Home Lawn and Turf in Mississippi
Select the Right Grass
Turfgrasses are divided into two groups by the temperature range under which they grow best. Warm-season grasses grow best at temperatures above 80 °F, while cool-season grasses grow best at temperatures between 60 and 75 °F.
Warm-season grasses form a thick mat of turf through horizontal growing stems called stolons or rhizomes. Stolons are stems that grow above the ground, and rhizomes grow just beneath the surface of the soil.
Cool-season grasses, with the exception of the bluegrasses, do not have these specialized stems. Cool-season grasses are referred to as “bunch” grasses, since each grass plant forms one clump (or bunch) and does not spread extensively.
The warm-season grasses are native to tropic and subtropic Africa, South America, or Asia. The adaptation of bermudagrass to Mississippi’s climate is apparent when you see it establishing in any bare patch of soil.
Other warm-season grasses grown for turf in Mississippi include St. Augustinegrass, centipedegrass, zoysiagrass, carpetgrass, and bahiagrass. These grasses grow actively in the spring, summer, and fall and go dormant when the temperature cools in the winter.
The brown color of winter can be relieved by seeding a cool-season grass into the dormant turf as discussed in Establishing Winter Lawns on page 15 or by painting the dormant turf with specially developed dyes. Many people appreciate the warm brown hue of bermudagrasses and zoysiagrasses in the winter and wouldn’t think of changing it.
The cool-season grasses grown in Mississippi originated in Europe. Only the northern counties in Mississippi can successfully grow these species as a permanent lawn. Zone 7a (see climate zone map) is an area where warm- or cool-season grasses can be grown. The choice is a warm-season grass that may be winter-killed in a severe winter or a cool-season grass that must be nurtured through the long, hot days of summer. Cool-season grasses that can be grown in this area include tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and creeping red fescue. Annual ryegrass and perennial ryegrass can be grown throughout the state as winter lawns but should not be considered permanent lawn species for any region of Mississippi.
Choosing the best grass for your situation involves four basic factors:
Sunlight—The most important factor in selecting the grass to grow is the amount of sunlight and shade you have. No species of turfgrass will grow in complete shade. If the area receives at least a half-day of direct sunlight, you can grow any of the grasses adapted to your region.
Bermudagrasses require the most light, followed by carpetgrass, bahiagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and red fescue. St. Augustinegrass is the most shade-tolerant, and it requires at least 3 hours of direct or high-quality, filtered sunlight a day to grow properly.
One deviation from the more-light-is-better rule of thumb is tall fescue. The temperature reduction from shade allows this cool-season grass to persist longer in summer in the shade than in full sun.
If you have areas (under trees or between buildings) that do not receive direct sunlight, consider other landscaping options, such as ground covers, mulched beds, or no plants at all.
Temperature—Temperature is important in determining which grasses will grow. Only in the northern tier of counties should cool-season lawns be expected to thrive. The climate zone Map | Ethics Line | on page 4 indicates
in which climate zone you live. The description of the individual grasses tells you which grasses are adapted to which climate zones.
The major limiting factor for warm-season grasses in Mississippi is the low temperatures experienced in winter. People who grow St. Augustinegrass or centipedegrass in zone 7a and the northern areas of zone 7b should expect to have some damage in severe winters. Carpetgrass growers in the northern counties should expect some damage every winter. The grasses can be grown outside their adapted areas, but efforts outside the ordinary are required to maintain them.
Maintenance—After you have narrowed the possibilities by eliminating grasses that won’t grow due to light and temperature factors, decide how much work you want to put into this lawn. Some grasses are easily established with seed, while others require sprigs or plugs.
After the lawn is established, some grasses require little care other than occasional mowing, while others require almost constant attention to fertility, water, and pest control. If you want to take advantage of the ability of hybrid bermudagrass to give you a green carpet effect, plan on investing large amounts of time and money in fertilizing, watering, and mowing. If all you want is something to keep the mud off your shoes when you walk from the car to the door, consider centipedegrass or carpetgrass.
Soil—Each species of grass has a soil type to which it is best adapted. All the grasses perform well in well-drained, loamy soils, but most Mississippians do not have this ideal soil. The acid sandy soils of southeast Mississippi are very suitable for growing centipedegrass. Areas that stay too wet for centipedegrass support carpetgrass nicely. The heavy clay soils of the Blackland Prairie and Delta will not support good growth of bahiagrass, centipede, or carpetgrass.
The most important consideration of soils is the ability of water to move into and through the soil. No grass survives long in standing water. A second factor is the acidity level, or pH, of the soil. Although the pH is modified by adding limestone or sulfur, it is easier to plant an adapted grass than to constantly fight to adjust the pH.