Don’t Sing the Blues About Bluegrass
For most Midwestern people, whether you own a home or not, turf grass is part of your life. It can affect air and water, it surrounds the places we live and work and it is often an integral part of our recreational space. Many people have a true affection for the comfort, beauty and value turf brings their lives and homes. If part of your life involves care and maintenance of turf space, you may sometimes feel like no matter what you do, your effort does not produce the expected results you desire. Maybe you have heard about low-mow or low-water turf varieties and want to make a change. Knowing the facts and choosing the right grass seed for your specific needs, as well as maintaining a healthy, living, nutrient-rich soil to support it, are two of the most important factors in having a healthy and vibrant lawn.
Determine your lawn care and seed needs
Consider how you want to use and care for your turf space. Are you willing to mow and water, and if so, how often? Will there be children, pets or heavy foot traffic? Several factors affect what grass variety is best suited for your needs, whether you have an established lawn or are planning a new seeding area. Planning ahead can help determine whether you will enjoy a happy, long-term relationship that brings years of enjoyment or an expensive and frustrating coexistence with your turf.
Sunlight and soil conditions
Turf location is another important consideration. Seed can be blended for the greatest compatibility with specific growing condition elements such as exposure to sun or shade, amount of sand or clay in the soil, moisture availability, temperatures and acidity levels. Proximity to certain types of trees or plants can also affect growing conditions.
Blue (grass) is the new green
The Wisconsin and the Midwest climate are best suited for cool season turf grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass. What is not commonly known is the large quantity of different available varieties that are part of the bluegrass family, and the differences each one has to offer. Seeds can be specifically planted for high or low maintenance, sports fields and golf courses, and aggressive, compact or low-density growth, just to name a few. Another little known fact is that many “no-mow” grasses are actually bluegrass varieties. Although Kentucky bluegrass often has a rumored reputation of high moisture need, it is actually the best Midwest option for drought tolerance with its ability to go dormant during a long dry spell. It will perhaps turn brown faster than other grass species, but can remain alive in that state for up to 60 days.
Bluegrass prefers the ideal germination conditions of late August seeding, when soil temperatures are warm and air temperatures become more moderate; although spring also offers a successful planting alternative with patience and proper technique. Seeds can take 30-45 days to sprout, which is amongst the longest, but once established, underground stems, rhizomes, will spread, surface and grow! Its growth pattern advocates for disease resistance and a do-nothing approach for caregivers, with ability to fill in damaged areas on its own.
Other common turf and grass seed varieties
Perennial ryegrass is an almost ubiquitous component of many lawn seed blends. Despite its low cold tolerance and poor adaption to drought conditions, it can be useful when included in mixtures, as it germinates in less than a week, providing a fast green cover that protects Kentucky bluegrass waiting to germinate. The best blends contain high percentages of Kentucky bluegrass seed ratios, such as 80 percent bluegrass to 20 percent perennial ryegrass. The bluegrass will eventually fill in and take over where ryegrass dies back.
Annual ryegrass is another common component of (usually inexpensive) lawn seed mixtures. It is selected for its rapid establishment and vigorous growth. However, it is unsightly in the lawn and is unlikely to survive the winter. Purchasing blends containing annual ryegrass is not recommended.
Planting the right turf variety, for the right usage, considering the right soil and light conditions, and during the right time of season will set a foundation of success to establish and maintain long-term health, beauty and green growing!