Lawn with Us: Grass isn’t just grass! There are thousands of varieties and sub species of grasses, all which are created and developed to grow according to different types of climates, soil conditions, watering habits, maintenance levels and general wear and tear requirements.
Climate is the primary consideration.
In general, grasses can be classified as being under two main headings:
This labelling can easily lead to confusion and to a wrong understanding of the growth habits of grass. You may think that they can only survive and be grown in their respective seasons (i.e. cool season grasses in winter or warm season grasses in summer). This isn’t the case. The term ‘season’ in this respect has nothing to do with the time of year the grass thrives but, rather, the climate where the temperature is in the optimal range for growth throughout the year. Thus, cool season grasses are those that grow best in cooler climates (generally with a lot of rainfall) and warm season varieties in warmer weather (generally with less rainfall).
Cool Season Grasses
As Australia is such a hot and dry continent, most varieties of cool season grasses are not a suitable or viable option for establishing a lawn here. Cool season grasses grow and generate from seed only, and are not laid as a ready-made turf. The seeds sprout offshoots that thicken and grow, forming a single plant with many shoots that in turn spread and join into neighbouring shoots. This thickening and spreading process is called ‘tillering’ and is repeated millions of times over in order to form a lush lawn.
It is increasingly uncommon to find a lawn that has been completely established by seed, as the failure rate is very high. Cool season grasses need up to 70% more water than warm season varieties and they are more susceptible to weeds, disease and pest attacks. So, on the rare chance that you establish a purely seed-based lawn, it will be harder to keep healthy in the long term and will most likely not survive in the hotter and drier climates that dominate the parts of Australia where most people live. For the most part, going with a warm season grass will better suit your needs and purposes.
Cool season varieties, however, can be used to over-sow your current lawn in winter as a temporary lawn cover. This is a viable option if you are after a brighter green lawn during the colder months. Warm season grasses such as Couch or Buffalo tend to lose their colour in the winter, turning yellower or even grey. Please note, though, that such a strategy is temporary as the cool season grass that looks good in winter will probably die in the summer, by which time hopefully your usual lawn will begin to take up the slack again.
Warm Season Grasses
Warm season grasses are well suited to most climates throughout inhabited Australia, as they grow best in warmer, drier weather (which is essentially what we have in these regions most of the year round). On account of their root structure, warm season grasses can be laid as a ready-made turf, and when correctly laid, they establish well and seldom fail. They are a hardier, thicker range of grasses, with a drought-tolerant nature, requiring minimal watering or rainfall to be maintained, stay healthy and keep them looking great.
Warm season grasses have a plant structure that comprises two types of runners. Those that grow laterally along the ground are called ‘stolons’, while underground runners are called ‘rhizomes’. Not all warm season grasses have both varieties of runners. Buffalo grass, for example, only has stolons, while Couch and Kikuyu have both stolons and rhizomes. Having two types of runners both above and below ground enable these grasses to grow and spread quickly and self-repair over damaged areas of coverage. This vigour can be a bit of a double-edged sword though. The tendency of a grass to grow and spread with such vitality can lead them to become somewhat aggressive and, ultimately, invasive – growing over and under paving and spreading into garden beds.
Since, in the majority of cases, you’ll be looking at warm season turf varieties, your choices come down to the nitty-gritty of choosing the species that is best suited to your specific needs and situation. To determine this, you will need to evaluate the following factors around your property and location.
Your Climate and Microclimate
Climate, in relation to plant growth, refers to a large geographical area with an enduring, consistent and cyclic pattern of sunlight, heat and rainfall. The most widely used climate classification is the Köppen-Geiger system. Most of Australia is dominated by dry, arid and semi-arid climates, although the south-east side of the continent – Tasmania, Victoria, coastal Australian Capital Territory and south-east Queensland – have temperate/mesothermal climates, while the top of the continent is tropical wet savannah.
Microclimate refers to the specific conditions around a smaller area that might be somewhat different to the broader climatic region that surrounds it. Microclimates can be as small as the area of a suburb or even smaller. Your neighbour might have very different growing conditions to you and there might be considerable differences of microclimate even within your own garden.
It’s the complexities of climate and microclimate that dictate why laying a lawn down is not as simple as laying down carpet. There might not be a “one grass fits all” solution to your lawn requirements.
