Greener Grass

By Sharon Naylor

August 20, 2015 7 min read

You know you want a gorgeous, green, perfect lawn, whether you're starting your new lawn from seed or seeking to spruce up your existing plot. You know to choose a grass type befitting your lawn's sun exposure, soil conditions and climate, but did you know that the single most important factor in creating and nourishing your lawn is whether you have cool-season or warm-season grass?

Many homeowners are not aware that there is a difference, so they will often make the mistake of fertilizing their lawns with the wrong kind of fertilizer for their grass types.

To help make your lawn fertilizer more effective (and consequently, your lawn greener and healthier), here are some guidelines for cool-season and warm-season grass feeding:

*Cool-Season Grass

"Cool-season grasses are grass types that thrive in areas with (freezing cold) winters and hot summers," say the experts at Scotts Lawn Service. "This area is roughly defined as New England, the Upper Midwest, the High Plains, and Northern California up to the Pacific Northwest. These grasses grow best when temperatures are between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why they do most of their growing in the spring and fall."

"Cool-season grass thrives in the moderate spring and fall temperatures," says Kelly Burke, lawn care and lawn alternatives expert for "Cool season grasses don't like the heat and can go dormant (turn brown) during extended hot, dry conditions." Cool-season grasses include:

--Kentucky bluegrass. This dark green grass is popular for its ability to grow in shady conditions.

--Perennial ryegrass. "Found primarily in the northern and transition zones between north and south, it does need full sun to thrive," says Burke. Perennial ryegrass is often blended with bluegrass and fescues for a more uniform look and feel.

--Fine fescue. "An excellent performer in shade and cold, this is often added to fill in where other cool season species fail," says Burke. This type exists in three varieties: creeping red fescue, hard fescue and chewings fescue. Fine fescue a good choice for high-traffic areas and can handle most soil conditions and climates.

--Tall fescue. A coarse-textured, dense grass that grows in clumps and loves the shade. This type of grass is popular for high-traffic lawns.

*Fertilizing Tips for Cool-Season Grass

"Excessive spring fertilization can reduce carbohydrate reserves and root development by stimulating rapid shoot growth," say the experts at Scotts. A lawn's shoot growth uses more carbohydrate absorption than the roots, stealing nutrients from the roots. Late fall fertilization takes advantage of the slowdown of shoot growth to feed your lawn well. "Fall nitrogen applications greatly enhance the production of carbohydrates," which are stored for use the following growing season and enhance early spring green-up.

"Fall is the favorite time of year for cool season grasses, so care for these types is most important at this time of year. Fertilize when the intense heat of the summer has subsided, but well before the onset of severe cold weather. You may choose to apply a special winterizer fertilizer for the fall application. These fertilizers are specially formulated to help protect the grass during the winter months, say the experts at Scotts.

*Warm-Season Grass

Warm-season grasses are used in southern lawns and some transition-zone lawns, where they produce well in the summer and can thrive in soil that is less than ideal. "The greatest benefit to warm-season grasses is their ability to thrive in the intense heat of a southern summer," says Burke. Warm-season grasses include:

--Bahia. Extremely heat and drought resistant, it grows best in Florida, along the entire Gulf and on southern Atlantic coastlines. It's a coarse grass that grows in bunches; Bahia is a good choice for high-traffic lawns and it doesn't need much watering.

--Bermuda. Common throughout the south, it thrives in heat, requires full sun and is drought resistant. Bermuda grass remains green from late spring until frost when it turns brown and goes dormant.

--Zoysia. This grass type is known for its fine, lush vegetation, growing best in full sun. It should be watered if drought lasts longer than one week.

--Centipede. Extremely slow growing and drought tolerant, this grass grows well in acidic soil, and it thrives in full sun but will manage with partial shade. Centipede grass generally performs well without the need for fertilizers; take care not to over-fertilize.

--St. Augustine. Commonly found in the Gulf Coast states and Southern California, it grows fast, providing a blue green color that lasts into the fall. "Consider fertilizing with extra iron since sandy soils are often deficient, says Burke.

*Fertilizing Tips for Warm-Season Grass

Fertilize warm-season grass when it starts to turn green in spring. Use either slow- or quick-release fertilizer, but time your fertilization regimen so the fertilizer will be used up before the onset of severe hot summer weather. Then begin fertilizing again after the intense heat of the summer has subsided.

"Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when fertilizing, and ensure that you time the life of the fertilizer so it is not present at the onset of severe hot or cold temperatures," reports Scotts. Failing to time your fertilizer application well could damage your lawn, as can applying too much fertilizer.

When fertilizing either type of grass, do not apply other chemicals, such as herbicides or insecticides, at the same time as fertilizer, and don't buy more fertilizer than you'll need, since it does not store well.

Also, don't mix cool-season and warm-season grass types, or you'll get a very patchy lawn filled with different colors and textures. Talk to your local garden center lawn expert to help you select the grass type that performs best in your region and climate, and get personalized advice on the type and amount of fertilizer to buy, plus gloves and protective glasses to keep yourself safe while applying fertilizer.

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