What types of grass are in your lawn?
Do you know? Do you even give a sh!t?
It’s worth knowing which species of grass will grow best and look best in your garden.
4 Main Species of Grass Found in UK Lawns
There are 4 main species of grass found in UK lawns;
- Meadow Grass
To make things even more complicated, there are different variants of each species. Each with their own characteristics and growth habits.
Ryegrass has a bad reputation amongst some lawn owners (I call these people snobs!)
In the past, Ryegrass was an ugly, agricultural grass with fat, coarse leaves. It was perfect for grazing livestock but it had no place in a cultivated lawn.
But Ryegrass has a lot going for it;
For starters, it’s a tough, hard-wearing grass that stands up to heavy use. Second, it grows well in most soil types, AND it has a dark green colour which many lawn owners find attractive.
Through years of cultivation and selective breeding, grass breeders created a dwarf variety. The Turf Growers Association have since adopted Dwarf Ryegrass to create an industry standard for turf sold in the UK.
There are two types of Ryegrass although there are lots of cultivars of each type.
Dwarf Amenity Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Bred for shorter growth and a fine appearance. It grows more shoots and tillers which creates a thicker sward than other Ryegrasses.
Dwarf Amenity Ryegrass grows in most soils and copes well with heavy wear. This makes it perfect for use in family lawns.
It also grows quicker than Bents and Fescues. That said, it does mean you’ll need to mow often. It prefers a higher cut but looks epic when mown to 20mm – 30mm.
Its dark green colour and shiny leaves make the boldest striped finish you can get.
Tetraploid Amenity Ryegrass
This type of Ryegrass is the result of some very complicated science.
The result of which is a grass that grows four root systems instead of two. This means;
- It germinates and grows very fast in most soils, even in colder temperatures
- It’s very resistant to disease and drought
- It copes well with hard wear and tear
Because it grows so fast you’ll need to mow even more than you would regular Amenity Ryegrass. That said, it looks fantastic when mown as low as 20mm.
The worlds best football clubs use Tetraploid Amenity Ryegrass to create their pitches. That’s how good this stuff is.
2. Fescue Grasses
Fescues grow in all kinds of lawns, from utility to formal. They play a useful role in knitting turf together to create a thick, dense sward.
They’re an adaptable grass species which is very tolerant to shade and drought.
Although there are more than 450 types of fescue grasses, you’ll only see four in lawns.
Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)
Also known as Strong Red Fescue has been used in turf production for years.
As it’s name suggests, it has a creeping growth habit, producing rhizomes to create a dense, tough sward.
It’s a hardy grass that’ll tolerate wear, close mowing, shade and stay green in dryer conditions. You’ll find it in amenity turf or seed mixtures where toughness is more important than a fine finish. For family and utility lawns for example.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra litoralis)
Like Creeping Red Fescue, this ‘Slender’ species has the same creeping growth habit. Although it’s not quite as aggressive or hardy.
That said, it has a much finer appearance. That’s why you’ll see it used on golf courses and formal lawns all over the world.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue also shows good salt tolerance. If you live by the coast, this is a good species to include in your lawn.
Chewings Fescue (Festuca rubra commutata)
Also known as Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue is a tufted grass with fine leaves. It doesn’t grow rhizomes like the creeping fescues and so it’s not as aggressive.
Instead, it grows in patches to create a dense sward that has excellent shade tolerance.
Sheep’s Fescue (Festuca ovina)
The finest leaved and least aggressive of all the fescues. Sheep’s Fescue is a slow growing, hardy grass that grows in most soils and tolerates close mowing.
It’s drought-resistant and grows very well in shaded areas. As such, you’ll see it included in grass seed mixes designed for shady lawns.
3. Bent Grasses
You’ll see Bentgrasses (or ‘bents’) used on the worlds best golf courses. It’s a slow-growing grass species that produce the finest leaves and tolerate very low mowing.
There are three types of bent grass;
Creeping Bent (Agrostis stolonifera)
Creeping Bent spreads and grows by producing lots of stolons (roots that grow across the surface of the soil). The result is a very dense, thick sward of grass you can mow as low as 3mm. And thanks to its aggressive growth, it’ll outcompete weeds and weed grasses.
As such, many of the worlds best golf courses use Creeping Bent on their putting greens.
That said, if it’s no kept in check, it’ll also choke out other desirable grasses like Fescues and Ryegrasses. Its rapid stolon production creates a LOT of thatch at a much faster rate than other grasses. This means you’ll need to scarify and de-thatch your lawn far more often than you would otherwise.
Creeping Bent doesn’t perform well in dry conditions either. Because it produces stolons on the surface of the soil, it’s a shallow rooting grass. This means it’s not able to draw moisture from below the soil surface. If it doesn’t rain, you’ll need to water it yourself.
It’s not a grass you’ll want in your lawn unless you’ve got the time and experience to look after it.
Common Bent (Agrostis capillaries)
You’ll see common bent used on the fairways and greens golf clubs all over the world.
That said, it’s much easier to care for than Creeping Bent because it’s far less aggressive in the way it grows. It’s also more drought resistent. And it still looks epic as part of a close cut, formal lawn.
This makes it a better choice for home lawns.
Yes, it’ll produce more thatch and you’ll need to scarify more often. But if you have the time and inclination to care for it, Common Bent could be a good choice.
Velvet Bent (Agrostis canina)
Velvet Bent has the finest leaves and produces the best looking turf there is.
That said, it’s pain in the ass to work with unless you know what you’re doing.
You need excellent soil conditions. Cool and moist with the right pH levels if it’s to grow at all. Which is why you’ll only see it used on the most pretigious golf courses to create ‘fast greens’.
If you can get it to grow, it’s a slow but aggressive grower that produces a ton of thatch – even more than Creeping Bent.
4. Meadow Grasses
Thanks to their tolerance to shade and drought, meadow grasses feature in many shady lawn seed blends.
If you have bear patches in your lawn where there’s lots of shade, meadow grass might be the answer. Meadow grasses are used in some of the best looking lawns I’ve ever seen.
There are many types of meadow grasses but there are only two used in amenity lawns;
Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass (Poa pratensis)
Also known as Kentucky Bluegrass (more so in America but some in the UK use this name).
Smooth Stalked Meadow Grass is a tough, hardy grass. It produces and extensive roots system so it’s very tolerant to shade and drought. It also has a prety stunning dark green appearance.
Alpine Meadow Grass (Poa supina)
Alpine Meadow Grass is the most tolerance to shade than any other type of amenity grass.
It started life as a wild meadow grass covered by snow in Alpine meadows (hence the name).
As a result, it thrives in areas where there is little sunlight. This is an issue in many gardens where theres lot of shade cast by trees, fences and buildings.
To Sum Up
If you want to create a lawn that;
- Grows well in your garden
- Fits your lifestyle
- Is easy to look after, and
- Looks frickin’ epic
You need to understand what types of grass to include.
Consider what type of lawn you want, whether it’s a family, formal or hard-wearing lawn.
Think about the invironment your lawn lives in. Is it covered by shade or does it sit in full sun? What type of soil does it grow on? Sand, loam or clay?
Once you know what to consider, you can choose the best seed or turf for your lawn.