The Q&A Archives: best grass seed choice for NM lawn

Question: I am just starting out with a new plot of land and would like to make the best possible choice for a beautiful and yet waterwise, non-invasive lawn. What would be recommended for a heavier clay soil with some ammendments in the South-Central NM area? Thank you

Answer: Turfgrasses can be divided into two major groups -the cool-season and the warm-season grasses. Representatives of the cool-season grasses include perennialyegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, creeping bentgrass and tall fescue. Optimum growth of theserasses occurs within a temperature range from 60? to 70?F. They need considerably more water than warm season grasses. Warm season grasses, such as bermudagrass, buffalograss, blue grama, St. Augustine grass and zoysia grass grow best at temperatures between 80? and 95? and use water more efficiently. Because of their optimum growth rate at lower temperatures, cool-season turfgrasses are generally adapted to temperate and subarctic climates, while warm-season grasses grow best in arid, semiarid, tropical and subtropical zones. In New Mexico, cool-season grasses generally can be used anywhere north of Socorro, including the Cloudcroft, Ruidoso, and Silver City areas, while warm-season grasses are more adapted to the southern part of the state. However, this general rule oversimplifies the situation. In most parts of the state, the climate is semiarid, and daily seasonal temperatures can fluctuate widely due to the high altitude. This creates a dilemma about which turfgrass species are the most suitable. The climate is semiarid with low precipitation, suggesting that warm-season grasses are more appropriate. But low temperatures, due to high elevations, particularly in the winter, make cool-season grasses the better choice. Because of the cool fall, winter, spring and relatively cool summer nights, cool-season grasses can be grown successfully almost anywhere in New Mexico under regular irrigation conditions. However, if water consumption is a concern, the lack of sufficient precipitation makes warm-season grasses the better choice. With the introductionof improved cold tolerant warm-season grasses, New Mexicans can grow low-water-use, warm-season almost anywhere in the state without losing the grasses to winter kill.

Bermudagrass is the species most adapted to and most frequently used in the lower elevations of southern New Mexico. Many new and improved seed varieties have been developed and released during the last 10 years. Users now have a choice of varieties that are denser and finer textured than the almost extinct seed of common bermudagrass. Bermudagrass spreads aggressively by stolons (aboveground runners) and rhizomes (belowground runners) and can become a nuisance when it invades flower beds and gardens. Buffalograss is more drought tolerant and can be sustained on moderately less water compared with bermudagrass.

Zoysiagrass varieties have been introduced that establish more quickly than previous varieties. However, zoysiagrass still establishes slower than bermudagrass. The newer varieties are very dense and can be grown successfully in the cooler areas of New Mexico.

Perennial ryegrassvarieties are well adapted to most of New Mexico and thus their use has increased greatly. These varieties establish quickly and provide, good cold tolerance and winter color, but only adequate heat tolerance. Even when irrigated heavily, summers in southern New Mexico can be too hot for perennial ryegrass to survive. Tall fescue are another cool season grass to consider. Due to its heat and drought tolerance, it is a good general purpose turfgrass for New Mexico. Tall fescue is a tall-growing, coarse- to medium-textured, bunch-type turfgrass that can be established by seed or sod. Tall fescue resists heavy wear and high temperatures. When adequately irrigated, it can be grown successfully in all parts of New Mexico.

For an attractive lawn year around, you might want to plant bermuda grass and then over-seed with perennial rye in October. The seeds will germinate and green up within a few weeks, providing you with a nice green lawn until the temperatures warm up in early summer. At this time the ryegrass will die out but the bermuda grass will green up. Best wishes with your new lawn.

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