Proper selection of a turf species is an important component of an integrated pest management program. When turf species are planted in areas where they are not well adapted, they require greater care to grow and maintain and are more susceptible to invasion by pests. The major species used for turfgrass in California are outlined below. Cultivars are continually being developed or improved. For the latest information, consult your farm advisor or local nursery. See the UC Guide to Healthy Lawns for help identifying turfgrass species as well as information on establishing and maintaining a healthy stand of turfgrass in INTEGRATED WEED MANAGEMENT.
Bentgrass (Agrostis spp.)
Two species of bentgrass commonly used for turf are colonial and creeping bentgrasses. Colonial bentgrass is best adapted to the coastal region in far northern California where it is used for general lawn areas. It is a fine-textured grass with upright leaves and dense growth. Colonial bentgrass grows best in cool, humid weather, and can tolerate some shade; it has low tolerance to heat, salinity, water stress, and traffic. Colonial bentgrass requires frequent irrigation because it has a shallow root system. It tends to be susceptible to a wide range of diseases.
Creeping bentgrass is a specialty grass used for golf course putting greens, lawn bowling greens, and lawn tennis facilities. It is capable of withstanding very low cutting heights. Creeping bentgrass is a very fine-textured grass with flat, narrow leaves, a bright green color, and a shallow root system. It requires a high level of nitrogen fertilization and needs to be irrigated fairly frequently because of its shallow roots. It is not suitable for home lawns or other general-purpose turf.
Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)
Kentucky bluegrass produces a dense turf with dark green, medium-textured leaves; it spreads by rhizomes. Kentucky bluegrass grows best in fall, winter, and spring when temperatures are cool; during summer its growth slows. Kentucky bluegrass requires frequent irrigation during the summer months because of its shallow root system. It is susceptible to heat stress and disease infestation.
Ryegrass (Lolium spp.)
The species of ryegrass used for turfgrass are annual and perennial ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is used principally for overseeding bermudagrass in winter: it is well adapted to sunny conditions and survives well during the cooler months. Annual ryegrass has low heat tolerance, is coarse textured, and shiny light green. It dies in late spring to early summer.
Perennial ryegrass is well adapted to sunny or partially shady conditions. It grows best during periods of cool temperatures and is very competitive, rapidly establishing a uniform green cover. Fall seeding is preferred. Perennial ryegrass has a bunchgrass-type growth habit, thus open areas should be reseeded. It is extremely vigorous in its growth, particularly in the seedling stage, thus minimizing weed invasion.
Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass Mix
For general lawns, mixing Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass is preferred over planting either species singly. The mixture results in a more disease-resistant turfgrass stand offering good color and year round growth. By weight, at least 15 percent perennial ryegrass seed is recommended in the mixture.
Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Tall fescue is well adapted to sunny or partially shady conditions. It is coarse-textured, although newer cultivars are finer textured, but not as fine as Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass. Tall fescue has good disease resistance and excellent tolerance to heat stress. Unlike bermudagrass or Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue is a bunch-type grass, thus open areas need to be reseeded. The vigorous growth of improved turf-type tall fescue cultivars is a deterrent to weed invasion, although the very "dwarf" (slow-growing) varieties may be less competitive.
Fine Fescues (Festuca spp.)
Fine fescues are cool season turfgrasses that can have either a clumped or creeping type of growth. These grasses have a very fine texture because their leaf blades are very narrow. Several species of fine fescues are used as turfgrasses in California: creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra), Chewings fescue (F. rubra commutata), and hard fescue (Festuca longifolia). Fine fescues make a dense, wear-resistant turf when well established. They are usually mixed with other turf species because they tolerate shade well and fill in shady areas. Fine fescues do not like excessive nitrogen and are often mowed at 1.5 to 2.5 inches to tolerate heat in California. However, hard fescue, as well as red fescue, can be left unmowed as ornamental ground covers or on slopes and other hard-to-mow areas.
Common Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Common bermudagrass is drought tolerant and well adapted to sunny conditions. It is a medium, coarse-textured grass with a gray green color, but it becomes dormant and loses its color in cold weather. Common bermudagrass establishes a deep root system and produces long rhizomes and stolons. Plant common bermudagrass in spring or summer at a rate of 1 lb seed/1000 sq. ft. Common bermudagrass requires frequent mowing to maintain an attractive quality. It has good wear quality when it is growing, but produces heavy thatch and can produce thatch in light traffic areas. There are new seeded cultivars of common bermudagrass that have improved turfgrass quality characteristics.
Hybrid Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.)
Cultivars of hybrid bermudagrass include Tifgreen, Tifway II, and Santa Ana. All hybrid bermudagrass cultivars form thatch that must be removed periodically by verticutting. Hybrid bermudagrasses are drought tolerant, but good irrigation practices will enhance their competitiveness.
Tifgreen is well adapted to sunny conditions. It becomes dormant and loses color during periods of cold temperatures, but less than common bermudagrass. This cultivar is fine textured with dense, prostrate growth. It produces few seed heads and has a deep blue green color.
Tifway II is also well adapted to sunny conditions. It retains its color in winter better than any of the other bermudagrasses. This cultivar has a medium fine texture, a dark green color, and dense growth; it can withstand traffic better than Tifgreen.
Santa Ana has excellent wear characteristics and a dark color. Its requirements are similar to those of the other hybrids, but Santa Ana is more tolerant of smoggy conditions.
Kikuyugrass (Pennisetum clandestinum)
Kikuyugrass is well adapted to coastal regions within fifty miles of the ocean in southern California and central California. It has spread to some of the inland valleys as well. Kikuyugrass is a coarse-textured, hairy, light green, perennial, warm-season grass that spreads aggressively by very thick rhizomes and stolons; its leaves are coarse textured and hairy. Kikuyugrass has good drought, heat, and wear tolerance, but it is difficult to mow and is prone to thatch heavily. Because of its aggressive growth it is a weed in some situations.
St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
St. Augustinegrass is well adapted to areas with full sun or moderate shade; it is the most shade tolerant warm season grass. It is a coarse-textured, creeping grass of medium green color. St. Augustinegrass is propagated by stolons and forms a dense, prostrate turf that is virtually weed free, but thatch is a severe problem. St. Augustinegrass frequently needs iron as a fertilizer supplement. It is relatively drought tolerant. It can withstand extremely saline conditions.
Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica)
Zoysiagrass grows well in full sun, although it is tolerant of moderate shade. Zoysiagrass is medium textured, dark green in color, and is slow to establish from stolons or rhizomes. It turns brown when it is dormant in winter. Zoysiagrass is an attractive, uniform, dense, low-growing, good quality grass that requires less fertilization than bermudagrass. Zoysiagrass is moderately deep rooted and thus requires infrequent irrigation. Vertical mowing is needed periodically to reduce excessive thatch and scalping.
Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha)
Dichondra is not a turfgrass but a low-growing perennial. It will grow in partial shade, but it does best in full sun under cool coastal conditions. Mowing dichondra is a matter of personal preference; it may either remain unmowed or be mowed. Dichondra has a deep root system when properly irrigated. Frequent irrigation to maintain dichondra increases weed invasion; it is also very susceptible to flea beetles and nematode injury.