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Growing a Great Lawn: The Best Grasses to Consider

Growing a great lawn - Perfectly striped freshly mowed garden lawn in summer

Growing a great lawn sounds so easy in theory, yet can prove surprisingly difficult in practice.

With this in mind, we have put together following is a list of various lawn grasses, their good points and bad. 

The most important factors to think about when growing a great lawn is suitability for climate and soil. 

If you spend time looking at the conditions which you presently have and match a lawn type to it, then you are well on the way to producing the best lawn for your garden.   

When it comes to lawn you can pick fast growing varieties which will establish quickly, but may be hard work and high maintenance in the long run. 

Or alternatively, you can pick a slower growing variety which takes longer to establish, but once it does, the work is reduced.  

Contemplate how your new lawn will be used,  will it just be there to look at, or will it get lots of wear and tear.  Some lawn varieties will take heavy usage better then others.  Consiser whether your lawn will have kids playing on it? Will it have cars parking on it? Do you have dogs? There is a lawn to match each need.

Lawn Types and the Climates they grow in:

–  Bent – seed lawn – Cool climate

Carpet grass – runners – Tropical climates

Buffalo grass –  runners & roll-on – Subtropical & Temperate areas –  

Couch grass or Bermuda grass – Seed or runners – Subtropical & Temperate areas

Couch grass hybrids, eg Winter Green – only available as runners and roll-on – Temperate & Mediterranean climates

Fescue – seed only – best suited to cool climates

Kentucky Blue grass – seed only – Cool climates

Kikuyu – seed, runners & roll-on,  will grow in subtropical areas, but best used to warm temperate regions. 

Rye grass – seed only – Cool climates.  

Zoysia – Seed and newer varieties by roll-on – subtropical, warm temperate & temperate regions.   

How to Establish a New Grass and Turf

When growing a great lawn, there are some key things to consider.

There are a number of ways you can use to establish a new lawn.  Which type of lawn you choose will depend on what is available in your area, your climate, soil type and your budget. 

Many of the new lawn varieties are hybrids which have been specially selected.  These can only be purchased in a certain form – Sir Walter Buffalo, for example, is only available as roll-on or runners from selected turf farms. 

Establishing your new lawn 

There are three main ways to establish your new lawn:

1.  Roll-on –  this is a form of turf which is sold like rolls of carpet.   The rolls usually come in a square yard or square metre lengths.  Roll-on lawn is very easy to use and makes an almost instant effect.   The only drawback to using Roll-on is that it can be expensive to purchase and requires some hard work to lay.    

2.  Runners –  many running lawn varieties like Couch and Kikuyu come as “runners” which can be planted .  The runners will then spread over the lawn and become a lawn over time.   Runners are easy to plant and work well, the draw back to using runners is that you have to wait a period for the lawn to establish.  Runners are a much cheaper way to establish a new lawn. 

3.  Seed lawns – There are many types of seed lawn that can be purchased.  Even Kikuyu lawn can be grown from seed.  The major draw back to seed lawns is they take longer to establish and the lawn types are not usually as good as some of the newer hybrid varieties.  Seed lawns are the cheapest way to establish a lawn.  Levelling the soil, and getting your soil tilled nicely are the important factors when establishing a seed lawn.

That said, so much of growing a great lawn comes down to the type of grass that you use. Let us take a look at some options.

See here for an in-depth look at Growing and Maintaining a Grass Lawn.

Bent & Creeping Bent

Bent is a very fine grass which develops a dark green colour.  It is used primarily in high rainfall areas with cool climates. 

However Bent grass will grow well in temperate regions also.  It is best suited to very refined lawn uses and is used extensively on bowling green and golf courses. 

There are two main types of this grass: Bent & Creeping Bent.  Both produce a beautiful, fine grass and lawn. 

This is a grass best suited to areas with good rainfall or irrigation.  Both varieties grow well from seed, however the seed is very fine and can be difficult to spread.   Bent is used extensively in lawn seed mixes, with Rye and Bermuda grass.  

Bent is best mowed with a Cylinder or Reel mower as a fine cut is required. 

Fertilise with around 30 grams per square metre (using a granular lawn fertiliser) three times per year, spring, summer and autumn.

