Site hosted by Build your free website today!


Areas of Turfgrass Adaptation

Selecting the best turfgrass for your lawn in the south depends on two factors: how much sun your lawn will receive and its geographic location within the warm season grass region. The primary grass choices for southern lawns are: bermudagrass, St. Augustine, centipedegrass, zoysia, tall fescue, and buffalograss.

Bermudagrass is a vigorous warm season grass that spreads by creeping stolons and rhizomes. It is a predominant species throughout the south and southwest. It demands full sun, and it has very little tolerance for shade. There are two basic groups of bermudagrasses -- those that can be established from seed, and those that can only be planted from sprigs or by sod. Seeded bermudas such as common, Yuma, Sundevil, and U3 are less costly to establish and tend to be cheaper to maintain. The seeding rate is 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. The best time to start a bermuda lawn from seed is from late spring when nighttime temperatures stay above 65 degrees through to late summer.

Sodding is the most common method of establishing a hybrid bermudagrass lawn, although sprigging also is used. Bermuda lawns may be sodded anytime of the year, but the best time is during the summer months.

The best mowing height for seeded bermudagrass is no higher than 1.5 inches. The hybrid types, which are mostly used on golf courses, have a lower mowing height. Bermudagrasses do not have any significant disease or insect problems when properly mowed, fertilized, and watered. With the exception of buffalograss, seeded bermudagrasses have the lowest water and fertilization needs of all the southern grasses.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine is a popular and widely used lawn grass in the humid coastal areas of the south from Florida to California. Its popularity is due in great part to having the greatest shade tolerance of the southern grasses, while it also thrives in full sun.

St. Augustine, which has a wider leaf blade than most other lawngrasses, spreads by stolons. It is relatively easy to establish by sodding or plugging with proper fertilization and moisture, and will do well in most soil types. However, it is quite sensitive to freezing temperatures and winter kill; thus limiting its use in the upper south.

The St. Augustine grasses available vary greatly in their cold tolerance. Make sure the one you select has a good record of winter survival in your area before you buy.

There are several different strains of St. Augustine available that provide the homeowner with a green, dense lawn. However, only those that are labeled as resistant to a disease called St. Augustine Decline (SAD) should be purchased. The older St. Augustine lawns that have SAD can be improved by planting plugs of the new SAD-resistant strains.

The best time to sod St. Augustine is during the summer months when temperatures remain above 65 degrees. It generally uses more water than bermuda for optimum growth. St. Augustine needs a mowing height of at least 2 inches in sun, and 2.5 to 3 inches in shade areas.

Zoysia is not as shade tolerant as St. Augustine, but is considerably more tolerant of shade than bermudagrass. Because zoysia is the most winter-hardy of the southern grasses, it does better in the upper south regions. Zoysia is not as drought tolerant as bermuda or buffalograss. It is most often planted as sod or plugs. Zoysia spreads by stolons and rhizomes, and considerable time is required before plugs will form a complete cover.

There are two basic types of zoysia generally available: Emerald and Meyer. Emerald has a much finer leaf blade than Meyer, and can form a very dense, dark green lawn. The leaf blade of Meyer is medium textured like a common bermudagrass, but also can form a dense green lawn.

Meyer generally is more drought resistant than Emerald, although both have good adaptation to dry conditions. The development of thatch can be a major problem with zoysia grasses, but it has no significant disease or insect problems with proper mowing, water, and fertilizing. The best mowing height is about 1.5 inches.

This is the only turfgrass native to the North American great plains from Texas to Canada. It is a warm season turfgrass that spreads by stolons.

Buffalograss has fine leaf blades that are blue-green in color. It will not form turf as dense as other southern grasses. There is growing interest in buffalograss for low maintenance lawn areas. It can survive extreme drought conditions, has low fertility requirements, and generally will not grow higher than 4 to 5 inches when left unmowed. However, buffalograss has little shade tolerance.

Most of the new buffalograss varieties, such as Prairie, Buffalawn, and 609 are available only as sod. A growing number of named varieties are available as seed, including Comanche, Texoka, Plains, and Topgun. Buffalograss is not for everyone, nor is it ideal for many lawn areas. But its drought tolerance and low maintenance requirements have increased interest among many homeowners in the upper south and semi-arid regions. The best mowing height is 2 inches.

