Lawn: Which type to choose & how to plant
Looking to choose and plant the perfect lawn for your home? Check out our guide to find the right type for you and get tips on planting and care.

Lawn: Which type to choose & how to plant

Today’s blog will provide you with some essential information on the different grass types in South Africa. This blog is a continuation, or rather chapter two of the last lawn blog.

The last lawn blog provides essential information on how to grow lawns successfully throughout the year in different rainfall regions. In other words, summer rainfall and winter rainfall areas. It provides an overview of basic tasks like watering, fertilising and mowing your lawn. Additionally, we mentioned other tasks like scarification, aeration and overseeding. Moreover, we also mention a basic description of some of the pests and diseases that you may experience when growing your lawn.

This blog gives detailed information on the different grass types in South Africa. It will guide you to make the right choice when choosing a lawn species. It includes an overview of how to plant your chosen lawn, and how to overseed lawn in cooler provinces.

Let’s start learning about the different grass types in South Africa!

LAWN TYPES AND WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM

Before choosing your grass from the different grass types in South Africa, there are some things you need to take into consideration. These are as follows:

  • What is the grass area used for?
  • The ‘grass look’ you prefer?
  • Your climate?
  • The soil type in your area?
  • How much sunlight will the grass receive and require?
  • The amount of traffic the grass will have to withstand?
  • What is your water accessibility and rainfall?

GRASS TYPES IN SOUTH AFRICA: WARM SEASON GRASSES

AXONOPUS COMPRESSUS – KEARSNEY GRASS

One of the first grass types in South Africa we will discuss is Kearsney grass. It is a coarse-textured, light green, and shiny lawn.

This grass type prefers growing in frost-free, coastal areas. It is very frost tender and will not do well in frost-prone areas. Kearsney grass is a shallow-rooted grass originating from the American tropics. This means that it prefers growing in partially shaded areas, which are moist but not waterlogged.

Although it prefers moist areas, the soil it prefers growing in is a sandy one, with low fertility. It can tolerate light salinity and has a relatively high heat & humidity tolerance. Therefore, it is good for KZN coastal areas. Unfortunately, it does not tolerate drought.

Kearsney grass grows low to the ground, which means it does not require that much mowing. Consequently, this makes it a relatively low-maintenance grass in terms of mowing. However, it does not tolerate foot traffic well. In South Africa, it is usually only available in plug trays.

CYNODON DACTYLON & CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS – BERMUDA, COUCH / KWEEK

The indigenous Cynodon grasses are quite difficult to describe as there are both dactylon and transvaalensis. Moreover, within these two species, many sub-species exist in many different textural and aesthetic forms. Each sub-species or hybrid has its characteristics and preferred conditions.

If you buy instant lawn, then your options are usually just the normal C.dactylon and C.transvaalensis. If you purchase plug trays then you will find many of the sub-species varieties. The following is a generalised description of Cynodon preferences (C.dactylon & C.transvaalensis), and then a description of each Cynodon sub-species separately. Of the grass types in South Africa, the sub-species Cynodon’s are usually available in plug trays and sometimes as seed.

Usually, Cynodon in general is not frost-tolerant and will go dormant in winter. Fortunately, nowadays there are frost-resistant or more tolerant types. People grow them in Gauteng, KZN, Western and Eastern Cape, North West Cape, Limpopo, and Northern Cape.

Cynodons are in general, drought and heat tolerant but some species are not drought tolerant at all. If drought has caused dormancy, they will usually bounce back quite quickly. They are sun lovers and in general, do not do well in shady conditions.

Most Cynodons produce long stolons and rhizomes, which can grow quite deep. These grasses are tolerant of heavy traffic, can handle saline conditions, and can grow in both sandy and clay soils. They are quite weed resistant as well. Of all the different grass types in South Africa, Cynodon grasses are the most commonly used sports grasses. They are the right grass if you are looking for a neat manicured look as they have a fine grass blade.

