Grass 101: The Earth’s Blanket
The tell-tale signs of summer are booming all around us – flowers are growing, leaves are sprouting on bushes and trees, and the grass is once again turning a luscious green.
Grass. It’s something we take for granted a lot of the time. Every person has experienced rolling down a grassy hill, or opening a window to relish in the scent of a freshly cut lawn. For many people, grass plays a vital role in summer days but how much do we really know about it? Aside from the feeling of it as you’ve played barefoot or stretched out to read on the lawn – have you ever really thought about what it really is?
What Makes Grass Grass
“Grass” is a species of plant that has a number of specific characteristics including long, narrow leaves and roots that grow close together over a large space. The actual definition is, “vegetation consisting of typically short plants with long, narrow leaves, growing wild or cultivated on lawns and pastures, and as fodder crop”.
This means that what you think of as being grass is actually just one variety in the grass family. The lawn at your house has grass as much as the prairie fields of long tall grasses are also grass. It’s like calling a flower a flower, without noting that there are actually thousands of different varieties out there. The same is true for grass.
Varieties of Grass
There are over 12,000 different grass species spread across all the different regions and climates of the world. In North America alone, there is the northeast, midwest, southeast, deep south and gulf coast, southwest, pacific northwest, and transition region for grasses. Many of the grasses found in the USA actually came from other parts of the world.
Native Grasses to North America
Of the thousands of species out there, there are a few hundred species that are native to North America. Grasses grow predominantly in the prairie lands in the form of tall grasses. However, other species such as reeds, junegrass and beach grass are popular and native to North America.
What is the difference between a lawn, turf and grass?
Grass refers to the plant itself while a lawn is used to refer to the area at the front or back of a house, or grass that is grown on any other commercial or residential land. Turf is another term used in association to grass. Turf, however, is used to describe a sports field or golf course. Turf is usually maintained by horticulturalists with a much higher standard of maintenance and care in mind.
Changing the Grass in Your Lawn
There are a number of reasons to change the grass on your property. The colour could be too green or too blue for your liking or the texture isn’t fluffy enough. Maybe it requires too much water or brows too easily in the heat. Whatever the reason, the grass you have doesn’t have to be the grass you’re stuck with.
It can be a lot of work but it is possible to change the grass in your yard. The first step is to clear your yard of the existing grass. Roundup or another form of grass killer or simply digging it up can work depending on your capabilities and preference. This should be done a few weeks before you plan to plant your new grass. Use this time to research what kind of grass you want and to get the proper seeds.
Treatment of the soil after this process can help your new grass thrive. Aerating the soil, adding some new lawn soil, raking it flat, and filling in any dips or low spots will help ensure that your new lawn is to your liking. Then, sew your seeds and water and fertilize it as needed. Proper care of the seed while it grows will make all the difference.
Popular Lawn Grass for North American Lawns
Within North America, there are thousands of grass varieties but a select few rise to the top as popular choices for home lawns and community spaces. Interestingly, none of these popular varieties actually originated in the US. While large fields don’t really have much say on what kind of grass grows there, new home builds or those looking to refurbish their lawns could very well choose a specific kind of grass.
Here are some of the most popular grasses in North America.
Kentucky Bluegrass is actually not native to North America despite it being one of the most popular grasses for golf courses and campsites. Native to Europe and northern Asia, this grass type was adopted as a popular pasture grass in Kentucky. In fact, the state of Kentucky is nicknamed the Bluegrass State.
When properly maintained this grass develops a very thick and lush lawn which is what makes it so popular as a turfgrass for golf courses and sports fields for northern states. It does it’s best in cooler climates and most of its growth happens in the spring and fall.
Being found in the southeastern region of the US, bahiagrass is extremely drought and heat resistant. This resistance comes from its deep root system that does not rely solely on surface-area moisture to grow. This grass type is valued in regions where lawns and grasses don’t usually thrive. It’s popular in agriculture, conservation and erosion control efforts because of its deep roots.
Thriving in full sun, this grass will grow a thick carpet, much like Kentucky bluegrass. It’s strong enough for foot traffic, tolerates poor soil conditions and doesn’t need much fertilizer. It is known to spread into gardens so be prepared to do some weeding if you like your flowerbeds.
Also known as flat grass, carpet grass is a warm-season grass found in lawns, pastures, along roads and in woods. It was brought to the states in the 1800s from the West Indies and can now be found from Texas to Florida and up to Virginia and Arkansas.
Carpet grass is popular since it grows well in wet and poorly drained soil. That being said, it requires water and doesn’t do well in dry soil or cold temperatures. It’s low maintenance and can just be left to grow.
Much like bahiagrass, bermudagrass does well in high heat and droughts. It is a hearty grass that withstands foot traffic and repetitive use. If it does suffer any kind of damage, it recuperates quickly. Safe to say, it’s a pretty solid type of grass which makes it one of the most popular in the USA for lawns as well as sports fields and turfs.
Found in over 100 countries around the world bermudagrass extends in the US from New Jersey and Maryland south to Florida and west to Kansas and Texas. It can also be found in New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Careers in Grass
Grass is obviously not a simple thing. From the varieties to care and maintenance, taking care of the earth’s blanket is more complex than one might think. This is especially true when it comes to specific care for sports fields, golf courses and other high-profile lawns. It’s no surprise that turf and lawn care is a specific kind of career with specific training.
Horticulturalists, turf management, gardeners and landscaping are just a few examples of careers that deal with grass and lawn management. There are specific courses, degrees and diplomas that teach turf management, landscaping and lawn care.
To learn more about careers in landscaping and how to get started, check out the DirtStories podcast with Brent Giles.
Grass is a Bigger Topic Than You Think
About 71% of the planet is water. Of the 29% left, 20% of it is grass. For something that takes up so much of the earth, many of us know very little about it. From the specific types to the different climates each is best suited for, there’s much more to grass than you may originally think.
Do you know what kind of grass is growing in your yard? Try to figure it out! There’s a handy guide from Pennington that can help you get started.