Fast Turfgrass Facts

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What is a turf? | What is a turfgrass? | Turfgrass uses | Turfgrass Factsheets | Qualities of Grass Species

A turf is a perennial stand of living groundcover that can withstand traffic, grazing and mowing. Turf includes the entire system including the plant material, soil and thatch.

Thatch: Found at the soil-plant interface, thatch is comprised of un-decomposed and partially decomposed organic material.
C3 grasses: Type of grass which produces a 3-carbon chain molecule during photosynthesis, requiring lower light and temperatures than C4 grasses. These are generally found in cool, moist climates.
Dormancy: A state entered by turfgrass when under severe temperature stress (hot or cold), or water stress (drought). During a dormancy period the turfgrass will temporarily cease shoot growth, but is still capable of regrowth once the stress has dissipated.
C4 grasses: Type of grass which produces a 4-carbon chain molecule during photosynthesis, requiring higher temperatures and light intensities than C3 grasses. C4 grasses require lower moisture levels and are generally more adapted to climates with hot summers.
Dormancy: A state entered by turfgrass when under severe temperature stress (hot or cold), or water stress (drought). During a dormancy period the turfgrass will temporarily cease shoot growth, but is still capable of regrowth once the stress has dissipated.
Rhizomes: Underground stems that will produce daughter plants. Rhizomes are important for sod strength and can be used for carbohydrate (sugar) storage.
Bunch-type grass: Grasses that produce tillers rather than rhizomes or stolons.

A turfgrass is any grass plant that can form a turf. Turfgrasses can be characterized by their temperature tolerance or ideal climatic conditions/zone. As such, they are divided into two categories which provide information about their ideal growing conditions and locations: cool and warm season grasses.

Cool season grasses are found mostly in cool northern zones ranging from humid to arid or semi-arid (see climate map for zones), making them ideal grasses for Southern Ontario. While optimal growth occurs within temperature ranges of 15 and 24°C (60–75°F), growth will begin when soil temperatures reach 4.5–7°C (40–45°F). Cool season turfgrass are C3 grasses which recover quickly from winter dormancy at the start of a new growing season. However, these grasses will also regain dormancy if not irrigated during hot summer temperatures.

Examples of cool season grasses:
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Tall fescue (Lolium arundinacea)
Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera)
Velvet bentgrass (Agrostis canina)
Colonial bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis)
Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. rubra)
Chewings fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. fallax)
Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina)
Hard fescue (Festuca brevipila, Festuca duriuscula, Festuca longifolia)
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca, Festuca arvernensis)
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa Pratensis)
Annual bluegrass (Poa annua)
Rough Stalk bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
Supina bluegrass (Poa supina)
Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa)

Warm season grasses are found primarily in warm southern zones, with moisture ranging from humid to arid. Optimal growth temperature ranges between 26–35°C (80-95°F), and shoots begin growth when soil temperature reach higher than 15°C (60°F). Warm season grasses are C4 grasses that have deep root systems, allowing them to withstand extreme high temperatures of greater than 37°C (100°F).

Examples of warm season grasses:
Bermudagrass (Cynodon sp., Cynodon dactylon)
Zoysiagrass (Zoysia sp., Zoysia japonica, Zoysia matrella)
Seashore Paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum)
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides)
Centipede (Eremochloa ophiurioides)
Carpetgrass (Axonopus sp.)
Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)

The majority of turfgrass is employed for one of the three following uses:

Sports turf: Requires stands of turf that can withstand extreme amounts of traffic and soil compaction, while providing safe and relatively uniform playing conditions. Ex: school fields, municipal sports fields.
Lawn turf: Typically employed for its aesthetic value, this category of turf also provides a cooler surface than asphalt, concrete, etc., particularly in urban settings. Ex: Home lawns, commercial building grounds, cemeteries.
Utility turf: Used primarily to control surface erosion and ensure soil stability. Ex: Roadsides, airports grounds. The Turfgrass Outreach Project (TOP) aims to improve and maintain the quality of athletics fields and other sports turf in Southern Ontario.

Turfgrasses for athletic fields usually are composed of a mix of species in order to combine the strengths of different grasses. In particular, the athletic field environment is often high sun and requires durable, quickly recovering ground cover. As a result, most fields consist of a high percentage of Kentucky bluegrass mixed with perennial ryegrass; species well-suited to athletic fields. These and other common species are highlighted below.

Ministry of Environment’s Ontaro’s Cosmetic Pesticides Ban - What Schools Need to Know [PDF]

Ministry of Environment’s Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticides Ban - What Park Departments and Sport Associations Need to Know [PDF]

Mowing information sheet [PDF]

Kentucky bluegrass is a perennial grass that has rhizomes, which allows it to form strong sod with good regenerative potential. Optimal conditions for this species are well-drained, fertile soils and full sun exposure. This species also forms a strong thatch that helps to protect the root and rhizome systems, keeping the regenerative parts of the plant out of direct contact with wear. As a result, Kentucky bluegrass can often re-grow after periods of severe wear and is well-suited to athletic field environments.

This bunch-type grass forms a dense turf, has moderate wear tolerance, and cannot withstand extreme temperature conditions well. However, its primary advantage is a very quick germination period (approximately 7 days), providing rapid shoot coverage once planted. It is often mixed with the hardy Kentucky bluegrass to provide immediate coverage to an area while the slower germinating bluegrass becomes established. Perennial ryegrass is a cool season grass, best adapted to cool humid regions.

Tall fescue is a coarse-textured bunch-type grass. It has good drought and wear tolerance, but has poor cold tolerance. It recently is being used on athletic fields in Italy where winters are not as severe as Ontario.

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