Choosing the right grass in Wisconsin

December 1, 2012 » In: Uncategorized » Leave a comment


This summers drought was rough on our lawns.All through Walworth and Waukesha counties. Even though we did get rain later in the summer every lawn is going to have some dead areas.The good news is that these dead patches were likely undesirable species of grass, areas with very poor soil underneath, or weakened by another stress before or during the drought.

This spring you will have to repair these areas. Kentucky bluegrass has underground stems called rhizomes which can regenerate new plants. If you have a dead patch of lawn now, it is likely that the size of the dead area will be substantially smaller (or even gone) by spring.

Kentucky blue grass   is the most common lawn grass in Wisconsin and an excellent choice for re-planting dead areas. Kentucky bluegrass is likely the best option for drought tolerance. It will turn brown faster than most other species, but can remain alive in that state for up to 60 days. In addition, it has underground stems which have the potential to generate new grass plants and fill in dead spots. Kentucky bluegrass is fairly difficult to establish from seed because it takes up to three weeks to germinate. To avoid the chance of an unsuccessful establishment by seed, sodding is a great option.

Tall fescue has potential to become a useful lawn grass in Wisconsin. It will not tolerate poorly drained areas where ice accumulates in the winter. However, it can retain a green color longer than any other lawn grass. That said, when tall fescue loses its green color it does not have much time left and requires irrigation for survival. Another drawback of tall fescue its relatively wide leaf blade, which will look like a weed if planted in patches into an already established lawn. If tall fescue is desired, it should be planted or sodded across the entire lawn, and not used to fill in patches.

Perennial ryegrass  is an almost ubiquitous component of many lawn seed blends. It has poor cold tolerance and not well adapted to drought conditions. It is included in mixtures because it germinates in less than a week and provides a fast green cover. I recommend avoiding planting perennial ryegrass or keeping it a minor component 15% or less of a seed blend.

Fine fescue  (including red fescue, hard fescue, sheeps fescue, and Chewings fescue) – these closely related species have a strong reputation for being drought tolerant, however, this grass has a tendency to form thatch, which results in the growing point (or crown) rising above the soil surface. When this happens, fine fescue has a poor chance of surviving an extended period of dry weather. I have seen more dead fine fescue because of this year’s drought than any other turf type . Because of these observations, I do not recommend planting fine fescue in areas that were killed by the drought. This is a dramatic departure from previous recommendations, but based on things I have seen . Fine fescue remains a good choice for turf professionals who can control and manage the thatch production associated with these grasses. It is also a good a good choice for heavily shaded sites.

Annual ryegrass is another common component of (usually inexpensive) lawn seed mixtures. It is selected for its rapid establishment and vigorous growth. However, it has poor cold tolerance. Do not plant annual ryegrass, as it is unlikely to survive the winter.

Seeding or Sod , Seeding will cost less, but has a smaller success rate and takes a great deal more labor and care for success. If you have time (up to four weeks) and ability to care for newly seeded grass, purchasing seed is the way to go. If your time and ability are limited, sod is a great choice. Sod can be placed anytime when the ground is not frozen. However, regardless of renovation method, proper soil preparation is key.

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