CYNODON DACTYLON

CYNODON DACTYLON ‘HARRISMITH’

This is a medium textured (the width of the grass blade) and is very frost resistant. It has a yellowish-green blade appearance and is a deep rooting variety.

CYNODON DACTYLON ‘SEAGREEN’  

A very dark coloured green grass that has great heat & drought tolerance, high saline resiliency, is disease resistant and is a fast grower (regular mowing boys!).

CYNODON DACTYLON ‘SILVERTON BLUE’

A medium-textured grass that is not suited to frost-prone areas and does best in tropical areas. It is slightly slower growing than some of the other Cynodons.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS

CYNODON DACTYLON X TRANSVAALENSIS ‘LMG/TIFDWARF’ 

This Cynodon tolerates severe to light frost and has a medium to fine leaf texture. It is a ‘dwarf’ Cynodon variety, which is used commonly by bowls keepers and on some golf courses as it tolerates very low mowing. Develops a reddish hue in winter, so it is not green throughout the year.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS ‘BAYVIEW’

Appropriate for growing in the Western Cape and was originally identified in the Western Cape. This is the finest textured C.transvaalensis, fastest-growing, and very well equipped to deal with salinity. It can also tolerate severe frost.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS ‘FLORIDA’

A fine-textured Cynodon which has great heat and drought tolerance and can be grown in most areas, but it is not frost-tolerant and will go dormant in winter.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS ‘GULFGREEN’  

Presents a medium to coarse textured blade. It is the one Cynodon that can tolerate and prefers semi-shade. Most Cynodon hybrids require full sun for at least 8 hours a day. It has a good heat and drought tolerance, as well as can tolerate salinity. It is a vigorous growing variety and covers quickly, which means you will not experience a lot of weeds with this variety.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS ‘ROYAL BLUE’  

This grass is described as having a thick luxurious, manicured look with dark green fine leaves. It is extremely versatile, growing in many different soil types, has great heat tolerance and also tolerates cold frosty areas too. And moderate salinity… but it requires more water than other Cynodons.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS ‘SKAAP PLAAS’  

A very fine-bladed Cynodon, with a mid-green colour, which grows rapidly and forms a close cover (benefit as weeds don’t have space to grow). This Cynodon transvaalensis has a better drought tolerance than most.

CYNODON TRANSVAALENSIS X DACTYLON ‘TIFGREEN® & TIFWAY®’

These present a medium to fine texture with dark green leaves. They can tolerate light frost.

DACTYLOCTENIUM AUSTRALE – BEREA, LM OR DURBAN

As you may have noticed by now, there are many different grass types in South Africa. Apart from the different types, there are also many sub-species.

Of the different grass types in South Africa, we will now discuss Berea grass.  It has glossy, dark apple green, medium leaf blades and is stoloniferous (put simply the “runners grow on top of the ground) rather than rhizomatous (the runners grow below ground and a layer of soil partially protects it). Hence, it doesn’t take heavy traffic and is not hard-wearing.

It is an indigenous grass that tends to prefer growing in full sun but can be grown in semi-shaded areas as well. Many make the mistake of expecting it to grow in deep shade. It requires fairly regular mowing. You should keep it at approximately (dependant on season) 6-8cm height. If growing in semi-shade, keep it a little longer. As a result, it might have a slightly scruffy appearance.

Berea grass is a shallow-rooted grass and therefore has a weak sod. However, it still has good sand binding properties. It tends to grow well and is common in KZN and the Lowveld (high humidity, well-drained sandy soil) but is also found in other provinces. But beware! Berea is frost intolerant! If you are in a frost-prone area and insist on using Bera, then make sure you don’t mow it in winter (or very little), as longer blades will somewhat protect the underlying stolons. This grass is a coastal variety and therefore has a high salinity tolerance. Its heat tolerance is moderate, but its drought tolerance is not great and it does need fairly regular watering to maintain health.