Tall Fescue
Even though turf type tall fescue generally is considered a northern, cool season grass, its use in the upper south is increasing, primarily in place of St. Augustine on well shaded lawns. Tall fescues also have good heat and drought tolerance for the southern summers and can survive cold winter temperatures with relatively few problems.

Tall fescue is a popular species because it stays green all winter, even when dormant. The use of two or more improved turf type tall fescues as a blend often provides a heartier lawn than using a single older fescue variety like K-31.

Tall fescue is a bunch grass and is established generally by seeding. The best time of the year to plant tall fescue is the fall or early spring. The general seeding rate is 8 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft., but follow the supplier's recommendations listed on the box or bag. The best mowing height for tall fescue is 2 inches.

Centipedegrass is well adapted to most soils and climactic conditions in the south and upper south, but is not so well adapted to the more and regions west of the Mississippi. The leaf blade is medium in texture and forms a good, low growing dense turf. Centipede can be established either by seed or vegetative planting of sod, and it spreads by stolons that lie flat against the soil. Seed at a rate of 1 lb. per 1,000 sq. ft.

It is moderately tolerant of cold and usually does well in shifting shade areas. Centipedegrass is considered a low maintenance grass, and in general, makes a lower quality lawn than bermudagrass or St. Augustine. It does not require frequent mowing, but the best mowing height is 1.5 inches.

Winter Overseeding with Perennial Ryegrass
In the south, many homeowners use improved perennial ryegrass to overseed bermudagrass, which keeps the lawn green through the winter. The best time to overseed in the upper south is during the first half of September. The best time in the lower south regions is the last half of September into the first part of October. Ideally, perennial ryegrass should be seeded about 6 to 8 weeks before the average date of the first heavy frost, and before the bermudagrass goes dormant. The lowest seeding rate just to give the lawn a little green color throughout the winter is 3 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. However, use 8 to 10 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. to keep a fairly thick green lawn during the winter months.

Overseeding does not require any special equipment other than a seed or fertilizer spreader. The biggest potential down side to overseeding with perennial ryegrass is that some plants may linger as the weather turns warmer into the summer. The ryegrass then becomes weeds in the bermuda lawn. Low mowing and less water will encourage the bermudagrass over the ryegrass, or use a post-emergent herbicide to control the ryegrass.

Southern grasses do not produce quality lawns when mixed. Since they spread by stolons, mixed varieties will tend to segregate and form distinct patches of each variety. Choose among the southern grasses that best adapt to your geographic area and particular lawn conditions, i.e. sunny, shady, humid, or arid. Next, decide if you want to use seed, sod, or sprigs. It can be a lot of work to do yourself, but a beautiful, well-maintained lawn is worth it! Your home, family, and environment will benefit.

Make Sure You Buy Quality Seed!
As a homeowner, be wary of low-cost seed mixtures. They often contain common, unadapted, temporary, and low-quality grasses. Improved seed varieties will generally cost a bit more, but within that seed lies the potential for an improved quality of lawn.

Read the seed label and understand what you're getting in the box or bag.

How to Read a Seed label

XYZ Brand
Lawn Seed Mixture
60% Liberty Kentucky bluegrass 85%
15% Jamestown Chewings fescue 85%
24.55% Manhattan II perennial ryegrass 90%


0.26% Other crop seed
0.10% Weed seed
No noxious weed seed
0.09% Inert matter

Tested January 1993
Lot No. 1002

XYZ Super Seed Co., Anytown, OH 44118

Look to see if the varieties are listed by trade name, rather than a generic name like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, or the Latin name for the species or variety. Make sure the germination percentage number is high with at least 75% for Kentucky bluegrass, and 85% for perennial ryegrasses, fine fescues, and turf type tall fescues. The weed content should not be more than 0.5% and other crop grasses no more than 0.5%. Inert matter, which is incapable of growing under any conditions, should be no more than 5%. There should not be any noxious weeds stated on the label. There are many places where annual grasses are used and are beneficial to the environment...but the permanent lawn is NOT one of these places. When reading the seed label, avoid boxes or bags that list annual grasses at more than 5% by weight of the container, i. e. annual ryegrasses. A small percentage can be helpful for erosion control at establishment, but annual grasses do not provide the basis for a healthy, permanent lawn. A quality seed mixture or blend should be free of bentgrass and Poa trivialis (rough bluegrass). These weedy grasses are particularly difficult to control in a permanent lawn and can quickly deteriorate the quality of the lawn. If the seed label indicates these minimum and maximum levels, you can be confident that you are buying a good quality mixture or blend.