Bermudagrass
Bermudagrass.

Growing that picture-perfect lawn can be difficult in Kansas due to our challenging climate and sometimes less-than-ideal soils. Add to the fact that some lawn owners these days want to avoid irrigating their lawns from dwindling aquifers, and the challenge becomes more difficult.

The solution to these problems is to choose species and varieties of grass that are adapted to Kansas conditions. Adapted species require considerably less maintenance to thrive, regardless of the circumstances thrown their way.

Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass presents a pleasing appearance to many, being low but dense with a medium green color. Most varieties are developed for use in the South and cannot survive Kansas winters, so be sure to select a cold-hardy type. Bermudagrass typically must be established from sod, plugs, or sprigs to produce a quality lawn.

Pros:

  • Excellent heat tolerance.
  • Excellent drought tolerance.
  • Adaptability to most soil types.
  • Fair weed resistance.
  • Insect resistance.
  • Excellent traffic resistance.
  • Rapid establishment.

Cons:

  • Fairly low cold tolerance.
  • Poor shade tolerance.
  • Relatively short growing season.
  • Tendency to invade flowerbeds, gardens, etc.

Best use: Heavy-use areas that receive full sunlight, primarily in southern Kansas.

Buffalo Grass

Buffalo grass

Buffalo grass is a native species, and it is one ideally suited to the driest parts of Kansas, where irrigating a lawn is inadvisable. Typically, buffalo grass sold for lawn use includes only female plants, which are shorter than the males and have an unobtrusive burr-like flower. Sometimes buffalo grass is grown in a mix with blue grama to reduce the amount of time the lawn spends in dormancy. While some varieties of buffalo grass can be seeded, most must be started from sod or plugs.

Pros:

  • Resistance to most diseases.
  • Few insect problems.
  • Extreme heat and cold tolerance.
  • Ability to thrive in dry conditions without irrigation.
  • Low fertilizer requirements.
  • No thatch buildup.
  • Infrequent mowing requirements.

Cons:

  • High cost of seed.
  • Slow establishment.
  • Low shade tolerance.
  • Low tolerance of poorly drained soils.
  • Dormancy during extended dry periods.
  • Susceptibility to weeds, particularly if over-managed.
  • Gray-green color, considered unattractive by some.

Best use: Low-maintenance lawns, particularly in western Kansas.

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue
Harvest at a tall fescue sod farm.

Tall fescue is a bunchgrass with a moderately coarse texture and a medium green color. A common way to reap the greatest benefit from tall fescue is to purchase a blend of several varieties. Each variety will thrive under slightly different conditions, resulting in a thick, attractive lawn year-round.

Pros:

  • Rapid establishment.
  • Adaptability to many soil types.
  • Heat tolerance.
  • Drought tolerance.
  • Tolerance of short periods of flooding.
  • Partial shade tolerance.
  • Fair weed resistance.
  • Good traffic resistance after establishment.
  • Little thatch buildup.

Cons:

  • Tendency to grow in clumps.
  • Susceptibility to brown patch disease.
  • Frequent mowing requirements.

Best use: Lawns across the state, particularly those with clayey soil.

Zoysia

Zoysia
Image courtesy of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Hitchcock, A.S. (rev. A. Chase). 1950. Manual of the grasses of the United States. USDA Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC.

This light green grass is fine-textured and has unusually stiff blades due to a high silica content. Its thick, uniform growth makes it a rather popular turfgrass.

Pros:

  • Some tolerance of saline soils.
  • Good heat tolerance and cold tolerance.
  • Drought tolerance.
  • Excellent traffic tolerance.
  • Low fertilizer requirements.
  • Infrequent mowing requirements.

Cons:

  • Expense of sod, plugs, and sprigs.
  • Slow establishment.
  • Low tolerance of poorly drained soils.
  • Poor shade tolerance.
  • Dense foliage hard for mowers to cut.
  • Heavy thatch buildup.
  • Comparatively short growing season.
  • Sickly color on alkaline soils.
  • Tendency to invade flowerbeds, gardens, etc.

Best use: Lawns in eastern Kansas that receive full sun, particularly those where a very short height is desired.