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Turfgrass Selection

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Select turfgrass species and cultivars that are well adapted to the environmental conditions and to the intended use and maintenance level of a particular site.

Know the strengths and weaknesses of potential species and cultivars and select the right grasses for your site and management program.

  • Turfgrass species vary in terms of appearance, appropriate uses, cultural requirements, pest resistance and stress tolerance. Individual cultivars (or varieties) within species provide additional options for effectively matching grasses with growing conditions and desired performance.
  • Selection of adapted turfgrass species and cultivars is fundamental to the success of any management program for turf, as poorly adapted species and cultivars are major causes of turf deterioration.
  • Adapted grasses require less input in terms of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, and are far more likely to function as intended and exhibit favorable characteristics.

Carefully consider the desired management level.

  • Consider the intended level of cultural intensity, the type of use, and the desired quality of the turf.
  • Some grasses require a higher level of management input (water, fertility, mowing) to perform adequately than do some other grasses.
  • High maintenance species are used where management receives a greater level of attention and effort. Common high maintenance areas include golf courses, athletic fields, parks, and some commercial or residential lawns.
  • If a lower-input management scheme is desired, grasses are available that perform at an acceptable level with a relatively lesser degree of maintenance.
  • Low maintenance turf species are typically adapted to situations with reduced inputs such as mowing, fertility, and irrigation. Areas appropriate for low maintenance species include roadsides, parking lots, industrial complexes, and some commercial or residential lawns.
  • When specifying mixed stands, consider how they will trend if inputs are higher or lower.

 Identify potential growth-limiting factors.

  • Determine the characteristics and the adaptations of the turfgrass species (growth habit, recuperative potential, leaf texture, shoot density, establishment rate, appropriate mowing height, etc.).
  • Abiotic growth limiting factors include conditions such as shade, traffic, infertility, acidic soil pH, flooding, shallow root zone, poor soil, low temperature, drought, close mowing, etc.
  • Biotic growth limiting factors include pests such as insects, diseases and weeds. 
Table 2. Traffic tolerance and ideal soil characteristics for selected cool-season turfgrasses.
Species Wear Compaction Recovery Soil Texture Soil pH
Kentucky bluegrass Fair Good Good Well Drained 6.0 to 7.0
Perennial ryegrass Excellent Excellent Poor Variable 6.0 to 7.0
Fine Fescues
(Chewings, creeping red, hard)
Poor Poor Fair Well Drained 5.5 to 6.5
Tall fescue Excellent Fair Poor Variable 5.5 to 6.5
Table 3. Environmental stress tolerances of selected cool-season grasses.
Species Cold Heat Drought Salinity Submersion
Kentucky bluegrass Excellent Fair Good Poor Fair
Perennial ryegrass Fair Fair Good Fair Fair
Fine Fescues
(Chewings, creeping red, hard)
Good Fair Good Poor Poor
Tall fescue Fair Good Excellent Good Good
Table 4. Cultural and maintenance requirements of selected cool-season turfgrasses.
Species Shade Fertility * Height of Cut Mowing Frequency Thatch Tendency
Kentucky Bluegrass Poor Medium-High 1.5 to 3.0 inch Low-Medium Medium
Perennial Ryegrass Poor Medium-High 1.5 to 3.0 inch High Low
Fine fescues
(Chewings, creeping red, hard)
Excellent Low 1.5 to 3.0 inch Low Medium
Tall Fescue Fair Medium- High 1.5 to 3.0 inch Medium Low
* Fertility levels, in lbs. N per 1000 sq. ft.: medium-high = 3 to 5; low = 1 to 2.

Take advantage of National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) data.

  • NTEP provides extensive, reliable information about the performance of turfgrass species and cultivars in specific regions of the country.
  • NTEP does not make recommendations; therefore the data must be interpreted and used to make informed choices.
  • The key parameter provided by NTEP is turfgrass quality (TQ). Other available descriptive data may include genetic color, density, leaf texture, winter injury, traffic tolerance, disease potential, etc.
  • NTEP information is free and can be accessed on the web at

Mix or blend species and cultivars whenever possible.

  • Use of a single turfgrass species for establishment of a stand is rarely appropriate for lawns and similar turf areas, and is more common on some athletic fields and many golf courses.
  • A turfgrass seed mix contains two or more different species of grasses.
  • A turfgrass seed blend contains two or more cultivars of the same species of grass.
  • Where appropriate, informed mixing and blending often results in a well-rounded turf that performs better than the sum of its parts.
  • To incorporate diverse tolerances to pest and environmental stresses, mixes and/or blends are nearly always preferred to monostands (a planting consisting of the same species and/or cultivar). 

Exercise appropriate care when selecting and managing tall fescue.

  • Tall fescue is more readily adaptable to certain areas of New England, particularly the southern coastal areas.
  • Some tall fescue cultivars can become coarse and unthrifty under conditions in which better adapted turfgrasses may grow.
  • Careful cultivar selection is critical, not only for performance and quality, but also for disease tolerance.
  • Tall fescue is particularly susceptible to brown patch and Pythium diseases. Consult UMass Extension's Professional Guide for IPM in Turf in Massachusetts, or NTEP data for disease tolerance of specific cultivars.
  • Many tall fescue cultivars tend to become clumpy in heavily trafficked areas, and may require frequent overseeding to maintain acceptable density.
  • When it is desirable to use tall fescue in a lawn or in the landscape, use a mix of tall fescue in combination with Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass, with no less than 80% of the mix being tall fescue.
Consult UMass Extension's Professional Guide for IPM in Turf in Massachusetts for additional information and detail on turfgrass selection for Massachusetts including species, cultivars, mixtures and blends, and appropriate seeding rates.