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Know Your Turf

Below are descriptions of the seven most common turf types in Colorado.

Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilus)

A warm-season, bunch grass with flat blades one to two millimeters wide; color is blue-green; texture is fine and soft during periods of active growth; state grass of Colorado.

Height: Eight to 15 inches, mow to 2 1/2 to 3 inches or leave unmowed to allow development of attractive seed heads.

Watering: 1/2 to 3/4 inch every two weeks during hot, dry spells.

Sun/shade: Likes full sun, poor to fair shade tolerance.

Traffic: Fair tolerance to traffic during periods of active growth.

Planting: Seed only; sod not available. In early May to late July, seed two to three pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn, or as instructed by seed supplier. Best varieties include Hachita, Lovington and Alma.

Advantages: Attractive, requires minimal water and fertilizer once established, won't invade flower or vegetable beds. Good for sunny areas such as slopes where foot traffic is minimal. Very heat and drought-tolerant, goes dormant when stressed and can stay dormant for extended periods.

Disadvantages: Not very traffic-tolerant during dormancy (October – May), weed control can be a problem, seed is expensive, doesn't perform well as a lawn above 6,500 feet elevation.

Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum)

A cool-season, bunch grass with medium blades; color varies from light green to blue-green; texture is soft.

Height: 12 to 30 inches, mow to three inches.

Watering: 3/4 to 1 inch every week during hot, dry spells.

Sun/shade: Tolerates both sun and shade.

Traffic: Fair tolerance to traffic.

Planting: Seed five pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Not available as sod. Planting season is mid-March to early June and mid-August through October. Avoid planting during the heat of summer. Turf-type varieties include Ephraim, Fairway, Hycrest and RoadCrest.

Advantages: Excellent tolerance of heat, cold and drought, low fertility requirement. Goes dormant quickly under drought conditions, and is equally quick to recover from drought dormancy.

Disadvantages: Although tolerant of drought and low fertility, needs regular fertilization and supplemental irrigation to look its best, bare spots will need to be reseeded, doesn't form a dense sod so weed invasion may be a problem.

Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)

A cool-season, sod-forming grass with fine blades; color varies by variety from medium to very dark green; texture is fine and soft.

Height: 18 to 24 inches; mow to 2 1/2 to 3 inches. May need less water in shade or well-amended soil, or if property owner will accept less than optimum appearance.

Watering: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches every week during hot, dry spells.

Sun/shade: Likes full sun to light shade; some varieties such as Bristol, Glade, Nugget and America tolerate shade better than other varieties.

Traffic: Good tolerance to traffic, some varieties more so than others.

Planting: Using a named variety or a blend of named varieties, seed three to four pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn, or as instructed by seed supplier. Seeding season is mid-March to early June, and mid-August through September. Avoid seeding during the heat of summer. Commonly available as sod; sodding can be done any time of year, if the ground is not frozen and can be properly prepared, and if the sod can be harvested. However, the best times to install sod are spring and fall.

Advantages: Attractive, high quality turf with good traffic tolerance. Sod is relatively inexpensive and readily available. Good for yards with children or pets because it has a root system that allows it to fill in bare spots. Goes dormant when drought-stressed, can survive several months of drought. Some varieties more drought-tolerant than others.

Disadvantages: Requires regular supplemental irrigation, some disease and insect problems, will invade flower and vegetable gardens, performs best with regular fertilization.

Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides)

A warm-season, sod-forming grass with fine blades; color is blue-green, texture is fine and soft during periods of active growth.

Height: Four to eight inches; mow to 2 to 2 1/2 inches or leave unmowed.

Watering: 1/2 to 3/4 inch every 2 weeks during hot, dry spells.

Sun/shade: Likes full sun; poor to fair shade tolerance.

Traffic: Fair to good tolerance to traffic during periods of active growth.

Planting: Seed, sod and plugs available. In early May to late July, seed two to three pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn, or as instructed by seed supplier. Use "treated" seed for better germination. A few turf-type varieties available as seed include Tatanka, Topgun, Cody, Plains, Bison, and Sharp's II. Some of these may also be available as plugs or sod. Other turf-type varieties sold only as sod or plugs are 609 and Legacy. Legacy seems well-adapted to the Front Range; 609 is only good for protected, warmer areas. Sodding can be done as late as early August.

Advantages: Attractive, requires minimal water and fertilizer once established. Good for sunny areas such as slopes where foot traffic is minimal. Few insect or disease problems, low fertility requirement. Very heat and drought-tolerant, goes dormant when stressed and can stay dormant for extended periods.

Disadvantages: Not very traffic-tolerant during dormancy (October – May), weed control can be a problem, more prone to weed invasion when over-fertilized, stolons will invade vegetable and flower beds, doesn't perform well as a lawn above 6,500 feet.

Turf-Type Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

A cool-season, bunch grass with wider blades; color varies by variety from medium to dark green; texture varies from soft to medium coarse.

Height: 24 to 48 inches; mow to 3 inches.

Watering: 3/4 to 1 inch every week during hot, dry spells. If planted in heavy clay soil that prevents development of long root system, may require as much water as Kentucky bluegrass.

Sun/shade: Likes full sun to moderate shade.

Traffic: Good tolerance.

Planting: Using a named variety or blend of named varieties, seed six to eight pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn, or as instructed by seed supplier. Planting season is mid-March to early June, and mid-August through September. Avoid planting during the heat of summer. Also available as sod, but may be hard to find.

Advantages: Attractive, does well in shade, has few disease or insect problems, won't invade flower or vegetable beds; lower fertility requirements.

Disadvantages: Requires regular supplemental irrigation. Because of the fibrous root system, bare spots will need to be reseeded. Wider blades may shred if mower blades are dull.

Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)

A cool-season bunchgrass with medium to dark green glossy blades.

Height: 10 to 24 inches, mow to 2 1/2 to 3 inches.

Watering: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches per week during hot, dry spells

Sun/shade: Poor to fair shade tolerance; prefers full sun.

Traffic: Good tolerance; sometimes used alone or mixed with Kentucky bluegrass for sports fields.

Planting: Using named varieties, seed six to eight pounds per 1,000 square feet. Planting season is mid-March to early June, and mid-August through September. Avoid planting during the heat of summer. Not available as pure sod, but may be mixed with Kentucky bluegrass to form a sod.

Advantages: Germinates and establishes quickly from seed; glossy, attractive blades. Tolerates foot traffic.

Disadvantages: Poor drought tolerance; during cold, dry winter may die. Dull mowers may shred grass blades.