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What Is Turf Grass?

By Chris Bond ; Updated September 21, 2017
Turf grasses are used in neighborhoods, athletic fields and golf courses.

Turf grass refers to all species of grass that are perennial and are typically used for lawns. Most are best maintained at heights between 1 and 3 inches as opposed to ornamental grasses, which can reach heights above 10 feet. Turf grass species and varieties are different around the country depending on climate. Know your climate before selecting a variety of turf for your lawn.

Warm-Season Turf

Warm-season grasses shut down after a hard frost.

Warm-season turf grasses are those that are typically used in warmer parts of the country. These grasses turn brown and go dormant after the first frost and are not recommended for colder regions. They include species such as zoysia grass, buffalo grass, centipede grass and St. Augustine grass. Warm-season grasses do not require as much care as cool-season turf as they usually tolerate drought better than their cool-season counterparts.

Cool-Season Turf

Cool-season grasses require 1 inch of water per week to grow well.

Cool-season turf grasses are used throughout much of the United States. Common varieties of cool-season turf include Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues. Most cool-season turf grasses do not tolerate drought well and require some amount of irrigation during summer to thrive. Typical mowing heights for cool-season turf is 2 inches for sunny locations and 3 inches for shadier locations. Cool-season turf grasses will stay green later into the season and green up earlier than warm-season turf.

Turf Characteristics

Root systems of turf grass are close to the surface.

Turf grasses, whether warm or cool season, have properties that differentiate them from ornamental grasses. Turf grasses are lower growing than ornamental grass and tend to be strictly upright in habit. Root systems on turf species are shallow and are found in the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. Roots form a web and are intertwined. Colors of turf grass can vary, but nearly all fall within the range of blue-green to dark green.

Ornamental Grasses

Pampas grasses are among the tallest of ornamental grasses.

Ornamental grasses range between cool and warm season like turf grasses, but are not used for lawn areas. Many ornamental grasses are not plain green, but can be shades of blue, red or multicolored. They range in height dramatically, between 6 inches and 15 feet tall. They are typically used as landscape accents or as hedges. Growth habits can be tufted, mounded, upright or arching. They are more drought tolerant than turf grasses as they have a much deeper root system.


About the Author


Chris Bond has been writing about gardening, sustainable agriculture and local history since 2005. He has been published in "The Plain Dealer," "The Repository" and online. Bond holds an A.A.S. from the State University of New York at the Finger Lakes campus in Canandaigua, N.Y.