Carpet grass

Carpet grass is used extensively for growing a great lawn in subtropical and tropical climates.  It grows and looks very similar to Buffalo grass.  

Carpet grass will grow in a variety of soils from loams to sandy soils where moisture is available.  It can be grown from seed, however most lawns are established from runners and in some cases roll-on. 

It grows very quickly and is best mowed using a Rotary mower. 

Any general purpose lawn fertiliser can be used on Carpet grass, however avoid nitrogen-only fertilisers as they will produce excessive lush leaf growth.  The use of fertiliser is not always needed, once the lawn is established. .

However, if growth is required  fertilise the lawn with approximately 40 grams (one good handful) per square metre, four times per year (once every 3 months). Due to the fast growth of carpet grass, weeds and pests are usually not a problem.  

Growing a great lawn - Fresh green carpet grass yard, smooth lawn in a beautiful palm trees garden and good care landscaping in the public park

Soft Leaf Buffalo grass

The original variety of Buffalo was a rather coarse leaf lawn and was rather slow growing.  It was used extensively as a lawn and many homes in subtropical, warm temperate and temperate areas still have the original Buffalo lawn. 

However, newer varieties have become available on the market and they are a great improvement on the old Buffalo.   The new varieties have soft leaf and are quicker growing.  

New Varieties of Buffalo Grass

Popular new varieties include – “Velvet Buffalo“, “Palmetto“, “Sir Walter” and “Shademaster“.  

  • “Velvet Buffalo” is very similar to “Sir Walter”, however it seems to have a slightly longer leaf. 
  • “Palmetto” is an excellent lawn for areas closer to the coast, but has the drawback of developing slightly purple stems in winter. 
  • “Sir Walter” is a shorter leaf variety and grows a nice soft leaf if fertilised regularly. 
  • “Shademaster” is suited to cooler areas and does have a better shade tolerance when grown under trees.  

All Buffalo varieties will grow in subtropical, warm temperate, temperate and Mediterranean climates. 

All Buffalo lawns can be keep nice and green with regular fertilising at the rate of around 40 grams per square metre in spring, summer and autumn.    

All Buffalo varieties will produce “thatch” to some extent (an excessive build-up of roots and runner at the surface).  The old variety of Buffalo was worst for this and the newer varieties develop less thatch.  

Buffalo lawns runners grow primarily on the surface so removing thatch in Buffalo lawns can be tricky, so consult a lawn specialist or your local turf farm for more information on how to do this.  

Soft leaf Buffalo lawns can withstand moderate frosts and are generally drought tolerant, however they may lose some of their nice soft leaf under dry conditions. 

The leaf tends to harden when less moisture is available.  As it grows predominately on the surface, Buffalo lawns will adapt to a variety of soil conditions from clays through to sandy soils. 

How to keep Buffalo grass lawns soft

Although some of the new varieties of soft leaf Buffalo like Sir Walter, Velvet Buffalo, Palmetto and Shademaster all have soft leaves, there are tricks required to keep them that way. 

Under certain conditions all these varieties to some extent will get leaves which will harden-off. This occurs particularly under conditions when the lawn is stressed.  

Long periods of hot dry conditions or lack of fertiliser will produce harder leaves and so the first tip is to keep your lawn well watered. 

The second and most important tip is to use the right fertilisers – as is so often the key to growing a great lawn, and almost anything else, for that matter.  Generally speaking Buffalo lawns require a granular NPK fertiliser with trace elements. 

However, an occasional addition of a little sulphate of ammonia or some spray-on liquid fertiliser, will keep the leaf nicely soft. 

There is an art to knowing how much fertiliser to use as using too much will produce excessive leaf growth.  We suggest using around 25 grams per square mtr of sulphate of ammonia to keep your lawn lush, green and soft.  Remember to water well after fertilising.

Bermuda Couch grass

Bermuda grass is a grass native to India and is now grown around the world as a lawn species. 

It grows very quickly during the warm season, but has a tendency to go dormant over winter. 

Whilst it is best suited to warm temperate and Mediterranean areas, it also grows very well in subtropical areas. 

Planting Bermuda Couch does have its drawbacks, particularly when it becomes dormant and sparse over winter. The colour of the lawn can also be a little on the pale green side. 

