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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Maintenance > Sustainable Lawncare Information Series > Turfgrass Selection for Sustainable Lawns > Transition to a More Sustainable Lawn

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Transition to a More Sustainable Lawn

In many instances, transition to a more sustainable lawn will only require an adjustment in present maintenance practices. Sometimes a complete renovation or creation of a new lawn will be necessary. Identifying the grasses present on a site will be very helpful in determining an appropriate course of action. Table 4.2 discusses general guidelines to help determine your present lawn makeup.

Table 4.2. Guidelines to Determine Turfgrasses in an Existing Lawn

1. Older lawns frequently consist of common types of Kentucky bluegrass and fine-leaved fescues. The fine-leaved fescues will dominate the shady areas while the Kentucky bluegrasses will be more dominant in the sunny areas. These same combinations of grasses are also available in today’s market for people who desire a lower maintenance lawn. For a visual comparison of Kentucky bluegrass and fine-leaved fescue grasses, click here.

2. If your lawn was established by seeding or overseeded with mixtures designed for "general purpose lawns," Kentucky bluegrasses, fine-leaved fescues and perennial ryegrasses are probably all present.

3. If your lawn has been established or overseeded with grass seed blends for "premium or elite" lawns, the lawn will be a mixture of several improved Kentucky bluegrass varieties along with some perennial ryegrass. The introduction of low maintenance species and varieties would be necessary to move toward a lower maintenance lawn.

4. If your lawn was established by sodding, the grasses present will be Kentucky bluegrasses. Recently, sod blends have included some higher maintenance varieties and some tolerant of lower maintenance. This allows the sod to adapt to a variety of maintenance levels. This situation may or may not need to be overseeded with some additional grass types tolerant of low maintenance programs.

5. If your entire lawn or only some areas of your lawn have become increasingly shadier due to the growth of trees and shrubs then it is likely that the lawn will have thinned out as Kentucky bluegrasses planted as seed or sod many years ago will thin out without sufficient sunlight. If some overseeding has been done and a shady mix used then there will likely be some to mostly fine fescue in the lawn as they have much better shade (especially dry shade) tolerance than Kentucky bluegrass.

The most important first step in creating a more sustainable lawn is to match the specific lawn grasses with the anticipated or desired level of lawn care. Of course, the level of lawn care will, in large part, be determined by the amount of traffic and use. In the landscape industry, this concept is known as putting the right plant (e.g., tree, shrub or turfgrass species) in the right place.

For example, trees and shrubs adapted to sandy, well-drained, drier soils will usually die when placed in wet, poorly-drained soils. While one may desire to grow a particular plant or cultivar, the site conditions must be appropriate for it to grow and provide the desired landscape effect. This same principle can also be applied when selecting turfgrasses.

In addition, turfgrasses must also be chosen for the anticipated use of the lawn area. For example, vigorous spreading grasses such as improved Kentucky bluegrasses are good choices for turfgrass areas that will receive lots of traffic and play as they can recover quickly from even moderate levels of damage. Consequently, they need to be maintained at a higher level of inputs in order for them to perform satisfactorily. On the other hand, lower maintenance-requiring grasses are well adapted to lawns receiving less wear and tear and where the lawn area primarily serves as a backdrop for other landscape features in the yard. 

It is also important to remember that our lawn grasses with the exception of the fine fescues have relatively poor shade tolerance and will thin out significantly under those conditions.  Sufficient sunlight generally means that the areas receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Of our adapted lawn grasses, the fine fescues have the best shade tolerance although the heavy dense shade associated trees like maples and basswoods can prove to be too much even for the fine fescues. Many shade-tolerant ground covers may be used in place of lawn grasses. For more information on tree-turf compatibility and shade-tolerant ground covers, see the links below.

Trees and Turf: Are They Compatible?  [http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/landscaping/implement/trees_turf.html]
Ground Covers [http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/landscaping/maint/ground_covers.html]
Ground Covers for Rough Sites
Planting Under Existing Trees

Proceed to Selecting Cool Season Lawn Grasses

Back to Levels of Home Lawn Care

SULIS Sustainable Lawncare Information

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