Planning a garden can be challenging, not only in terms of the structures you include in it or the trees, shrubs and flowers that you plant, but especially what goes underfoot. While patios, decks and a variety of pathways are popular elements in most gardens, lawns often top the list, even if they are only going to take up a portion of the garden.
But how do you know which grass will be best in your home environment? How do you assess how big or small the lawn should be? And how do you know which will be the right grass for your lawn?
There are many factors that come into play, including:
- Where you live, particularly in terms of climate.
- How much you are prepared to pay to first of all lay-out and establish your lawn, and then maintain it.
- Which type of grass is likely to meet your own particular needs.
Consider where you live and what your climate is like
There are not that many types of basic grass and all lawn grasses are either categorized as cool-season (generally suited to northern parts of the north America) or warm-season (in the south). So before you choose a grass for your lawn, you need to be sure it is suitable, and certain that it will thrive without rampantly taking over your garden.
A climate map for lawns will show various different zones that identify the type of climate that prevails in each particular zone. Each zone is well suited to the same types of grass. Here are seven zones that may be identified in north America:
- The West Coast, Pacific Northwest, western Canada and southeast Alaska have cool summers and mild winters, but it does get humid.
- The Southwest has hot summers and relatively mild winters and tends to be arid and dry.
- The mountainous regions of the west, as well as the Great Plains, the Central Plains of Canada and the interior of Alaska experience hot, dry summers and very cold winters. It is arid and dry in this zone as well.
- The Midwest, Northeast and eastern Canada (which is a zone east of the mountainous regions) has hot, humid summers, although it is generally cooler near the Great Lakes and the coast. Winters are very cold.
- The upper South, just south of the previous zone, and a whole lot smaller and narrower, experiences hot, humid summers and cold winters.
- The central south zone (just above Florida and the Gulf Coast) has hot, humid summers and relatively mild winters.
- Florida, the Gulf Coast and Hawaii have hot, humid summers, but winters are generally mild.
- There is also a transition zone that cuts across the country between the hot and cold regions.
Choose a grass based on climate and general conditions
Having seen which grasses are best suited to your region you can now make a choice.
In general there are cool-season and warm-season grasses, but within in these two categories there are also grasses that are more resistant to drought and others that are more tolerant of shade.
Cool-season grasses are ideal for areas where cold winters are the norm. There are three main types:
- bluegrasses, including both the popular Kentucky bluegrass and rough bluegrass,
- fescues, which come in a variety of forms, and
- perennial ryegrasses.
Typically, cool season grasses have dark green, soft leaves. Bluegrasses (of which there are more than 100 different varieties) have a characteristic, boat-shaped tip and the edges of the blades often curl. While they are tolerant of cold weather, they do need quite a lot of water and benefit from fertilizer. Bunch-type fescues are generally classified as being either fine or coarse. The coarser types are more tolerant of the heat. Ryegrasses also tend to clump (rather than forming runners), but they establish quickly and are therefore often added to low-cost grass mixtures that are intended for covering large areas quickly.
Warm-season grasses generally have much stiffer blades than cool-season grasses and they are more olive or yellow-green in color. While they thrive in hot conditions, they tend to turn brown when the weather gets really cold, in winter. The most popular warm-season grasses are generally drought-resistant. They include:
- St. Augustine, and
These grasses grow best in temperatures higher than 80 ºF. Because the grass turns brown in cold weather, many people re-seed their lawns with one of the cool-season grasses in winter. This effectively keeps it looking good all year round.
Drought-resistant grasses not only cope with hot conditions, but they will also recover more quickly if they become completely dormant during periods of time when rain is seriously scarce.
Most of the warm-season grasses are drought resistant including bahia, Bermuda, buffalo and zoysia. Both tall and fine-leafed fescue, which are cool-season grasses, have proven to be drought resistant, particularly in the transition zone.
Shade-tolerant grasses are described by the amount of sunlight they need to continue to thrive. The fine-leafed fescue doesn’t do well if people walk over it a lot, but it is tolerant of shade. Tall fescue is also shade tolerant and it is tolerates light traffic.
Both the coarse-textured bahia and tough St. Augustine grass do quite well in shade. Both also block weeds quite effectively, but St. Augustine needs to be watered, fertilized and mowed often.
Assess how much space you should give to a lawn
If you are laying a new lawn, or having a new lawn laid, you are going to have to clearly define the area it will take up. This is part of basic landscape design and you will need to take various factors into account including the function of your garden, what it is going to cost to establish a lawn versus laying and maintaining a patio or some other surface, as well as what you want your garden to look like.
Another factor to consider is the shape of your lawn. Irrespective of size, lawns that have straight or gently curving lines are much easier to mow that those that have tight corners and funny shapes.
Then you can get on with starting your new lawn with a grass of your choice that is suitable for the area in which you live.