What To Know About Turf Grass

What's the common denominator in nearly every yard? Turf grass. Find out what's so special about this ubiquitous landscape plant.

Turf grass is practically everywhere. It’s in the park, at the stadium, on the golf course and almost assuredly in your yard (that is, unless you live in a dry climate and have a more appropriate landscape of rocks, cactus and other desert denizens).

Although homeowners may occasionally bemoan the need to mow and rake their lawns, they generally have a special bond with turf grass. And why not? An emerald carpet feels good beneath their feet, provides plenty of play space for pets and kids and complements an ornamental garden well.

What Is Turf Grass?

Turf grass encompasses various species of lawn grass designed to be mowed regularly and stepped on repeatedly. A typical lawn consists of tens of thousands of individual grass plants. There are various species and cultivars, each with specific features and functions. Grass seed mixtures are often customized to tackle specific problems such as disease resistance, tolerance of drought, shade or heavy foot traffic.

Types of Turf Grass

Turf grasses are categorized according to climate.

Cool Season grasses like Bentgrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Red Fescue, Annual and Perennial Ryegrass prefer the less-intense summer weather in the North.

Warm Season grasses like Bahia, Bermuda Grass, Buffalograss, Carpetgrass, Centipede, St. Augustine Grass and Zoysia thrive in the hot and humid weather of the South.

Transition Zone grasses succeed in areas in between. They include Cool Season crossovers Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass, as well as Tall Fescue and Warm Season crossover Zoysia.

Pros and Cons of Turf Grass

Although practically an American institution, turf grass is not embraced by everyone.

Healthy and well-maintained turf grass looks wonderful. It provides negative space to balance a landscape that might otherwise appear busy. And you can do a lot with a lawn — playing croquet and badminton with the kids; throwing the ball for your dog; or laying on the soft carpet and watching the clouds roll by.

As for the negatives, turf-grass lawns require frequent mowing (a real hassle in the hot weather or when you’re headed out of town) and watering (an ecological burden), as well as raking, weeding and fertilizing.

How Much Does Turf Grass Cost?

It depends on whether you’re using seed or sod, hiring professional help or addressing drainage issues. Here are some general estimates, which may be higher or lower depending on where you live.

Seeding: It costs less and gives you a greater selection of grass varieties, an important consideration if you’re dealing with sunny and shady spots. But you need to protect the seedbed from erosion and bird browsing. Plus, weeding will be necessary.

Grass seed generally costs $3 to $10 per pound, depending on variety. A 25-pound bag of seed covers about 5,000 square feet. Professionally seeded lawns are usually hydroseeded — a special sprayer distributes the seed along with a papery mulch and, sometimes, a starter fertilizer. It costs more than hand-seeding but less than sodding. Average cost for hydroseeding is about six to 20 cents per square foot, or $300 to $1,000 for a 5,000-square-foot area.

Sod: Grass sod provides immediate results and is favored by many new home buyers hoping to avoid a muddy quagmire in their yard if it rains. It’s available from sod farms and big box stores.

The cost varies according to type of grass and where it’s sold. For example, Kentucky Bluegrass sod costs between 36 and 54 cents per square foot, while St. Augustine Grass is 64 to 96 cents per square foot. Professional installation will at least double the cost. Sod is usually sold by the pallet, with an added cost if delivered to your driveway.

DIY Turf Grass Installation

Seed Installation: Before reseeding, till the soil and smooth it with a garden rake, removing debris such as rocks and roots. Apply seed with a spreader (handheld or push model) and apply a starter fertilizer. (Note: Some seed mixes include a starter fertilizer, so check the label). Apply straw to help hold moisture and discourage birds.

Water every day to keep soil moist. As the lawn fills in, cut back watering to every other day at first, then twice a week. Also, gently rake up excess straw to allow grass to fill in.

Sod Installation: To prep for sod installation, till the soil and level the ground with a garden rake, then apply a starter fertilizer. Lay sod in a staggered pattern, like laying bricks, so the joints of one row are offset from the joints of the next row. This looks more natural and prevents water from running down the seams. Using a drum roller, remove air pockets and press the sod into firm contact with the soil.

Irrigate every other day the first two weeks, dropping down to once a week after that. Irrigate deeply, pulling up a corner of grass to ensure the soil beneath is receiving water.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.