Ed.Note: Welcome to Super Secrets, a new series from GOLF.com where we are selecting the brains of the game’s top superintendents. By illuminating how course maintenance teams perform their duties, we hope to not only give you a deeper appreciation for the important and innovative work they do, but also provide you with maintenance tips that you can apply to your little piece of heaven. . Happy gardening!
The grass is not always greener.
Sometimes it is more brown. Sometimes it is drier.
Often it’s not even the same type of weed.
As with many plant species, grass comes in a dizzying number of varieties, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever stood in the aisle of a lawn care store, staring at your options, wondering what type of turf to choose.
Golf course operators often face the same question.
So how do they decide?
We asked Shawn Emerson, second-generation superintendent and director of agronomy at Desert Mountain, Scottsdale, to share some of the key considerations and lessons that keep us at home.
When do you want the turf in perfect shape?
The first question Emerson says he always asks is: what month do you want your weed to look better? At Desert Mountain, there are seven trails. Three have fairways planted for warm weather herbs. Four have fairways planted to cool the season’s herbs. Each category peaks at the time of year their name suggests, which is why Desert Mountain closes its cold-season courses in the scorching heat of August, while its hot-season courses close in October for over-seed.
The takeaway for homeowners is pretty straightforward. If you like to keep your lawn green in midsummer, without having to go overboard with watering, you’re better off with a warm-season grass, like Bermuda. When the calendar turns, the opposite is true. Where Bermuda goes dormant in the fall and winter (to keep a warm climate lawn green in the colder months, you’ll need to over-sow with cool climate grass), which turns brown when the temperature drops, is when it’s cold. Seasonal herbs are verdant at their best. So if you want your lawn to look its best in the intermediate seasons, a cold-season variety, such as fescue or rye, is your best bet.
What are you using turf for?
Some types of grass are great for greens. Others are more suitable for tees and fairways. The courses select the turf according to its purpose. Such a thought should apply to you. “Is your yard a place where children always play?” Emerson says. “Or is it just something you want to be able to see from your window?” For a yard that has to withstand heavy traffic, Emerson says, a resilient weed like Bermuda is a better choice than a more delicate variety, like, for example, bentgrass. Recommended cutting heights also make a difference, so check the specs before purchasing a bag of seeds. “If the lawn is used a lot, the grass that needs to be cut to half an inch or less won’t be great,” says Emerson. You’re looking for a variety with a recommended mowing height of three-quarters of an inch or more.
What’s the situation with your shadow?
That’s just in: grass needs sunlight (no wonder turf conditions are often uneven on tee-wrapped greens and tees). But not all varieties require the same amount. You could write a dissertation on this topic. But as a general rule, the more shaded the lawn is, the better off with cool season grass. The type of sun your lawn receives also makes a difference. If it gets mostly the morning sun, Emerson suggests a cool climate weed. On the other hand, warm climate herbs adapt best to longer, more persistent afternoon sunlight when the heat of the day subsides.
How’s the soil?
Not all soil is great for growing weed. The soil in your garden could be rocky or stingy. It may have poor drainage, which is a nuisance, especially if you live in a rainy climate. Superintendents have all kinds of sophisticated means to measure and improve soil quality. But that’s a topic for another day.
In the meantime, here’s a useful test you can take at home. Water the soil healthfully, then check 15 minutes later. If there’s still standing water, Emerson says, you have poor drainage. So, unless you want to remedy this problem, you’ll want to plant grass that has a better chance in those conditions. Prairie grasses and tall fescue meet this standard, but Emerson suggests consulting your local lawn care expert to narrow down which choice is best for you.
How much time and resources do you want to spend?
When it comes to choosing a type of turf, most golf courses make a careful calculation of economic and environmental costs. Similar considerations apply to the home. “When I look at a lawn, I always think about the best way to use the least amount of water,” says Emerson. “But I’m also thinking, ‘How much time do I really want to spend on this.'” When his children were small, Emerson sowed too much in the fall so that his lawn could withstand wear and tear all winter. This meant he also had to mow the grass, an extra effort he felt was worth it. Nowadays, with no children at home, Emerson is content to let the grass go dormant. It is not a lush green look but it requires less maintenance. “A lot of that comes back to the question of what, exactly, you want from your lawn and how much you want to put in it,” says Emerson. “Once you know this, it’s easier to narrow down the type of weed you need.”