Nevertheless, the area in which you live plays a major role in they type of grass that you choose for your garden. If your area is prone to hot weather and minimal rainfall throughout the year, then you would best choose a variety of grass that is drought tolerant. Varieties such as Couch and Zaysia can handle heat and dry conditions well, while other varieties such as Kikuyu have a much poorer tolerance, and should be considered for wetter climates. Having a drought tolerant grass will ensure your grass has a better chance of survival in tougher conditions. The closer the grass-type is suited to the climate it’s trying to grow in, the less maintenance and upkeep it will need to keep healthy.
Sun and Shade
The location where the turf will be laid, and the proportion of sun and shade that it is exposed to, can play a big part in the performance of your lawn. If your garden gets full sun all day then you can choose most any variety – Couch, Buffalo and Kikuyu are all good in hot, dry conditions, provided they do receive constant sunlight. However, if your lawn will be shaded by trees, fences, hedges or any obstructions to light, then you’ll need to consider using a shade tolerant grass such as Sir Walter Buffalo, which flourishes just as well in full sun as in partial shade.
Everyone uses their lawn differently. If your grass is more visually ornamental and it is not regularly walked or played on, then wear-and-tear and traffic resistance will not play a big part in your lawn choice. However, if you are always walking over a particular stretch of grass, or you have kids or pets, your lawn will get a lot more traffic. You should then plan ahead so that ‘use’ doesn’t become ‘abuse’. Choose a turf that can deal with the rough and tumble of everyday life so that you don’t have to returf later once your lawn has worn out from the increased activity.
Depending where you live – especially if it is in a coastal area – your soil might have a higher salt content. Not all grasses can tolerate salty soils, so you will need to ensure you have a turf that can deal with these conditions or you will find yourself constantly adding lime and other additives to the soil to compensate. This will take up your time and money and there is no guarantee that your lawn will survive and grow, even with all your hard effort. Once again, suitable planting is the key.
It’s a common thing to desire the perfect, emerald green lawn all year around, no matter what the season. Unfortunately, during winter some grasses can go dormant and loose some of their vibrancy, taking on a brown, red tinge instead of staying green. This is often the case with Couch grasses. Other grasses are better at holding their own during winter and can retain most of their colour and health.
A green lawn is good, but a lawn that actually feels good is even better! Grasses such as Sir Walter Buffalo, Nara Zoysia and Fescue are all soft-feeling grasses. If your lawn will have a lot of bare skin rolling around on it, than having a soft lawn would be the preferred option for your kids and might cut down on potential rashes too.
Maintenance and Growth
Different grass types grow at differing speeds. Some grow and spread quickly, while others take their time establishing and germinating even if they’re in their optimal conditions. The speed at which your grass grows will determine how often you have to mow, especially in the warmer months.
Warm season grasses such as Couch and Zoysia can be mown to a lower height of around 12 millimetres, while varieties of Buffalo and Kikuyu will require higher lawn mowing heights of 20 to 25 millimetres.
Couch or Kikuyu grasses have above ground and under ground runners (stolons and rhizomes) that can cause a big problem as they can be overly invasive and spread throughout your property and into your garden beds. If this is a problem, then you can choose varieties such as Zoysia and Buffalo. They grow slower, so in turn will be less invasive because you have more time to deal with them.
Tillering also plays its part in warm season turfs as it reduces the amount of runners while promoting the growth of leaves, thus helping the lawn to thicken and green up. You can encourage tillering by mowing more regularly. With regular mowing, the grass plant puts more energy into growing new grass shoots instead of establishing new runners. This means the lawn will be less aggressive and less likely to spread into places it shouldn’t. The ultimate result is less maintenance.
In general, the more suited your lawn is to your environment and soil conditions, the better it will perform and the less time you will have to spend on maintaining it!
To compare common grasses and their characteristics click here.
Now, you can spend some time examining your garden, doing the necessary further research and then sourcing a supplier of the right grass (or grasses) and then finally arranging for the installation of that right grass in the right reason.
Or, if you don’t have the time or the expertise to make the best choices, then the simplest solution is to let Fox Mowing look into the right type of lawn for you. And while we’re there in your garden improving your lawn, we can do a lot of other stuff too to get your garden looking and feeling its best.
We’re famous when it comes to lawn care and mowing, and we’re renowned for our top quality approach, no matter how big or small your lawn is. Contact Fox Lawn Care Services today for professional lawn care without getting hot, working hard or wasting your precious time.
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