PENNISETUM CLANDESTINUM – KIKUYU GRASS

Kikuyu is a bright green, coarse-textured, extremely vigorous growing grass exotic to South Africa. (It is indigenous to the highlands of Kenya where it derives its name from. Kikuyu is a town in Kiambu County, Kenya). If one mows it regularly it can develop a fine texture. Mistakenly, gardeners often refer to it as a low-maintenance species. This is not the case. It grows quickly and vigorously, and needs regular mowing with a heavy-duty mower. If your mower is inappropriate, your lawn will build up a thick, spongy mat (‘thatch’) and the blades will become very coarse, making the lawn more difficult to mow and maintain.

Kikuyu is highly invasive, requiring one to cut the grass edges to ensure it doesn’t grow into garden beds or areas where it is unwanted. If grown in areas where gardeners experience dormancy in winter (areas where there is large summer/winter seasonal temperature variation), then the lawn will require scarifying (raked mechanically) to remove dead growth or thatch build-up.

In frost-prone areas, it will likely go dormant and require overseeding with a cold season lawn grass if you want to retain a green appearance in winter. In summer rainfall areas (not frost prone), where winters are dry you will have to irrigate regularly to prevent drought-induced dormancy.

FULL SUN VS SHADE

Kikuyu is best grown in full sun but can tolerate very light semi-shade if your mower blade height is set higher. Deep shade is inappropriate for Kikuyu growing. It requires at least 6 hours of sun a day so you should not grow it in any shadow lines of walls or vertical structures that may be present before 10h00 and 14h00.

Gardeners often plant it in small courtyards which may have direct and full sun for 3 to 5 hours a day, but this is not sufficient, albeit in direct sun. If you plant it where it receives only 3-5 hours of sun a day, it must not be subjected to heavy traffic as the additional stress of traffic will “push it over the edge’ and slowly, over time it will deteriorate. Mower blade height in full sun is generally 2-4cm, but in the shadier areas, this should be 5-7cm. This grass is greedy, requiring good pre-planting preparation, good fertilising, and it prefers deep, fertile soil (not sand). Kikuyu needs regular watering, not displaying good drought tolerance, but can withstand heat, just not extreme humidity.

Its salinity tolerance is not great but it does tolerate relatively acidic conditions.

WHY IS KIKUYU PLANTED THROUGHOUT SOUTH AFRICA?

Of all the different grass types in South Africa, Kikuyu is the one that withstands heavy foot traffic and recovers from damage quickly. Hence its use on sports fields. People often use Kikuyu on sports fields; particular rugby, soccer fields and cricket outfields where one would prefer coarser grass. It is very versatile and so planted throughout South Africa, but it doesn’t have the best frost tolerance (The grass does not die per se, but the grass blades turn to unsightly thatch).

STENOTAPHRUM SECUNDATUM – BUFFALO GRASS

This bluish-green grass has a coarse texture. It can be quite “hard” underfoot.

It is grown in many parts of the country but is frost-tender. Frost induces winter dormancy. It is a coastal grass, presenting a high salinity tolerance and has a preference for sandy soils with high organic content (compost).

Being a mainly stoloniferous (the “runners” grow below ground level) grass, it tolerates heavy traffic when grown in ideal conditions and is quite hard-wearing, but recovers slowly from damage. For this reason, it is not appropriate for sports fields. It is a vigorously growing grass (in ideal conditions) but is not as invasive as Kikuyu. Although this grass does best grown in full sun, it can be grown in dappled shade too (not full shade). It has a good heat tolerance, but does like regular watering (daily) and is not completely drought resistant.

BUFFALO GRASS MISCONCEPTIONS

There is a common misconception that has been “pushed” by those that dis-credit exotic species (like Kikuyu) that Buffalo grass is low maintenance (Because Kikuyu is an exotic species the “purists” amongst us are attempting for the eradication of all exotic species, and so Buffalo grass is often punted as a suitable alternative for Kikuyu).

Buffalo grass is not low maintenance. It requires less frequent mowing than certain other lawn types, but it requires regular deep irrigation and feeding. In heavy soils, it requires regular aeration and hollow-tining. It tolerates fairly wet soils (but not heavy clay soils) and has a higher alkaline tolerance than most other alternatives.

