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What is the Difference among Turfgrasses? | Gardening


Our lawns suffered variously this past winter from El Nino driven weather. Bare patches from fungus disease and erosion need repair. Some lawn areas have washed out. Weed seeds from next door and miles upstream have established themselves where grass once grew.

The optimistic approach to dealing with such lawn problems is to look at them as an opportunity to evaluate and update our choice of turf grass.

One type of grass is not best for all situations. Think of the adage, the right plant in the right place. Certain turf grasses grow better in some locations than others.

Warm season grasses grow best in our coastal climate. Those well adapted for our climate include bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass. They green up in spring and grow all summer until the first heavy frost in late fall when they go dormant for the winter.

Bermuda grows quickly on most types of soil as long as it is well drained. It tolerates high traffic and recovers quickly from injury. It is high maintenance in that it is best mowed low and often—usually two times per week.

Carpet grass is a low maintenance, general purpose turf that looks like centipede but with broader leaves (the wider the leaf blade, the coarser-looking the grass). It grows in wet moderate shade where other grasses may not. However, it prefers full sun with temperatures 60 – 90 degrees. It does not tolerate cold.

Centipede is a general purpose slow growing grass that prefers full sun. It does not grow in heavy shade. Have your soil tested before you routinely add lime and fertilizer. Centipede needs acidic soil (pH 5.5) and low phosphorus levels. It is slow to establish from seed.

St. Augustine is fast growing and adapted to the Coastal Plain. It grows best in well drained fertile soil. Avoid high fertilizer rates and excess water to help prevent thatch buildup. It has the best shade tolerance of all the warm season grasses.

Zoysia produces a dense wear-tolerant lawn. It grows in full sun and light shade. It is also drought resistant. Consider the newer cultivars for added plusses.

Bermuda and zoysia spread by stolons (above ground) and rhizomes (below ground). Growing underground rhizomes from Bermuda and zoysia will invade flower beds and other areas adjacent to the turf grass.

Look below at how the turfgrasses compare before you select new grass for all or part of your yard. A different type of grass may be better for your conditions and lifestyle.

Color: Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia – medium dark green, carpet and centipede – apple (light) green

Disease tendency: Bermuda and carpet – low, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia – moderate

Drought tolerance: Bermuda – excellent, St. Augustine and zoysia – good, centipede – fair, carpet – very poor

Maintenance level: Bermuda and zoysia – high, St. Augustine – moderate, carpet and centipede – low

Nematode tolerance: zoysia – good, St. Augustine – fair to good, Bermuda – poor to fair, carpet and centipede - poor

Salt tolerance: St. Augustine – excellent, Bermuda and zoysia – good, carpet and centipede - poor

Shade tolerance: St Augustine and zoysia – excellent, centipede and carpet – fair, Bermuda – very poor.

Soil types: Bermuda, St. Augustine and zoysia – a wide range, centipede and carpet – acid

Texture: Bermuda – fine, carpet and centipede – medium, St. Augustine – course to medium, zoysia – medium to fine.

Thatch tendency: Bermuda and zoysia – high, centipede and St. Augustine – medium, carpet – low.

Traffic/wear tolerance: Bermuda – excellent, zoysia – very good, St. Augustine – fair,

centipede and carpet - poor

Bermuda hybrids, St. Augustine and most zoysia cultivars must be vegetatively planted, instead of seeded because seed is either unavailable or does not germinate true to type. Install sod April until July 1. Be aware that sod does not produce roots unless the soil temperature is above 55 degrees for several of weeks.

Prudent fertilization and irrigation help prevent thatch buildup, which can be a problem with warm season grasses. Typically the more fertilizer and water applied to turfgrass, the more mowing and pest control are required, too.

Although warm season turf grasses can be mowed with a rotary mower, a reel mower produces an optimal cut on Bermuda and zoysia.

Compare the different turfgrasses. You may be surprised by what you find.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.