SOLVING THE LAWN QUESTION: WHICH GRASS GROWS GREENER?
If you’re confused about which type of grass to plant, or if you are having trouble keeping your current lawn green throughout the year, you’re not alone. Getting grass to grow in our North Texas climate is not as easy as you might think. Whether you want to enhance an established lawn, or put in a new one, there are a number of options to consider. With some basic knowledge, you can select the best type of turf for your needs.
The Climate Question
Grasses can be divided into cool season and warm season varieties. In general if a grass performs well in hot temperatures, it won’t flourish in cold weather, and vice versa. This presents an obvious problem for North Texans. Since we experience both extreme heat in the summer and freezing temperatures in the winter, no single type of turf will remain green all year round here.
Along with temperature, there’s the question of shade. Shade not only helps to lower the surrounding air temperature, but it also blocks sunlight. Grasses vary in the amount of sunlight and shade needed to sustain growth. If your lawn receives too much shade, you simply will never establish it in that area. One solution to both heat and shade tolerance problems is to have a mixed lawn. That is, to plant a different variety of grass in each area or each season. Many people, for example, plant a mixture of Bermuda — a warm season grass — and rye — a cool season variety — in order to extend the green season. Likewise, you can plant one type of grass in sunny areas and another in shady spots to accommodate the reduced sunlight.
Another climate consideration is rainfall. Drought can have a devastating effect on lawns, so choosing a grass that is drought tolerant makes sense for our area. You also need to be aware of whether your grass is an annual or perennial. Annual varieties must be re-seeded each year. Perennial grasses usually last for many years. In our area, perennial varieties will die back for a season or two before returning.
Choices for North Texas
The good news is that all of the above considerations help narrow down the best choices for North Texas to only a few varieties. The most popular of these is Bermuda. Bermuda has all the characteristics that most of us want. This sun-loving, warm-season lawn or pasture grass can be easily planted from grass seed, and it’s durable, requiring only a moderate amount of maintenance and mowing. It forms thick, dark green sod that is drought resistant, low growing, fast repairing, has fair salt tolerance, grows in a variety of soils, can be mown closely, and forms a dense turf.
Known as one of the most persistent and aggressive grasses grown, it’s very hard to kill Bermuda after establishment. Lawns planted with Bermuda grass can attain full lawn coverage in one year. It is not uncommon for seeded Bermuda lawns to be established within 90 days. In tropical areas, Bermuda will retain a beautiful green color all year round, however, around here it goes into dormancy when temperatures drop below 60 degrees. For this reason, many North Texans like to mix Bermuda with a cool season grass, such as rye, to maintain their lawns through the winter.
Made for the Shade
St. Augustine is the other popular permanent lawn grass for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It is popular for its preference for moderate shade, making it as good or better than other warm season grasses for shaded sites. However, dense shade causes it to get thin and spindly. Many people prefer its color and texture to Bermuda. St. Augustine also stands up slightly better to both heat and cold: It will tolerate temperatures about 10° lower than Bermuda. Its one drawback, however, is a major one: it cannot be propagated from seed and can only be established from sod.
Buffalo grass is named for the great herds of bison that this turf used to support. Perhaps the only truly native grass in the Southern U.S., it favors our heavy clay soil and tolerates both prolonged droughts and high temperatures very well. It’s best adapted to low rainfall or places that receive thorough, but infrequent irrigation. Buffalo grass is recognized by its fine curly texture, relatively thin turf and soft blue-green color. Much shorter than Bermuda, Buffalo grows to only about 8 to 10 inches tall, and therefore, is easier to mow. As a native grass, it is very resistant to diseases and insects.
Because it does not spread by underground rhizomes as either Bermuda or St. Augustine, Buffalo grass is easily removed from flower beds and gardens. Its disadvantages are that it is not adapted to shaded sites or to sites that receive heavy traffic, and it is easily crowded out by more aggressive types such as Bermuda. Because it is so fragile, Buffalo grass is only recommended for low maintenance, low traffic areas. Buffalo grass seed can be sown in the fall along with other grasses, however maximum germination does not occur until the following spring. April and May are the best months to plant Buffalo grass, and with irrigation, the planting date can be extended into July and August.
A “Throw & Grow” Lawn
Rye grass is also popular in North Texas mainly because of its high growth rate. Rye grows well in nearly any type of soil or climate. It germinates quickly and grows fast, making it suitable for lawns and pastures. Rye is also highly resistant to both diseases and insects.
Rye is a cool season grass, and one of the few “throw and grow” seeds that you can sow without the hassle of tilling, scarifying or digging into the soil. This makes it ideal for overseeding warm season grasses that go dormant in the fall and winter. If the weather helps out by raining just before sowing then you practically have it made. Otherwise watering the yard and applying fertilizer before or after sowing are all that is required.
Annual rye is fast growing, which mean it needs more frequent mowing than it’s perennial relative. However, because our cool season is so short, neither annual or perennial rye live beyond a single year. Both still need to be reseeded each year.
Fescue to the Rescue
Fescue is essentially a cool season grass used in this area primarily to overseed warm season grasses like Bermuda. All varieties share the same key characteristics, which are shade tolerance, very good drought resistance and staying green all year. Yes, we said it stays green all year! Rather than turning brown like Bermuda, Fescue merely fades to a paler green color when it is dormant. This fact makes it more acceptable as a lawn grass. It’s tolerance for shade means it won’t grow in the full Texas sun but it does much better than most grasses under trees.
Fescue falls into two categories: Fescue for pastures and Fescues for turf. Marshall Grain carries the finer-bladed turf type Fescue. It’s dense root system is what makes it so drought tolerant. A tough grass that can endure heavy foot traffic and wear, it emerges early and grows fast for a beautiful lawn with low maintenance. Its upright growth means that Fescue will not form thatches.
Zenith Zoysia Grass
The key to success with Zoysia is to use Zenith Zoysia. Zenith is a hybrid variety that overcome’s Zoysia’s extremely slow germination rate. Even so, Zenith Zoysia is slow to get started compared to other grasses. Seeding with Zoysia can take six months or longer to completely fill in. (It actually does better when started from seed than from sprigs.) Known for it’s ability to crowd out weeds, it has also been proven to require as much as 10 fewer mowings in a growing season that Bermuda grass. Under drought conditions, it can live on as little as 2 inches of water per month. It tolerates cold and shade better than Bermuda, and endures heat and humidity better than Fescue. But as they say, patience is a virtue. Once the turf is matured, you will have a long lasting, low maintenance, extremely drought tolerant lawn.
If you still aren’t sure what to do about your lawn, come in and talk to one of our lawn and garden experts. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready and waiting to help you find the right solution to your problem. And once you’ve got your lawn established, we’ll be there to help you keep it healthy all year long, no matter what problems you encounter along the way.