Many different factors come to mind when selecting the best turfgrass for a particular location. It would be easy to say that people should plant the kind of turf they like the best; however, that might not be the type that is adapted for the area. Some turfgrass will not tolerate high pH soil, and others will not tolerate cold winters. A turfgrass that grows fast may be less expensive to establish but might need to be mowed more often. Some turf may need to be mowed every five days on average during the growing season, as compared to others needing to be mowed every 10 days. Knowing the extra time, as well as wear and tear on a lawn mower, may make the price of establishment less important.
How the turf will be used is a big factor on selection. High use areas, such as playgrounds or athletic fields, need turf that will recover from wear as fast as possible. How much sun a turfgrass receives also is extremely important in the selection process. The grasses commonly used for turf prefer full sun, but some are more tolerant of a little shade than others.
A lawn that stays in the shade most of the day may never look as good as the neighbor’s lawn where turf is in the full sun. I am not suggesting to cut limbs or remove trees from the yard, but too much shade is a common reason for poor-growing turf.
If you have a mixed turf and one of the species in the mix is one that you like better than the others, I encourage you to manage for that grass. If that grass responds well to being mowed low and heavily fertilized, you will encourage that grass to spread by applying the management practices for that species. That practice works well unless you have more than one turfgrass species that responds well to the same management practices. In some instances, using selective herbicides could take out one species but leave another.
If you only have a few bare places, the improved management practice idea could work great for filling in turf. You could dig up grass from one area and move it to the bare places. Stolons are the above ground stems that grow out from the plant and eventually take root, forming new plants. I have pulled up the stolons that creep across a sidewalk or driveway and planted it in bare places. It does not cost any money, but it does require time.
These stolons may not have any roots, so they have to be in contact with the soil. I usually bury part of the stolon and leave part above ground. I do this during the growing season, and they must be watered. They may be covered lightly with pine straw and checked for moisture every morning and evening for at least a week. I like to water early in the morning. It’s important to not let them dry out. If they do not dry out in a week, they should make it. This process of taking the stolons from a mature plant and establishing them in other areas is called sprigging.
It saves money to plant sprigs and plugs, but it does take time to grow. Some species establish very slowly from seeds as well. If you want instant turf, solid sodding is the way to go. With sprigging, seeding or sodding, I recommend applying the nutrients needed for that particular grass, and a soil test is the only way to know how much of what fertilizer or lime to apply. Any high places or dips need to be addressed, and it is easier to fix these places before planting.
It is common to establish bermudagrass, and centipedegrass by seeding. Vegetative propagation methods, including sodding, sprigging and plugging, are used to establish bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustine and zoysiagrass.
Bermudagrass is adapted statewide and needs to be planted in the full sun. A little shade may result in a thinner stand. The pH should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range, but it can tolerate a pH a little higher or lower. It needs to be mowed low and mowed often. It is often used in high traffic areas because it grows back faster than other turfgrass species. It responds well to fertilizer, has a very good color and looks great, but again, it needs to be mowed often to look the best.
Zoysiagrass is also adapted statewide and needs to be planted in the full sun, but partial shade is acceptable. The recommended pH is similar to bermudagrass and should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range, but it can tolerate a pH a little higher or lower. Zoysiagrass does not need to be mowed as often as bermudagrass, and a weekly mowing during the growing season may be sufficient. It tolerates a lot of traffic before it wears down, but it does take a long time to recover after wear. For this reason, it is not recommended in high traffic areas, such as athletic fields and playgrounds. The color is not a deep green like bermudagrass but is very acceptable, and it could be darkened up with fertilizer.
Centipedegrass is not as cold tolerant as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass and is only recommended in central and south Alabama. It prefers a pH of around 5.5 but can tolerate a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. It has a course texture and is usually mowed higher than bermudagrass and zoysiagrass; however, it is a slow growing grass and does not need to be mowed as often. Of all the turfgrasses discussed in this article, centipedegrass has the lightest green color. Some turfgrasses respond well to nitrogen fertilizer and will green up readily and spread faster when applied; however, centipedegrass does not act like other turfgrasses in this regard, and too much nitrogen fertilizer will even suppress growth.
St. Augustinegrass is not cold tolerant and is adapted only for the southern part of the state. It prefers a pH of around 6.0 to 6.5 but can tolerate a higher pH of up to 8.0. It has a course texture and will need to be mowed higher than fine textured turfgrass, such as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass. St. Augustinegrass is the only one of our warm season turfgrasses that can tolerate shade and is a very common species in south Alabama.
Finally, I highly recommend collecting samples of your soil for an analysis. A soil test report is a very important part of diagnosing turf problems. We did not discuss weed and fire ant management, but both of those can make a pretty lawn look terrible. The local Extension office can provide information that will help with those issues as well. If you have questions about these turfgrasses or other species that can be used as turfgrass, give us a call at your local Extension office.
~ Dr. Chip East is a regional extension agent for Commercial Horticulture for Alabama Cooperative Extension System.