Friday, August 10, 2012

The Right Variety for the Place

     A few year ago, a friend and client of mine asked me to recommend a grass for him to use on his new home site for his lawn.  His next door neighbor knew that he had been getting consulting assistance from a landscape architect and had gotten into the habit of frequently asking him about how his yard was coming.  He took my advise and bought the seed to redo his lawn and of course his neighbor came right over to find out what he was doing.  He explained to the man that he was re-seeding his lawn because he had only used a temporary grass - annual rye - to hold the soil until he could seed.  When he had first needed to plant, it was not a good season for seed to germinate.
     His neighbor very eagerly asked him what kind of grass he was planting.  Now at this point I should tell you that the man has a bit of a sense of humor and a touch of devilment to him.  He told his neighbor that he was planting fescue.  True enough!  What he did not tell his neighbor was that he was planting 'Bonsai' Dwarf Tall Fescue.  This is a hybrid fescue that grows approximately 2' a year and is very thick and naturally has a lovely shade of dark green.
     His neighbor promptly went out and purchased grass seed - Fescue 'Kentucky 31' to be exact.  This is a seed that was first collected for commercial use from a field in Kentucky in 1931 - hence the number designation in the name.  It was collected for use as a pasture grass and as such has the beneficial property of growing 4' a year.  It is not a thick grass and does not develop a very dark green color, but who cares when they are feeding it to cattle?
     I had warned my client to be careful to not over-fertilize his lawn once the grass was established and to mow it at a height of 3".  He would most likely need to mow every 7-14 days depending on the weather.  His neighbor, having gotten maintenance information from him concerning his grass, tried to follow the same pattern.  Within a couple of weeks of planting it was obvious that something was grossly different.  My client had a beautiful lawn that took infrequent mowings and was dark green.  His neighbor had a yellowish green lawn that made hay if he tried to wait to mow it on the same schedule as my client.  There was an obvious line at the property line!
     I don't know if my client ever told his neighbor what had happened.  I do know that he kept him guessing for a very long time and enjoyed the baffled looks he got from his neighbor.
     The point is that not all grasses are alike.  You must choose the right grass for the right use and place.  In this case, both lawns were southeastern exposure slopes with light shade for part of the day.  In North Carolina that is not an ideal situation for tall fescue but it is not terrible either.  Fescue was brought to this country from Europe and really prefers a somewhat cooler climate.  As a pasture grass, it was obviously bred for growth - the more green top for feed the better.  The older fescues were bred for just this purpose.  Using them for lawn means that you will be fertilizing and watering them like crazy to get a dark green and that you will be mowing often.  No so with a hybrid like 'Bonsai'.  It was bred for use as a lawn grass and was selected because of it's pretty dark green color, thick growth habit and most especially slow rate of growth.  After all, if you want to enjoy a lawn do you really want to have to mow it every 5 to 7 days?  Choose wisely and if all else fails get advise from a reliable source.

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