When growing warm-season grasses in frost-prone areas it is advisable to overseed the lawn with cold-season grasses to fill up patches of lawn that may have become dormant.

Hope you are still on track learning about all the different grass types in South Africa!! Now let’s go on to the next section where you will learn even more.

GRASS TYPES IN SOUTH AFRICA: COLD SEASON GRASSES

Cold season grasses, as the name suggests are capable of growing in frost-prone areas. They will stay green even during frosty times. These grasses often have a good shade tolerance, better than what the warm season grasses do. Their heat and drought tolerance though is not good at all, and therefore they do not grow in warm-season provinces of the country.

Do not grow them in KZN, Lowveld, and most parts of the coastal Cape. They are bunch forming grasses (and are so seldom invasive), and so should not be scarified or top-dressed. Additionally, they are generally not hard-wearing and must be mowed with a higher blade setting than warm-season grasses. One of the pros is that they don’t require as regular mowing as warm-season grasses. The two most common types are All Season’s evergreen and Shade over, but there are others on the market too.

ALL SEASON’S EVERGREEN

This grass can grow in full sun and dappled shade and will tolerate frost and light traffic. It requires regular deep watering and has a moderate heat tolerance.

SHADE OVER

 This is a mixture or blend of grasses that tolerate shade, and gardeners use it to fill up bare patches in shade areas. The grasses in the mixture present fine to medium textured foliage and will stay green if you water it thoroughly throughout the year.

Now we have come to the end of discovering the different grass types in South Africa. Let’s find out how to go about preparing the soil and planting a beautiful lawn!!

CHOOSING HOW TO PLANT YOUR LAWN 

There are three main methods by which you can establish your lawn.

  • Seed sowing
  • Plug or sprig planting
  • Sod laying (instant lawn).

There are pros and cons to each method.

SEED SOWING

It is about 90% cheaper than sod laying/instant lawn and a lot cheaper than plug or sprig planting. Seeding a lawn is easy to do yourself and there is very little wastage. It takes at least six weeks and up to 12 weeks to form a mat and you must irrigate regularly and very gently for at least 6 weeks. Warm-season grasses are sometimes not available in seed form. Cold season grasses are more readily available.

PLUG PLANTING

It is about 50% cheaper than instant lawn, ideal when seed is not available and there is little wastage. It takes about four to six weeks to establish (when planted 10cm apart, is extremely labour intensive.

SOD INSTALLING (INSTANT LAWNS)

It presents the quickest establishment of between one to two weeks. When planting instant lawns you do not have to irrigate gently. There is little risk of erosion or loss of material. Instant lawn is also ideal for sloping sites (but may you may need to peg).

Instant lawn is the most costly method of grassing (unit cost, delivery & installation), expect about 5% to 10% wastage, and it is fairly difficult to lay by an inexperienced person. Most importantly, one has limited choice. The most widely available options are Cynodon; Kikuyu; Buffalo, and Berea as well as sometimes All seasons evergreen.

When purchasing instant lawn or sods check the quality of sods by handling and seeing if they are solid and retain their structure, with no side breaks or gaps in sods. Ensure that the soil of the sod and roots are moist as well as termite-free. Check that the soil is a rich, dark colour. And most importantly, always make sure that you buy instant lawn from a reputable lawn supplier.

SOIL PREPARATION

Maintenance of lawn is a surface activity, therefore correct preparation is of utmost importance.

The soil preparation for all three methods of planting is similar. Prepare the planting area by turning over the soil with either a mechanical scarifier or a fork. Rake the surface to a fine tilth and remove stones, weeds, old plant material, and clods. Apply fine compost at a thickness of 30mm to improve texture; water holding capacity and for nutritional purposes. Lastly, level the soil as it is very challenging to correct the level once the grass is growing.

Water the area a couple of times and wait two to three weeks to see if any weeds germinate. If so, remove weeds or treat with herbicide as required.

