The principle of putting the right plant in the right place is just as applicable when planting or maintaining turf grass as it is when planting any other type of vegetation. There are many different types of turf grass but it can be difficult to differentiate between them because the scale of what you are looking for is so much smaller. People can easily notice the differences between a maple tree and spruce tree but it takes more experience to see the differences between a Norway maple and a silver maple. These differences are generally very subtle variations in the: collar, sheath, ligule, auricle, leaf tip and vernation. But the main way we differentiate between turf grasses is to split them into two main categories: Warm Season Grasses and Cool Season Grasses.
Cool Season Grasses:
- Bluegrasses, fescues, ryegrasses and bentgrasses
- Shallower root system. Their root structure is generally found in the top 12-18 inches of soil.
- Thrive when the temperatures are between 65-75 degrees. In a normal year for us here in southeast Idaho this means that they will grow rapidly in the spring, slowdown in the summer and pick up again as the temperatures cool in the fall. They will tolerate some periods of summer stress but will start to go dormant if the temperatures remain high with little to no rain.
Warm Season Grasses:
- Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, buffalograss, St. Augustinegrass
- Deeper root system. Root structures can stretch down 3 feet or more into the soil.
- Prefer temperatures between 80-95 degrees. This means they will be slower to green up in the spring, hit maximum growth rates in the heat of the summer and then taper back off in the fall and start going dormant once temperatures go below 50 degrees.
The differences between cool season and warm season grasses is not simply a matter of temperature preferences. Cool season grasses are also known as C3 grasses whereas warm seasons are known as C4 grasses. This is because when a cool season grass starts producing carbohydrates(food) it starts the process of with a compound that contains 3 carbon atoms and the warm season grasses start with four. Sorry to nerd out but I think that is super neat! If you were to put leaves under a microscope you would be able to see the visible differences in their cell structures. This is the answer as to the Why cool season and warm season grasses work in their respective environments.
Geographically speaking we can divide the country up into four main environmental regions that will tell you which type of grass you should consider when planting a lawn. There is an area that is known as the transition zone. It touches each of the four climatic regions which makes it the most challenging area to maintain a good stand of turfgrass. Luckily southeast Idaho is considered to be firmly in the Cool/ Arid region.
Cool/ Arid – cool season grasses do well as long as there is irrigation
Cool/ Humid – bluegrasses, fescues, rygrasses, bentgrass
Warm/ Arid – bermudagrass or most warm season grasses do well with irrigation
Warm/ Humid – bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, creeping bentgrass on golf greens
Turf grass is everywhere and if you take the time to know what type of grass is best suited to your geographical region you will have a head start on your ideal lawn. If you would like to know more details about specific turf grass varieties or the overall principles of turf management I have cited a very comprehensive book from which I have heavily pulled from to write this blog. Happy Reading!
Christians, Nick E. Turfgrass Management, Hoboken: John Wiley& Sons, 2007. Print.