Bermuda couch grass is available in seed form and can cover an area quite quickly in summer.  It is used extensively with mixed seed mixtures with Rye grass.

Bermuda grass in a seed mixture is a cheap fix to a lawn problem and will grow in most soil types with sufficient water.

Bermuda grass runners can become a problem weed in garden beds.

Growing a great lawn - Bermuda Couch Grass

Couch grass, Winter Green and other Hybrid lawns

Many of the newer hybrid Couch varieties, such as Winter Green and Windsor Green are excellent lawn varieties. 

They have a lush green look during the growing season and maintain good colour in the cooler months (although growth is reduced substantially).  

The great thing about the new hybrid varieties is that they are very drought tolerant. This is due to the fine and small leaf size and the deep running roots. 

However, the runners also have an annoying habit of running into garden beds (unlike Buffalo, which can be controlled easily).  

Hybrid couch grass varieties such as Winter Green and Windsor green grow best in warm temperate and Mediterranean climates.  They withstand long hot summers with little water.  

Hybrid couch grass can only be purchased as runners or as roll-on lawn and is not available as seed.  

Lawn fertilising is best done with granular NPK lawn fertilisers at the rate of 30 grams per square metre.   This is normally done three times a year: in spring, summer and autumn. 

Hybrid couch lawns also respond very well to liquid fertiliser.  Liquid fertiliser for lawns can be purchased from most hardware stores and garden centres. 

Queensland Blue Couch (a soft grass)

Although not used a great deal these days, Queensland Blue Couch has some excellent features and depending on your location, should still be considered when growing a great lawn.

Queensland Blue is only suited to warmer climates such as warm temperate, subtropical and Mediterranean regions.

This is an unusual grass in that it has an extremely soft leaf, possibly the most soft of all the grass varieties. 

It is mainly a warm season grass and becomes dormant in winter, with little growth occurring at that time of year.  Queensland Blue is not frost tolerant.  

It is important when growing Queensland Blue, to keep it well watered and fertilised during the growing season. 

It has the added feature of not producing a lot of thatch like other Couch varieties.  It also tends to grow closer to the surface producing a fine textured lawn.   Queensland blue is only available as seed these days and can be hard to find.  Generally most specialist seed merchants will supply Queensland Blue seed. 

If you live in the right climate, Queensland Blue makes a lovely soft, lush, green lawn.  Its major drawback is that it becomes sparse in cooler climates and this is likely the main reasonthat it is not overly popular as a lawn choice these days.

Tall Fescue grass

Tall Fescue is a very hardy form of Fescue which is commonly used for creating attractive lawns.   Tall Fescue is not a running lawn like Couch or Kikuyu, it is a clumping grass.  

Fescue lawns are grown from seed and can be a very cheap lawn to establish – a definite bonus when growing a great lawn.As the name implies Tall Fescue grows as a more upright growing lawn.  The resulting lawn is grown long and does not have the low refined look of a running lawn like Couch.

Fescue is commonly combined with other seed varieties like Perennial Rye grass. Tall Fescue will grow on a variety of soils, however it is better suited to loams and sandy loams.   

The roots of Tall Fescue grow quite deep into the soil as a result it is more drought tolerant then other seed lawns.  It can make an excellent lawn in the right climate and is best suited to cool temperate and temperate climates. 

The lawn is a dark green colour and it maintains its colour even in winter.  The major drawback to growing Tall Fescue is that it is hard to repair sections which die-off.  The areas have to be reseeded, as the lawn will not spread to any great extent. 

There are other varieties of Fescue like Chewing and Creeping Red. These lawn grasses are used mostly on golf courses and bowling greens, as they are fine leaf varieties.

The best mower to use on a Tall Fescue lawn is a rotary mower, as the lawn is best left long to increases its drought tolerance. Cylinder mowers (also called reel mowers) can also be used on the high setting.  

Tall Fescue lawns have few pest problems and are considered low maintenance compared to running lawns.  Tall Fescue lawns do not require a great deal of fertiliser, however an application of 30 grams per square metre in spring, summer and autumn will create a lush green lawn. 

Tall Fescue lawns are fairly hard wearing, possibly the best wearing of all the seed varieties. 

Growing a great lawn - Fescue grass

Kikuyu grass

Kikuyu is a very versatile lawn and is used for home gardens lawns and sporting fields. 

