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Leaves of Grass

Michael Weishan got a lesson in lush lawns from turfgrass expert Michael Sullivan, of the University of Rhode Island.

Michael and Michael in a field

The primary principle of planting any successful lawn is what Professor Michael Sullivan, of the University of Rhode Island's plant sciences program, calls "prescriptive vegetation." This means taking stock of your overall climatic conditions and sowing a blend of grass varieties suitable to the environment and intended use of the lawn.

Though the distinctions are fairly subtle, these four categories of turfgrass described below do have perceptible differences in height, color and texture. Your local garden center should be able to offer some advice about blends that work well in your area. And if you do intend to plant an unblended grass, consider using different varieties tailored to any different conditions within certain areas of your yard, using a blend of the two to create a smooth transition at the border.

Below is a brief overview of the four main varieties of cool-season turfgrass from which most lawn blends are typically concocted:

Kentucky Bluegrass

Fairly thick-bladed grass. Over 200 varieties of bluegrass in trials under evaluation at over 20 sites around the country to judge performance. Bluegrass is the king of lawn grasses: It is widely planted throughout the United States due to its excellent color, durability, winter-hardiness and recovery from injury. The one significant limitation of bluegrass is that it does require full sun. Even moderate shading will cause the grass to begin to thin. That's why for most homeowners a blend is recommended, usually with fescue.


About one-third the width of the bluegrass blade, fescues are shade-tolerating grasses that don't require much water, although they don't specially like the heat. Fescue is often blended with Kentucky bluegrass to create a versatile and durable grass that can thrive despite minor condition differences throughout the lawn area.

Perennial Ryegrass

The most prominent use of rye grasses is on baseball and other playing fields. Rye grasses have a heavy coating of wax on the bottom side of the blades, which produces the familiar striping when mown and rolled. The other key feature of rye is that it establishes itself rapidly, so it's a good choice for a quick lawn. Rye does not thrive in hot, dry conditions.


A very fine grass, bentgrass blades are only about one-tenth the width of bluegrass. The king of "play grasses," creeping bent grass is often found on putting greens, lawn-bowling greens, croquet lawns and the like. It can be mown very short, although if left alone it would grow to a height of about 6 inches.

trowel icon For more information about turfgrass, visit the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program online at

For more information on resources used on the show, visit our Resource Directory

This segment appears in show #2722.

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Published August 31, 2007