Getting to the root of grass selection
Selecting the right grass for public use is no easy task. Turf types are numerous, and their applications vary. In choosing the appropriate turf for a specific project, grounds personnel must consider where and how the turf will be used; environmental conditions and limitations; and maintenance requirements, capabilities and cost.
Questionable intentions Every turf installation has unique requirements, determined in part by the grass’s intended use. For example, the grass needed to landscape City Hall will not be the same as the grass needed for a soccer field or a county right of way.
Parks and recreation Parks require grasses that are low-growing, low-maintenance and somewhat dense – capable of withstanding at least moderate traffic. Keeping in mind that the grass must be well adapted to the region and climate, grounds personnel can choose from a variety of species – including Bermudagrass, Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Zoysiagrass – that meet the criteria for parks applications. (For more information about specific grass species and climate tolerance, see the table on page 48.)
Roadside and reclamation projects Roadside and reclamation projects require turf establishments that are quick, low-growing and low-maintenance. Bermudagrass, Buffalograss, Centipedegrass, Fine Fescue, Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Zoysiagrass are the ideal choices. For roadside or utility area lawns where erosion is an issue, sod may be preferable to seed because it provides immediate maturity.
Athletic fields For sports turf selection, sod may again be the best choice, simply because of its rapid maturity. Playing fields also must tolerate high traffic, provide resistance to injury and be able to recuperate quickly, making Bluegrass a favorite. Bermudagrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Tall Fescue and Zoysiagrass also fit the bill.
Golf courses About a dozen of the most popular grass species (in hundreds of varieties) are used on golf courses today. Generally, Bentgrass, Bluegrass, Fine Fescue, Tall Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass are used in cool regions, while Bermudagrass, Buffalograss, Carpetgrass, Centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass and Zoysiagrass are common to warm regions. Adaptability, aesthetics, surface quality and maintenance needs (including water and pesticide usage) are key factors to be considered in golf course turf installations.
Landscapes Landscaping that encounters light traffic can be developed using any of the major grass species, provided the grass is a good match for the climate and soil.
The defining factors Identifying a turf project’s intended use will narrow the field of grass selection, but it will not yield a clear final choice. That comes after examining the following set of characteristics for each species of grass being considered. * Heat and cold tolerance – ability to survive extreme winter or summer temperatures. * Shade tolerance – adaptability to shaded environments. * Wearability – ability to survive and recover from compaction and wear. * Establishment rate – the time it takes for the grass to cover the ground with density that prevents weed growth and controls erosion. * Nutrient/water use – efficiency in using and storing nutrients and water. * Cutting tolerance – ability to withstand varying cutting heights. * Disease and pest tolerance – ability to resist common infestations.
Among the species with the best chance for all-around success are Bermudagrass, Bluegrass, St. Augustinegrass, Tall Fescue and Zoysiagrass. However, in many instances, a grass’s adaptability can be enhanced by mixing species or blending varieties of particular species (called cultivars).
For example, Fine Fescue is a strong species in shade, so, in cool regions, a Bluegrass and Fine Fescue mixture might work well in an area where partial shade is unavoidable. Mixes also can help protect lawns that might otherwise be wiped out entirely by particular pests, diseases or abnormal environmental stresses.
Sowing the seeds of success Once the grass is selected for a project, turf planners can ensure a cost-efficient installation by investigating the availability of their selection. As new grasses are introduced, older, less efficient varieties are discontinued. Therefore, planners should consult sod and seed suppliers, and, if the selected species is unavailable, they may want to make a new selection or allow additional project time to grow the grass they have chosen.
Irrigation systems also can affect cost. In fact, the majority of contractor callbacks for grass installations involve irrigation equipment problems or inadequate/non-uniform coverage. Grounds personnel should ensure that systems are fully operational, as irrigation problems can produce inconsistent growth or lead to partial or even total loss.
Of the steps taken to prepare for and protect an installation, soil preparation can provide one of the largest payoffs. While budget constraints may limit a local government’s ability to invest in soil preparation, ignoring that step places the installation at risk. Preparation will enhance the grass’s vitality and produce future savings on water, fertilizer and weed control.
To select the most appropriate grass species for a public project, planners must familiarize themselves with adaptability to climate and environment; consider the costs of preparing the soil, and purchasing and installing the grass; and consider the requirements for maintenance. Many optimum species of turf are available (in many varieties), and dozens are introduced each year.
Sod and seed suppliers can help planners determine the best match for a given project, and case study information provided by colleagues (in similar climates, with similar turf applications) can be invaluable. With reliable information, local grounds departments can plan purposeful and successful grass projects, specified with minimal investments of time and money.
Ben Copeland is president of Turfgrass Producers International, a not-for-profit association of turfgrass producers, based in suburban Chicago. (For more information about sodding, visit the association’s web site at www.TurfgrassSod. org.)