The Lowest Maintenance Turf? University Results Are In
I’ve long had a section in my lawn care talks titled “Grow the Right Grass.” The shpeel emphasizes the fact that not all species of grass are created equally, much to the surprise of the average homeowner.
Most people do know that some grasses grow well in sun and others are better suited for shade. Other profound differences exist, however, in the amount of fertilizer, water and mowing they require. A study by the University of Rhode Island confirms that, for the sustainable lawn movement, certain grass plants are preferred.
“Some grass species do better than others under low-input management,” said Rebecca Brown, Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at URI. “I recently completed five years of trials that found that hard fescue, tall fescue, colonial bentgrass, red fescue and koeleria (prairie junegrass) were able to maintain 100 percent turf cover on poor soil with no irrigation or pesticides after establishment — and only 1-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year applied as organic granular fertilizer.”
She went on to explain that Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass were not able to maintain solid cover under the same conditions she described. The standard recommendations for bluegrass call for 4-5 pounds of nitrogen per year.
“It is also important when choosing grasses for low-input management to use improved varieties (of grasses),” she said. “The improved varieties have denser growth and better disease resistance than “common” types — which are mostly varieties from 30-plus years ago. These improved varieties will do a better job of competing with weeds.”
The professionals all visit the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program to keep up with the latest development in breeding for lawn grasses. Homeowners are advised to purchase grass seed at reputable dealers rather than large box stores, which are far more likely to sell the common types for the lowest price.
We’ll have more information from the URI trials in the days ahead.