Unit 2: Turfgrass Anatomy and Identification

Turfgrass Climatic Adaptation

There are 3 main reasons why turfgrass identification is important.

The first is adaptation. Turfgrasses are classified according to their climatic adaptation. They are classified as cool-season or warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses are more tolerant of cooler temperatures common to the northern part of the United States and warm-season grasses are more tolerant of warmer temperatures common to the southern part of the United States. An area called the transition zone is characterized by both warm and cold temperatures, which presents a challenge to turfgrass managers maintaining certain grasses. This area is sometimes too cool to grow warm-season grasses and sometimes too warm to grow cool-season grasses. Turfgrass managers must adjust maintenance strategies in order to successfully grow turfgrasses in the transition zone.

It is important to be able to identify cool- and warm-season grasses so you can plant appropriately. For example, you do not want to plant a cool-season turfgrass on a sports field on the southern tip of Florida and expect it to grow successfully. Vice versa, you do not want to plant a warm-season grass on a golf course green in northern Maine and expect it to grow successfully.

Management Practices

The second reason turfgrass identification is important is management. Proper management of turfgrass is dependent on the species. For example, on a golf course, certain grasses can withstand mowing heights of 1/8 inch and require different levels of maintenance versus turfgrasses maintained at 1 or more inches. We will discuss cultural practices more in depth later, but mowing height and frequency, fertilization needs, irrigation, and also pest control all depend on the specific turfgrass species.

Photo 1: Jerad Minnick

Photo 2: Cale Bigelow, Ph.D. and Gregg Munshaw, Ph.D.

Photo 3: Jim Brosnan, Ph.D.

User Needs

The third reason turfgrass identification is important is user needs. Selecting turfgrass for a home lawn is very different than selecting turfgrass for a sports field or golf course green. Certain grasses can provide different quality surfaces. It is important for turfgrass managers to understand grass characteristics and adaptations so they can use the correct species in the correct situation. One part of creating and maintaining turfgrass areas is identification of plant species that will thrive under the conditions associated with an area and meet the needs of users, homeowners, or the public. For example, a homeowner may only be interested in aesthetics, while athletes expect traction on a sports field, or a smooth, consistent surface on golf course greens.

Photo 1: Brad Fresenburg, Ph.D.

Photo 2: Kristen Althouse

Photo 3: Brad Fresenburg, Ph.D.

Which Turfgrass to Choose?

Now you will be able to determine how climatic adaptations, management practices, and user needs affect both cool-season and warm-season turfgrasses. Using the charts, determine which turfgrass is best suited to conditions.

Turfgrass Shoot Density
Cold Tolerance
Heat Tolerance
Drought Tolerance
Shade Tolerance
Cultural Intensity
Wear Resistance & Recuperative Capacity

Unit 2: Test Your Knowledge Quiz

You can now proceed to Unit 3 ...