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How to Identify Types of Grass

By Laura Reynolds ; Updated September 21, 2017

Good cultural practices help keep a lawn healthy, but the type of grass in that lawn has a lot of say in its success. Climate, soil and seasonal variations of an area can doom a turf grass that is the wrong variety no matter how faithfully it is watered, fertilized and mowed. Although grasses vary in size and color, several specific criteria can help to easily identify popular grass varieties. Learn how to identify grasses to make good choices for your lawn.

Look at the growing end of the shoot to determine the “vernation” or how the new leaf folds in the shoot. Zoysia grass, bent grasses and seashore paspalum will roll as they develop in the stem. Bluegrasses, St. Augustine, fine fescue and centipede grass grow flat or folded.

Examine the “ligule," the meeting of the leaf blade with the main stem of the grass. St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda have little hairs at this juncture, while Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue perennial rye and tall fescue have none. Rough and annual bluegrasses have filmy membranes in their ligules.

Find the leaf tip and note its shape. Most lawn grasses have pointed tips, but bluegrass varieties (and orchard grass) have “boat-shaped” tips that look like the bow of a canoe. Carpet grass and St. Augustine have rounded ends.

Check leaf texture just above the collar where the leaf wraps around the stem at the ligule. Many cool-season grasses have ridged leaves. Kentucky bluegrass, St. Augustine, centipede grass and seashore paspalum are smooth. Bahia, Bermuda and Zoysia grasses have a few hairs along their edges, while native Buffalo grass is quite hairy.

Determine the propagation method of the grass. Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue and bahia grass reproduce by sending out underground “rhizomes” that start new plants. St. Augustine, centipede and creeping bent grasses use “stolons”, above-ground runners that sent out new plants at growth nodules. Bermuda (and hybrids), Zoysia, kikuyu and seashore paspalum employ both types of specialized roots. Several annual grasses, tall fescue and perennial rye grass use neither because they are “bunching grasses” and expand by self-seeding.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Grass plants

Tips

  • When a grass becomes dormant also can give clues to its identity. Cool season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye, red fescue and creeping bentgrass) green up fast in early spring, turn brown in the heat of summer and grow actively again during the fall. Warm season grasses (St. Augustine, centipede or Zoysia grass) grow steadily through the warm months of summer and hibernate only during the cold winter into early spring. Some of each type grow in transition areas between northern (cool-season) and southern (warm-season) U.S. growing zones, making it possible to mix types for a green lawn continuously from early spring all the way through fall.
  • Sedges and rushes are not considered grasses. They are grown as ornamental grasses but make poor turf grasses because they do not grow well under lawn grass conditions. Grasses grow two leaves together on a stalk, and sedges and rushes grow three leaves at a time.

Warning

  • Some cultivars of certain types of grass (tall fescue, bahia and Bermuda grass, for example) are considered weeds in some areas because they either are bad neighbors or invasive. The best source of information about using these and other types of grass in your area is your local state university agricultural extension service.

About the Author

 

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.