How much thought do we put into the grass plants that make up our lawns? The dictionary defines grasses as vegetation consisting of typically short plants with long, narrow leaves. They grow wild or cultivated on lawns and pasture, and as a fodder crop. However, we tend to think of it as the stuff we put between the more interesting plants to avoid your garden looking like a car park. There are actually many grass species, even if most of them take the form of something short, green and pointy at the end.
You may think of most grass species as interchangeable, however, each has different characteristics and requirements and therefore different functional use. When planning a garden from scratch or considering replanting your lawn it is worth taking the time to get to know the different types of grass species and therefore their uses and needs. Knowing the different species of grass and what circumstances they thrive under can be the difference between having the lush carpet of greenery you dream of your lawn becoming and something far less appealing.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common species of grass you’re likely to find on a British lawn.
Dwarf Ryegrass Species
Dwarf ryegrass (Turf Ryegrass or Lolium perenne), is a strain of perennial ryegrass specifically bred for a shorter growth period. Its ability to produce more tillers (the stem of the grass shoots), results in a thicker lawn. You may recognise this species by the purple or reddish colouration at the base of the plant. Over the last thirty years, this species has become one of the most popular breeds of grass around for lawns, particularly because it establishes itself so quickly. It prefers moist soils and doesn’t get on at all well with the shade.
Red Fescue Species
Known by the Latin name Festuca Rubra, Red Fescue is a cool-season grass that’s great for the difficult to maintain shaded areas. You’ll often find this at campsites, resorts and anywhere in the shade of a mountain.
It’s popular because it’s low maintenance. It needs very little in the way of fertiliser, irrigation or lawn mowing. While it does well in dry, shady environments, it’s not great in very hot climates. Many like to pair it up with smooth-stalked meadow grass to get a good covering in both shaded and sunned areas. It’s not as wear resistant as some grasses and can take some time to germinate.
You can identify by its extremely fine blades and deep green colour. It comes in two varieties, Chewing Fescue and Creeping Red Fescue. Chewing Fescue is a bunch grass with upright growth habit. Whereas Creeping Red Fescue spreads very slowly with short root patterns.
Slender Creeping Red Fescue
Slender Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca Rubra Litoralis) is a more slender relative of creeping red fescue and is a common species to find in most lawn mixes. Gardeners like it for the fine balance it strikes between looking appealing and withstanding harsh weather and environmental conditions. It will always work best in well-drained soil, surviving well in drought conditions but perhaps not ideally suited to more moist soils. However, you should still be sure to water it at least once or twice a week.
Creeping red fescue is perfect for tree-lined areas or spots that don’t get a great deal of sun because it grows well in shaded conditions.It is a good species for when you’re starting up a new lawn because it takes hold quickly once planted.
The Common Bent (Agrostis Capillaris L) is rhizomatous (having a lot of roots) and perennial (it lives longer than two years). It grows well in terrains as diverse as damp soils, meadows, acidic grassland, rough ground and pastures. Often found in upland pastures, it thrives even in nutrient-poor soil.
This grass species thrives under a vast array of conditions and germinates in both the spring and the autumn. This is why common bent is one of the more common wild grasses. You are just as likely to find Common bent growing in the Lake District as your back garden.
Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass Species
Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass has the Latin name Poa Pratensis but is known as the far more folksy sounding Kentucky Bluegrass the US. It produces a hard-wearing turf notable for its dark green leaf. You’ll notice it is slightly broader than other grass types. It benefits from an extensive root system that makes it a great survivor of droughts and damage.
This species also attracts a wide array of wildlife. Perfect if you want your garden to be a home for nature as well as somewhere to relax in. Smooth-stalked meadow grass species attracts caterpillars of the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, and well as the Common Sun Beetle.
Annual Meadow Grass
Known by the Latin name Poa Anua, annual meadow grass is a staple of golf and bowling greens throughout Great Britain. Seed mixtures for domestic and amenity turf do not often contain this variety. However, golfing and bowling greens are often created using Annual Meadow Grass. It often finds its way onto other lawns as a contaminant.
It tends to avoid acidic soil and soil that is low in phosphate and can be particularly sensitive to drought. Regularly maintained lawns and other grass areas often have this species as a major component. It flowers throughout the year, and its seeds can be spread on the soles of shoes and on tire treads.
To work out which grass varieties best fit your garden:
- Take a look at the landscape
- Where does the sun fall
- How much moisture does lawn receive
- Which seeds are likely to be coming from nearby lawns and grassy areas.