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Lawn grass selection

Grass selection
Selecting the right grass is crucial for the long term success of your lawn. Some questions to ask yourself during the selection process are: 1) How much sun does the area receive? 2) Do I have time to water and fertilize? 3) How much foot traffic will the lawn receive? When it comes to options, there are generally four to choose from, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, and tall fescue. Home lawns generally contain one or more of these grasses.

To make an informed decision, it is important to evaluate the benefits and downfalls of each grass species. My colleague, Sam Bauer, UMN Extension Educator, provides this information in the following paragraphs.

Kentucky bluegrass is the most widely used species in Minnesota lawns due to its high aesthetic quality, adaptation, and stress tolerance. If you have an existing lawn, chances are that a good majority of it is Kentucky bluegrass. Additional benefits of Kentucky bluegrass include its cold tolerance, drought survival through dormancy, and high recuperative ability. However, downfalls with this species include a high water requirement, frequent mowing, and high fertility needs. There is a wide range of genetic diversity in Kentucky bluegrass.

Perennial ryegrass can also be a high quality species, although its poor tolerance to winter and summer stresses make it undesirable in many cases. Perennial ryegrass is included in many of our Midwest mixtures due to its incredible germination and establishment rate. If quick establishment is desired, perennial ryegrass can be used, but I would suggest not using more than 25% perennial ryegrass in your seeding mixture.

Fine fescues have been receiving a lot of attention recently because of their ability to survive low maintenance environments. Fine fescue is a category of about five different species that are often mixed together. These species include hard fescue, slender and strong creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue, and sheep fescue. Like perennial ryegrass, the fine fescues germinate very quickly. Fine fescues are often the best performing species in drought trials and no-mow turf situations. They are also adapted to shade or full sun.

Tall fescue is a coarse fescue species that has been gaining popularity due to its shade and traffic tolerance, as well as its ability to avoid drought through an extensive root system. Tall fescue is a bunch type grass and it can be unsightly when overseeded into existing lawns. When tall fescue is greater than 75% of a stand it looks very comparable to a Kentucky bluegrass lawn, and it will require less inputs of water and fertilizer. Tall fescue is also very shade adapted. Tall fescue should be seeded in the spring.


Randy Nelson
Extension Educator, Home Hort & Ag Production Systems
(218) 299-5020

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