizome development but has increased great tolerance for low mowing. Hard fescue has received much attention in recent years for its tolerance of low fertility soils and drought conditions. It has a dark green color and good density once they are established. The major disadvantage of hard fescue is its relatively slow germination and rate of establishment in a lawn. Sheep fescue is a bunch-type grass used primarily in low maintenance situations you might find. Sheep fescue is used the least of the turf type fine fescue options.
- Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Tall fescue is a persistent and durable plant that forms acceptable turf for residential home lawns, grounds, parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields. It is commonly used in low maintenance situations such as utility areas, highway medians, airstrips, and county fairgrounds. Many new and improved varieties have fine texture, higher tiller densities, and a darker green color than the coarse textured, light-green varieties as 'Kentucky 31' and 'Alta.' Tall fescue is considered by many individuals to be incompatible with the finer textured and darker green Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine fescues. Tall fescue may be fine in a mixture with fine-textured turfgrass species because it will tend to form coarse textured clumps in an otherwise uniform stand.
Tall fescue is primarily a bunch type of turfgrass that occasionally produces short rhizomes. It's somewhat slow to establish extensive root systems and has only fair recovery potential for turf. This species is the most heat and drought tolerant of the cool season turfgrasses available. The increased drought tolerance is a function of its ability to produce a very deep root system. Tall fescue performs well in open, sunny areas and is surprisingly moderately shade tolerant. It is less suited to heavily shaded conditions than the fine fescues are, but is more shade tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Tall fescue is best suited for well drained soils.
Tall fescue thrives under moderate fertility levels. The most serious disease of tall fescue is only brown patch. This disease occurs in the hot, humid months of summer and is especially severe when the turf is heavily over fertilized with nitrogen. Other possible damaging diseases of tall fescue are net blotch, red thread, rust, and Pythium blight.
- Bentgrasses (Agrostis spp.)
- Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustris)
- Colonial bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis)
Bentgrasses are fine to medium textured grasses that have a light to medium green in color. These species are used primarily only for golf course greens and fairways, bowling greens, and grass tennis courts. They are not suitable as lawn grasses and are not compatible in mixtures with other cool season grasses. Creeping bentgrass, the most commonly used bentgrass, spreads by stolons and is a very prolific thatch producer. As a group, the bentgrasses are cold and heat tolerant but only moderately wear and drought tolerant unfortunately. Growth is optimum during the spring and fall seasons of the year. These grasses tolerate acidic and wet soils better than the other cool season grasses.
Bentgrasses are very susceptible to injury from a number of herbicides, making weed control very difficult. They are also highly susceptible to a number of diseases including dollar spot, brown patch, Pythium blight and take all patch.
Bentgrasses will tolerate extremely low mowing heights provided that proper management practices are followed. Low cut bentgrasses require irrigation, fungicide and insecticide spray applications, mechanical brushing and thinning, and periodical topdressing to prevent thatch formation damaging the turf.
- Zoysiagrass - (Zoysia japonica)
Zoysia grass is a warm season species that makes optimum growth during high temperature periods during the growing season. It can form an attractive turf in the southern portions of the state and is used primarily for residential home lawns. Zoysiagrass has a medium to fine leaf texture and tends to have a light to medium green in color. This species produces extensive, thick, stolons that will spread rapidly. Because of its prolific stolon production, zoysiagrass has good recuperative potential, however, it may also spread into areas where it is not wanted.
Although drought tolerant when established, zoysiagrass performs best under moderate moisture levels on very fertile, well limed soils. It will not handle poorly drained soils. Its green color is completely lost with fall frosts, and plants remain dormant until late spring. Due to its relatively short growing season, zoysiagrass is suggested only for the southern most regions of Ohio.
Zoysiagrass performs well under low rates of nitrogen. The best time to fertilize this species is late spring to mid summer. Zoysiagrass should be mowed at lower heights than most other turfgrasses used in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Because zoysiagrass produces extensive amounts of thatch, dethatching should take place on a yearly basis.
Meyer zoysiagrass must be propagated vegetatively by planting sod plugs or sprigs. Development rate depends on plug size, competition from other grasses and weeds, and the growing environment it is in. Quickest establishment is with using 4 inch diameter plugs planted in late spring or early summer. Three to six years may be required to develop a solid stand of Meyer zoysiagrass and requires patience. Cost of establishment of this grass is very high.