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Cool-season grasses

by The Dream Lawn (Mantis)

If you live in a cool climate, such as the higher elevations of the South, the cooler coastal areas of the West Coast, and nearly all over the Northern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern states, then consider a cool-season grass. These grasses grow vigorously during spring and fall and slowly in the summer (or they go dormant). With adequate watering, cool-season grasses remain green all year and survive cold winters.

Kentucky Bluegrass. This is the most widely adapted and commonly used grass in North America and is the principal variety in many high-quality lawn mixtures. Bluegrass has a pleasing color and relatively fine texture and it spreads nicely to form a dense turf. Many newer, improved cultivars have excellent disease resistance, but bluegrass needs frequent fertilizing and plenty of water. It tends to brown off and go dormant in hot summer weather unless you water it adequately during dry spells and it greens up when the cooler weather arrives at summer's end.

Creeping or Fine Fescue. Often used as a component in grass seed mixtures, these fescues grow well in sun or medium shade, and they tolerate dry, sandy, and less fertile soil. Fine textured, they are often combined with bluegrass to make a mixture more shade-tolerant than bluegrass alone, but they don't like the pounding of foot traffic.

Turf-type Tall Fescue. Drought-tolerant and relative disease-free, these coarser-bladed grasses have especially deep root systems, which means they require less watering in dry spells. They also need less fertilizing than most other grasses and hold up well in heavy traffic, even in playgrounds and ball fields. Recent breeding work has developed dwarf and semi-dwarf strains which grow more slowly, stay shorter than older varieties, and need less mowing. Several tall fescues are also touted for their insect resistance; they are genetic carriers of an endophytic fungus which kills chinch bugs, cutworms and other destructive insects that eat the grass.

Improved (or turf-type) Perennial Ryegrass. Perennial rye is excellent for areas with poor to moderately fertile soil and dry conditions. It grows fast from seed and has a desirable dark green color and fine texture. Hardiness can be a problem in the coldest states.

Rough Bluegrass is adapted to moist shade but won't survive under most other conditions. Creeping Bentgrass is beautiful when cut short but requires so much care that it is used mostly on putting greens. Colonial Bentgrass is recommended in cool, damp coastal areas with acid soil but has been superseded by other types elsewhere. Annual Ryegrass grows quickly and is sometimes used in seed mixtures to provide color while the slower bluegrasses emerge. It is also often fall-sown over warm-season grasses to provide green when the primary grasses go dormant.

The internet, your County Extension Agent, and your local garden center can all provide the information you need to reach a decision about which cool-season grass is best for your yard.

Copyright © 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission
from The Dream Lawn, © 1996 Mantis, 1028 Street Road, Southampton, PA 18966.

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