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Turfgrass Types

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

For more complete information read my column in Fridays’s Deseret News

In most gardens, turfgrass is the major “crop” we grow. It looks good, is usually easy to maintain, cools our environment and it fits the social functions of our society. It also takes water. Lots and lots of water! For that reason, it is a place to start if you want to reduce your water use.

One of the most frequent questions I get related to water conservation is what can I plant that looks like my lawn, that is easy to maintain, that is soft and pleasant to sit and walk on but does not need any water? Unfortunately, nothing fills the bill in exactly. Fortunately, there are some possible alternatives. Knowing more about grass and hoe well it grows here in our climate will help determine future choices and planting decisions.

For the latest information on turfgrass culture and care, I contacted Dr. Paul Johnson, turfgrass professor from Utah State University. He undoubtedly knows more about grass than anyone else in the state and is ready and willing to share his information.

In addition to all of the variety testing, Johnson and others are checking the ability of different kind to tolerate different levels of water use.

In Utah, most gardeners grow cool season turgrasses. These look their best when temperatures are 60-75 degrees. When temperatures are much warmer their growth rate slows and they require additional water.

The major types of cool season grasses are bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, perennial ryegrass, and bentgrass. In addition, there are several other types that offer some alternatives to the aforementioned types.

To give some idea of the extent of the national trials he is conducting, consider these statistics. He has 177 varieties of tall fescue, 156 varieties of perennial ryegrass and 154 varieties of bluegrass. In addition, he has or is putting in buffalograss, bentgrass and fine fescue trials. This is done to see how the different grasses will perform under Utah conditions.

Bluegrass is the most commonly grown turfgrass in Utah. It looks good, is easy to maintain and is very popular. In spite of all the variety testing he does, he does not recommend homeowners go to great lengths to find certain varieties. “Go to seed suppliers or nurseries and see what better varieties they have. Turfgrass plots are like beauty contests. Next to one another, comparisons show but otherwise the comparisons don’t show.”

Tall fescue is another alternative to bluegrass. According to Johnson, “Tall fescue works well, tolerates heat, and is a durable, environmentally tough grass. Its probably uses 10-15 percent less water but that is not significant because of variations in sprinkler systems.”

There are many varieties of tall fescue. Advantages of tall fescue is that they are very tough and will take a great deal of abuse meaning that have excellent wear tolerance. This makes them suitable for athletic fields, parks and other high use areas

Perennial ryegrass is another choice for turfgrass in Utah. Johnson adds this information, “Ryegrass is similar to bluegrass but is a little higher maintenance. It is planted because of its color and because it comes in quicker. Pure perennial ryegrass is beautiful but is higher maintenance and the difference in water use is not significant.”

Fine fescue thrives in shady areas. It is the most shade tolerant grass and looks attractive although the width of the blades is much thinner than any other types. Water savings with this grass is not highly significant.

Bentgrass belongs on golf courses, not on homeowner’s landscapes. Bentgrass is a weed for most home lawns so let the golf superintendents take care of it. When asked about significant water savings, Johnson suggests that homeowners look at buffalograss. It can get by with about one-half the amount of water that bluegrass uses. It is a warm season grass so it does not green up as early as the cool season grass but it tolerates the heat extremely well. It is a low growing spreading grass.

No grass is the best grass for all situations. Look at what you want the grass to look like and what you want it to do. Learn how to manage it and how to water it correctly. Planting a different cool season grass is not likely to save much water. Learning to water your grass correctly will.

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