Landscaping in America

Turf grass care and lawn care improvement tips

Turfgrass

Check here for a full listing of common turf grasses suitable for American Lawns.

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Perfect Lawn

Why Have a Lawn?

You may have asked yourself this question at one time or another: why do we have lawns? It's like a child's question such as: why is the sky blue? The fact is that lawns appeal to an entire range of sensibilities.

Whether the lawn is a playground for the kids and pets, or just a relaxing haven for us to stroll across, the lawn can can handle a variety of chores.

The lawn is one element in the landscape that you can easily walk on without causing damage. Try walking across a bed of tulips sometime. We often undervalue the lowly grass plant as just a flat green surface that goes underfoot.

The lawn makes a natural complement to the rest of the landscape; imagine your entire backyard filled with roses, no grass, just roses. To some that may be appealing, but in reality, the roses would get lost in a sea of roses. Having wide expanses of green leading up to the roses, makes just a single rose bush stand out. That's just one of many things a lawn is good at doing.

Your lawn helps unify the entire landscape. It's like the canvas a painter uses. In some places in the painting, you can actually see the texture of the canvas, but in other places all you see is the beauty of the individual brush strokes, all together and you have a painting or in this metaphor, a beautiful landscape.

Perfect Lawns

So the real question is: why do we grow grass in our lawns instead of something else?

We grow grass for one reason: we can mow it and it survives, even thrives. Any other plant, even most other grasses would die after being mowed with any regularity. There are over 10,000 species of grass, yet only about 50 of those are suitable for use in a lawn.

Why can lawn grasses be regularly mown without dying, and still maintain a healthy and attractive appearance? Unlike most plants, lawn grasses grow from the base of the plant, well below the sharpened rotating lawn mower blade. Other plants grow at the tips that don't respond well to being repeatedly cut.

The process of mowing is actually reducing the plants leaves and cutting down its ability to use photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process that takes carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into carbohydrates that the plant uses for food. When the plant looses some of this ability, it overcompensates by producing additional leaves. The result: an even thicker, denser lawn.

So, the answer to the question "why grow grass?" is: because it's the one plant that adapts best for the environment we've created for ourselves.

Turfgrass types

See also: Cool Season | Transitional | Warm Season

Although there are a multitude of turfgrass brands, there are basically 2 types of grass: Cool and Warm Season Grasses with each type better suited to particular climates in North America. See the MOWING section for mowing recommendations. Also see the HISTORY section for a brief history of lawns in American culture.

Map of suitable grass types by zone

ZONE
SUITABLE GRASS TYPE
 
1

Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, red fescue, turf-type tall fescue

Lawn Grass
1A

Irrigated: same as Zone 1 / Un-irrigated: buffalo grass

Lawn Grass
2

Tall fescue, Bermuda grass, Zoysia

Lawn Grass
2A

Irrigated: same as Zone 2 / Un-irrigated: Buffalo grass

Lawn Grass
3

Bermudagrass, Centipede grass and Zoysia

Lawn Grass
3A

Irrigated: same as Zone 3 / Un-irrigated: Buffalo grass

Lawn Grass
4

St. Augustine grasses, Zoysia grass , Centipede grass

Lawn Grass


Cool season grasses

On average, these climates have cold winters and warm/hot summers. Usually they also have regular intervals of rain throughout the summer months, but grasses will tolerate some extended periods of draught by going dormant. Zones 1 & 1A.

Transition zone turfs

There is a “transition zone” between northern and southern turf regions, which follows the lower elevations of Virginia and North Carolina west through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas and includes southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. In this transition zone, neither warm nor cool season grasses are uniformly successful. However, several of the northern or “cool season” grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass and tall fescue, do well across Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Missouri. Tall fescue is the best choice in Tennessee, North Carolina, northern Georgia, northern Alabama and the Texas panhandle. In the lower elevations of these latter states warm season grasses do well too. Zone 2, 2A

Warm season lawns

In some ways, growing and maintaining a good-looking lawn in the South is more involved than in the North. Choosing grass varieties is trickier; many grass varieties do much better when started as plugs or sod than from seed, as is usually done in the North. Good soil is critically important for growing a low maintenance lawn in this region.

Most all warm weather grasses will turn brown when cooler temperatures arrive. Some southern gardeners seed their existing lawns with ryegrass each fall to maintain green color during the winter months. This is called “winter overseeding.” Zones 2A, 3, 3A, 4

Maintaining ideal growing conditions for your particular grass type is critical, otherwise unwanted grass varieties will start popping up and will be extremely difficult to remove. For example, St. Augustine grass being invaded by Bermuda and vice versa.