Grasses Part 2 – Cool Season Grasses

There is no “best” grass. If you want a green lawn all year you may need to jump through all kinds of “hoops”, like sewing cool season seed into a warm season lawn every year in the fall. The type of grass you may need to plant in your lawn depends entirely on the site and the traits you’re looking for. Do you mind mowing a lot, or would you rather have a low maintenance turf? Do you have sun or shade, clay or sandy soil; do you want green all year around? What part of the country do you live in, north, south, east or west?

There are many different grass varieties but there are basically just two broad categories or grass types. They are either “cool season” or “warm season” grasses. Warm season grasses like, bermuda and zoysia, grow mostly from June through September during the hot summer months. Some warm season grasses grow better in the warm humid atmosphere of the American Southeast. Other warm season grasses grow better in the warm air of the Southwest. Cool season grasses like tall fescue, grow mostly in the spring and fall when air temperatures are cooler. Like warm season grasses some varieties fare much better in different areas. Some cool climate grasses are more suited for the cool humid Northeast while others grow better in the cool arid climate of the Midwest.

Zones for Turf Grass selectionAtlanta, Georgia, home of Precision Lawn Care, is located in a transition zone which reaches from middle Georgia to the Texas Panhandle and up through Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. Being located in the lower part of this transition zone enables Atlanta residents a great opportunity to choose between the best of warm season grasses and cool season grasses. For that reason the next series of post will deal with the types of turf grasses used in the Atlanta area. This post will deal primarily with cool season grasses while in the next we cover warm season grasses appropriate for the Georgia, Alabama climate.

Cool season grasses include Bent, Bluegrass, Fescue (Creeping Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Sheeps Fescue, Hard Fescue, and Tall Fescue*), Orchard, Ryegrass and Timothy and mixtures thereof. In this post we will cover mainly Bluegrass, Fescues and Ryegrass. *Tall Fescue is considered both a cool and warm season grass.

Not all grasses are available as seed – some have to be bought as plugs, or turf. But, most cool climate grasses can be seeded during the cool months of spring and fall when temperatures average 60 – 75 F. When planting cool season grasses in the spring, care should be taken to ensure that the young plants have plenty of time to root before we reach the high temperatures of summer months or your lawn will be injured.

Kentucky Bluegrass
Kentucky bluegrass is the most common cool season grass and probably the best known. There are many varieties which grow well in and north of the upper piedmont areas of Georgia. While it does best in partial shade it does poorly in extremely shady areas. It will grow in open sun if adequate moisture is present. It is not recommended for extremely hot climates and will require supplemental irrigation during hot, dry periods. Kentucky bluegrass creates a high quality lawn. It has been around for many years and is now available in many different blend formulations. Kentucky bluegrass has a moderate growth pattern and does spread and will fill in bare spots.

Fine Fescue
Three grasses go under the common name of fine fescue: chewings fescue, creeping red fescue, and hard fescue. All three survive extreme cold and combine well with other cool-season grasses. Fine Fescues are not normally used in the Atlanta area. Fine Fescues are more cold and shade tolerant than Tall Fescue, but both are used though-out much of the Central to Northern USA states

Tall Fescue
Perhaps the most popular grass in the mountain and upper piedmont areas of Georgia is tall fescue. This is a perennial bunch-type grass that grows rapidly and requires frequent mowing in the spring and fall. Tall fescues are more drought resistant, disease resistant and wear tolerant than many other lawn grasses such as bluegrass or perennial ryegrass because roots penetrate deeper into the soil. Tall fescue needs more water than the warm-season grasses to stay green during the summer. It is quickly established from seed and grows well in full sun as well as moderate shade. Tall fescue will tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.

Tall fescues must remain dense to keep blades thin. Proper mowing and fertilizing practices help keep blades thin. Lawns planted in tall fescue tend to thin out and become “clumpy” thus requiring reseeding every other year or more.

Kentucky-31
Kentucky 31 is the old, common variety of tall fescue grown in Georgia. Kentucky 31 is an economical, low maintenance Tall Fescue variety that is unique for its increased heat tolerance when compared to other fescue varieties. It has a coarse texture and light green color, is easy to establish, and tolerates both wear and drought.
Most of the new cultivars referred to as “turf-type” tall fescues have slightly narrower leaf blades, slower vertical growth rates, greater density and shade tolerance than K-31. As a result, if properly managed, most turf-types will produce a better turf than K-31.

Ryegrasses
There are many varieties of perennial ryegrass, and depending upon the environmental conditions, they may behave as an annual or perennial. As its name suggests, annual ryegrass dies as summer approaches. Both are suited for temporary cool-season turfgrasses throughout Georgia. Ryegrass germinates quickly and can be used as a temporary ground cover while the slower growing turf grass plants take hold. Ryegrasses can also be used for overseeding warm season grasses to provide a green cover during the winter. However, overseeding may damage the warm-season grass unless managed correctly in the spring because the ryegrass competes for moisture, sunlight and nutrients.

Things You Should Know About Cool Season Grasses

  • Cool season grasses are suitable for places with cold winters. They are fare well in warm summers that do not get too hot.
  • The grasses require supplemental lawn irrigation.
  • They can withstand some extended periods of drought by going dormant.
  • Cool season grasses will die if the extended droughts go beyond four weeks.
  • The grasses grow actively during the spring and fall when the temperatures of the soil falls to 65 degrees and under.

The most important factor in developing and maintaining an attractive and problem-free lawn is to choose a grass that is adapted to your area and has the qualities you desire. Cool season or warm season varieties work well in the Atlanta area. Need help with your selection, Give us a call!

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