The following lists most of the important characteristics to consider when choosing a turfgrass:
Genetic Color – Shades of color range from light green to dark green. Americans generally prefer darker green grasses, while Europeans prefer medium to lighter green grasses.
Leaf Texture – Describes the width of the leaves. Coarser-textured grasses such as St. Augustine grass have a tougher “feel” and are not as soft as Fine Fescues, for example. Also, finer-textured grasses often are better for use in low-cut turf such as golf course fairways.
Density – Density measures the number of grass plants in some specified area. The larger number of plants per unit area, the greater the density. Grasses with high density ratings often give the lawn a more carpet-like appearance.
Growth Habit – This varies from upright to low growing along the soil surface. The more upright the growth, the more mowing that is required. Some species, such as Tall Fescue, inherently have a more upright growth than say, Kentucky Bluegrass. Plant breeders have changed this somewhat by developing “dwarf” or slower-growing Tall Fescue varieties.
Uniformity – Having a lawn that is uniform in color, texture, density and growth habit is pleasing to the eye and desired by most people.
Disease/Insect Resistance – This relates to the turfgrass’ ability to resist or overcome disease and insect attacks. Some plants are more resistant to these pests because it is in their “genes.” Also, naturally occurring fungi, called endophytes, live within certain Tall Fescue, Fineleaf Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass varieties, helping these grasses to repel insects.
Drought Resistance – The ability of a turfgrass to survive and/or thrive during drought conditions. The most desirable grass will maintain its green color and good quality during prolonged drought. However, for basic survival during drought, grasses often lose their green color and go dormant.
Water Use Efficiency – The amount of water needed by a turfgrass to maintain a certain level of quality or to provide acceptable performance. The water needs of a turfgrass on an athletic field, for example, are often greater than the needs of a home lawn because of the “wear and tear” on the athletic turf. Also, turfgrasses vary widely in their water use efficiencies. Some grasses, like Tall Fescue, are large water users, but have a deep root system to reach water that other grasses cannot reach.
Heat, Cold Tolerance – The turfgrass’ ability to survive extreme winter and summer temperatures.
Rate of Establishment – How quickly the turfgrass produces 100 percent ground cover. This is especially important in resisting weed invasion, controlling erosion and in recovering from disease or insect damage.
Shade Tolerance – Since trees are a significant part of the landscape, we need grasses that can survive and thrive in shaded areas.
Traffic/Wear Tolerance – This characteristic is important in parks, athletic fields, golf courses and school play areas as well as home lawns. Grasses need to be able to survive the damage from cleats and clubs, the resulting compacted soil and still have the ability to recover worn areas.
Thatch Production – Some grass types produce thatch, or dead roots and stems, faster than soil microorganisms can work to decompose the thatch. Thatch is a place for diseases and insects to thrive and it prevents water from reaching the turfgrass’ roots.
Nutrient Use Efficiency – Just as some people are able to sustain themselves, or even gain weight on a moderate diet, turfgrasses have varying nutrient use efficiencies. While this characteristic may be an inherent factor of the turf variety, the intensity of use and management will also influence the turf’s nutrient needs.
An important point to remember in the selection of turfgrass is that a “magic grass” – one that uses little or no water, seldom needs mowing, withstands heavy use in a deeply shaded area – does not exist, and most likely never will. All plants require sunlight, air, water and nutrients just to maintain their life via photosynthesis. If we add the damage of wear and tear or pests, the plant’s needs to produce sufficient new growth to repair itself requires increased measures of these sources of life. However, through use of scientifically conducted evaluations, turfgrass purchasers and growers will be better able to select the turfgrass variety that best suits the known and predicted needs for the area under consideration.