Kikuyu grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas.  It develops a very think sward of grass. 

Kikuyu grows from seed and also runners.  It is generally an easy lawn to establish and is hard wearing. 

In areas where it grows best it has a habit of popping up in garden beds and can become a weed in garden beds.  Due to its vigorous growth, it can become a weed in other lawns, like buffalo and couch lawns.  

Kikuyu is considered to be a drought tolerant lawn variety and will grow back quickly once irrigated or after normal weather conditions return.

Kikuyu will grow in a variety of soils including heavy soils, clays and sandy soils.  The best soil to grow Kikuyu is a sandy loam. 

Of all the grasses Kikuyu is the easiest to grow and has very few pest problems (except for black beetle). It grows very thickly and as a result weeds are not usually a problem. Thatch can become a problem in some high rainfall areas.  In these situations de-thatching may be required.

Kikuyu is usually purchased as roll-on lawn.  However, it grows extremely well from runners during the warmer part of the year.  

Although Kikuyu does not require a great deal of fertiliser, the addition of a number of applications through the warm part of the year will increase growth substantially.  Any NPK granular lawn fertiliser is sufficient for Kikuyu and it responds very well to applications of nitrogen. 

Kikuyu lawns can also be established using Kikuyu seed.  The original variety of Kikuyu tends to have a long leaf, however there are some newer varieties which have a shorter leaf and these also make excellent lawns.  These new varieties can be purchased as seed also.  

As it is a warm climate grass, Kikuyu does not respond well to heavy frosts. However, it does regenerate. 

The best mower to use on Kikuyu is a rotary mower, however the short leaf varieties respond well to the use of a cylinder mower (reel mower) also.

Perennial Rye seed grass

Perennial Rye grass is a very useful and versatile grass to use in lawn situations.   It is used extensively as the basis of many seed mixtures for growing lawns and turf.  

Perennial Rye is best suited to warm temperate, temperate and cool temperate areas and endures cool conditions very well.  It will also withstand heavy frosts. 

Perennial Rye grass has a thin long leaf with a very dark green colour.   Rye grass is grown from seed sown directly over the lawn area.  Unlike running lawns like Couch and Buffalo, Rye grass is a clumping lawn and does not run into gardens. 

The trick to seeding a lawn with a grass like Rye is to make sure good coverage is achieved during seedling.  Rye grass will grow in a variety of soils from heavy soils to sandy soils, it is not suggested for heavy clays.  The best soil to grow Rye grass lawn is a sandy loam. 

Perennial Rye grass germinates quickly from seed and provides a quick cover.   It is used commonly as a lawn repair grass for dead patches.  

Rye grass is a long growing grass, as a result a rotary mower is best used, however a cylinder mower will also give a good result. 

Rye grass has no particular pest problems, but black beetle can sometime be a issue.  Dogs can also kill spots in the lawn due to the concentration of urea in their urine.   

Rye grass is not a particularly drought tolerant species and is best used in areas with good rainfall.  

Rye grass responds well to fertiliser and an application of 30 grams per square metre in spring, summer and autumn is all that is normally required to maintain good growth. 

Zoysia grass

Zoysia is an unusual lawn grass which has gained popularity in recent years.  It is grown for its lush green sward and durable nature. 

Zoysia has a broad long leaf and looks very similar to Tall Fescue when growing.  It is a running lawn and is normally sold as roll-on, although seed may be available. 

It is best suited to temperate climates, however can be grown in cool temperate and even subtropical areas.  Zoysia will grow in most well drained deep soils, but a sandy loam is the best soil to grow a flourishing Zoysia lawn.

One major drawback to planting Zoysia is its slow growing nature. This is particularly evident when damaged areas of lawn need repair.  

Weeds are not generally an issue with Zoysia, because it grows so thickly. Unfortunately, weeds can become established in bare spots because it grows so slowly. 

Zoysia has some drought tolerance, but it is better grown in areas with good rainfall or irrigation.  

Zoysia does not require a great deal of fertiliser, however a treatment of 30 grams per square metre in spring, summer and autumn maintains good growth.

A cylinder or reel mower is the best type to use on Zoysia grass.  Rotary mowers tend to tear the ends of the leaves and makes the lawn look a slightly ragged.

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