Just prior to planting, apply fertiliser (superphosphate should be sufficient at an application rate of 70 -80 g/m2). If your soil is not nutritious then add 40 grams/m2 of a Nitrogen-containing fertiliser (3:2:1 to improve Nitrogen deficiencies). Grass tends to prefer a PH between 5,5 – 6,5. If the soil is acidic, add agricultural lime, and if the soil is alkaline, add more compost. You can also add Sulphur to lower the PH, but rather leave the sulphur application to the experts.

After fertiliser application, work into the top 50mm layer of soil lightly and ensure you have retained the correct levels.

HOW TO PLANT GRASS 

You should by now have a fully prepared area.

SEED SOWING 

Measure the area you intend to seed to calculate the amount of seed required. Most grass seed is extremely fine, and therefore you are best off mixing the seed with fine, dry sand to bulk up the sowing mixture. Sometimes when buying seed, it will come with a shaker supplied. If not then create small holes in an old tin can or another container. For larger areas, a mechanical seeder is more appropriate.

Prior to applying the seed, wet the area and rake it so that the rake marks are clearly visible. This will allow the seed to aggregate in the rake grooves and allow them to cover easily with soil. Distributed the seed evenly by sowing half in one direction and then the second half in the opposite direction.

Once you have applied the seed, rake in lightly so that the seed is covered by 5mm of soil. Birds are attracted to seed, so if you don’t cover it properly, your losses are likely to be far greater than if you were to leave it exposed. You now need to roll the surface with a light roller, or for smaller areas lightly pat down with the back of a spade.

Irrigate the seeded area daily until germination takes place. Irrigation must take place with a fine spray, and avoid puddling to prevent seed from collect in puddles resulting in a patchy lawn. In summer rainfall areas that experience light frost, seed planting should take place in early summer or early autumn. In frost-prone areas, seed planting should only take place in spring. The seed application rate will depend on lawn type so follow the instructions on the packaging.

PLUG PLANTING

Plugs are lawns planted into seedling trays. These are usually 200 cavity trays. The individual plugs of lawn, are then removed from trays and are planted into appropriately sized planting holes. Plugs must be set out in lines between 100-300mm apart and the same distance between rows, staggered. The spacing will vary according to type as well as how quickly you want to establish grass. This is also determined by your budget.

SOD INSTALLING (INSTANT LAWNS) 

Before planting an instant lawn, make sure that the planting area is moist. Instant lawn should be planted within 24 hours of harvesting and must be watered for at latest 20-30 minutes after laying. Plant the lawn along the longest straight line, like a pathway or driveway. Place sods to fit well against each other but leave a 10mm gap to fill with dry, sandy soil after laying. This slight gap between sods allows for edges to knit.

After laying, tamp the grass down using a roller or walk over it to ensure good contact between underlying soil and grassroots. You may need to peg the lawn sods to the underlying soil if you are planting in a windy area or on a slope.

To ensure it is established successfully, the lawn should be watered daily at an application rate of 5L/m2/day for the first two weeks after laying. Avoid traffic over the lawn for the first three weeks. Mowing can commence after three weeks.

HOW TO OVERSEED EXISTING LAWNS

Overseeding is a procedure that takes place during winter in frost-prone areas, using cold-season grass seeds to re-establish brown dormant patches. Before applying the seed, mow your lawn short.

When sowing warm-season grass, scarify the lawn using a rake to remove dead matted grass, and then spike the lawn (aerate) using a sharp garden fork. If you are overseeding a cold season grass, do not scarify. Just aerate it by spiking. Add a thin layer of lawn dressing and 60g/m2 superphosphate.

Sow seeds using the method previously described and follow instructions on the package. You can either choose to overseed your whole lawn or patches that are not looking good.

Remember to water well every day until well germinated, but ensure you water gently as you should avoid the formation of puddles. The seed will collect in puddles creating patchiness.

We hope both blogs combined gives you all the information you need to grow the perfect lawn you desire. Lawns do require work and maintenance to perfect, and therefore forward-thinking and planning. Good luck!

Article written by Jessica Ruger (Horticultural blog writer. Article written on behalf of Contours Landscapes and Contours Design Studio).

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