Choosing a Lawngrass
A beautiful lawn will enhance any landscape, while a poor lawn will detract from it. Lawns not only increase the aesthetic and economic value of the landscape, they also provide space for outdoor activities, aid in erosion control, filter pollutants, and provide oxygen. It's important to choose the right kind of grass for where and how you live.
Desired Amount of Maintenance
Do you want a lawn that is highly manicured and carefully tended, or are you looking for an average lawn, which will require medium inputs in terms of fertility and maintenance? Perhaps you're looking for something more naturalized, with less grass and more plantings of other types.
Since maintenance levels differ between the grasses commonly used in Florida, it is important to select the correct grass for the type of yard you desire. Most grasses will respond to a range of maintenance levels, but there is an optimum level for each grass. Levels of maintenance are closely related to cost and time, with high-maintenance turf costing the most and taking the most time to maintain.
Environmental & Soil Conditions
Quality turf requires irrigation, so water quantity and quality are selection factors. Can the area be easily mowed? Soil type, pH, drainage, and other soil characteristics are important. In addition, the amount of shade the turf will receive can limit the selection of suitable grasses.
Environmental and soil conditions vary throughout the state and certain turfgrasses grow better in some locations than in others. There are several turfgrass species, and cultivars within those species, from which to choose. Some turfgrasses can be planted statewide, while others, such as centipedegrass, perform best in the Panhandle and north Florida regions.
Note: Grasses grown in Florida are maintained in a totally different way from those grown in the northern regions of the United States. Northern-grown grasses (e.g., fescue, bluegrass, ryegrass) will grow in Florida only during fall, winter, and early spring months, and will not survive year-round.
Several turfgrasses can grow in a wide range of soil conditions, including pH values of 5.0 to 8.5. Most Florida soil types for turfgrass growth include sand, clay, marl, or muck-type soils. For example, centipedegrass and bahiagrass grow best in acid soils. Iron chlorosis is a problem if these grasses are grown in high pH (alkaline) soils.
Environmental Stress Tolerance
Turfgrasses vary in their ability to withstand stresses. Drought tolerance is a measure of how well the turf will survive extended dry periods without irrigation or rainfall. For example, bahiagrass and centipedegrass have good drought tolerance, while St. Augustinegrass does not. In many coastal areas, turf can be subjected to salt stress from irrigation water, saltwater intrusion, or salt spray from the ocean. St. Augustinegrass and bermudagrass have generally good salinity tolerance and are good choices for coastal areas.
Although shade from trees or buildings is common in most landscapes, turfgrasses vary widely in their shade tolerance. Both St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass have good shade tolerance compared to other warm-season grasses. Wear tolerance is a measure of how well a grass continues to grow after being walked or played upon, and can determine whether or not a grass will be able to survive in an area of moderate traffic. Seashore paspalum, zoysiagrass, and bermudagrass all have good wear tolerance.
Each turfgrass has at least one major pest problem that could limit its use in certain locations. Major insect pests are chinch bugs, mole crickets, ground pearls, webworms, spittlebugs, and billbugs. Major disease problems are brown patch, dollar spot, Pythium, Helminthosporium, and gray leaf spot. Nematodes can limit use of some species for home lawns.
Other pest problems can also occur and cause severe damage. Proper management practices can help keep most pest problems to a minimum.
Leaf Textures & Turf Density
Leaf textures may be coarse, medium, or fine--a relative measure of the leaf blade width. The choice of texture is merely a visual preference unless the grass is important for a sport such as golf. Most southern lawn grasses have a coarser leaf texture than those grown further north (e.g., fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass), especially Florida's three most-used lawn grasses: bahiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, and centipedegrass.
The number of leaves or shoots per area of the ground is a measure of turf density. Species with a high density and finer leaf texture generally produce better quality lawns. Turf with a lower density and coarser leaf texture often requires a higher mowing height to produce an acceptable quality lawn. Higher density varieties include hybrid bermudagrasses and zoysiagrass. Bahiagrass has a low stand density while other warm-season grasses have a medium density.
The growth habit of each turfgrass determines the mowing height for the best quality turf. For example, most St. Augustinegrass cultivars should be maintained at 3.5 to 4 inches. Mowing turf below the recommended height can stress the grass and subject it to invasion by weeds, insects, and diseases. Mowing at higher heights results in increased leaf surface for more photosynthesis, deeper root systems, better drought tolerance, and healthier turf.
Turfgrass species and level of management determine how often a lawn needs to be mowed. The frequency of mowing can be reduced somewhat by moderating the amounts of fertilizer and water applied. Recycling lawn clippings also reduces the amount of fertilizer needed.
Some turf species (e.g., St. Augustinegrass) are limited to vegetative propagation by sod, sprigs, or plugs because seed is not available or does not germinate true-to-type. Other turf species produce seed in sufficient quantity and trueness-to-type to allow establishment by seed (e.g., bahiagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, and common bermudagrass). A quality lawn can be established by either method if the site is properly prepared and maintained.
Remember, a lawn should be considered a long-term property investment, and your choice of a grass should reflect what you desire and can adequately maintain.
Condensed and adapted from:
"Selecting a Turfgrass for Florida Lawns" (ENH04) by L.E. Trenholm, J.B. Unruh, and J.L. Cisar. Published by: Environmental Horticulture Department (rev. 11/2001).