University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring, Summer News Article 

SELECTING LAWN GRASSES

Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

 
A beautiful lawn is not maintained year after year without some effort. So, before you decide to put in a new lawn, consider whether or not it is worth the time and expense required to keep it beautiful.

A lawn can be as low maintenance as mowing whatever grows and letting nature do the rest. At the other end of the spectrum is the lawn that needs monthly fertilization and regular watering. If the lawn is watered and fertilized regularly, it will need more mowing and dethatching. The maintenance required for these two types of lawns is vastly different.

The types of grass selected, the desired lawn quality, and the site determine the maintenance level of the lawn. But be aware that some landscape features are incompatible. For instance, you can have a very shady landscape or a high quality lawn, but not both. Grass does not grow well in the shade.

A good lawn is possible when you plant a proper mix of grasses. Most lawns are combinations of Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue, and perennial ryegrass. A mixture of three different grass species provides the maximum amount of pest resistance and environmental adaptability.

Kentucky bluegrass is the most common lawn grass. Blends of Kentucky bluegrass cultivars can provide a very high quality lawn, but such lawns usually require above average maintenance levels. The spreading growth habit helps fill in bare spots, but the grass goes dormant during hot, dry, summer weather.

Creeping red fescue has thread-like leaves and is the most shade-tolerant of lawn grasses. This does not mean the grass grows only in shade or that it will tolerate total shade. It grows well in full sun and, in fact, requires some sun during the day.

Only named cultivars of perennial ryegrass should be used in lawns. Common perennial ryegrass often dies during the winter and does not mow well.

A fairly adaptable mix consists of 50 percent creeping red fescue, 30 percent Kentucky bluegrass, and 20 percent named perennial ryegrass. This mix, along with similar mixes, will provide a good quality lawn suitable for sun or partial shade that requires below average to average care.

Try to avoid "problem grasses" such as annual ryegrass that is often sold as the major component of some very low priced grass seed. It will die out during the winter so essentially forms a lawn that lasts for a single season.

Rough bluegrass is often found in shady grass mixes. It has a light green color and does not blend well with other lawn type grasses. It does, however, do well in moist, shaded sites.

Tall fescue is one of the two worst lawn weeds. Yet seed is available in most stores. The grass blades always seem to stay taller than the rest of the lawn. No selective control exists for this grass as the chemicals that kill tall fescue also kill other lawn grasses. Pure stands of this wear-tolerant grass are often used on playgrounds or roadsides.

Zoysia is a warm season grass that turns brown early in the fall and stays brown until late spring. It is no better than the cool season grasses more commonly used in Vermont.

Finally, for sloping areas, you may want to purchase "conservation mix." This mix contains deep-rooted grasses that will aid in erosion control and prevent heavy rains from washing away soil on the slope.)



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