We have gathered the definitions of common lawn care terms, from acidic soil to Zoysiagrass. And we promise that this glossary will be more interesting than watching grass grow.
Also known as “sour soil,” acidic soil is soil with a pH of less than 7. Its opposite is alkaline soil, which has a pH greater than 7. Soil pH ranges from 0 to 14, and most plants like soil somewhere near the neutral mark of 7. Acidic soil is good for some plants and bad for others. Most grass varieties prefer slightly acidic soil.
Periodic aeration helps keep a lawn green and helps repair one that is going downhill. Over time, thatch builds up under lawns and soil is compacted by use. Aeration – essentially, putting holes in your lawn – breaks up the thatch and gives roots room to expand. How often you aerate depends on the health of the lawn and how heavily it is used.
Also known as “sweet soil,” alkaline soil is soil with a pH of greater than 7. Its opposite is acidic soil, which has a pH of less than 7. Soil pH ranges from 0 to 14, and most plants like soil somewhere near the neutral mark of 7. Alkaline soil is good for some plants and bad for others. Most grass varieties prefer slightly acidic soil.
Annual grasses are varieties of grass that complete their life cycle in one year and then die. Annual grasses such as ryegrass are often used by consumers to fill in bald patches on a lawn while slower-growing perennial plants take root.
This perennial, warm-season variety of grass is native to South America. It is extensively planted as a cow or horse pasture, though it is planted in some areas of the deep South and Southern California areas as a lawn due to its tolerance for heat and drought. It likes full sunlight and low pH soils and spreads by short, stout stolons. Easily recognizable because it produces slender spikelets topped by V-shaped racemes.
The carpet-like areas covered by bentgrass have made it ideal for golf course greens in cool-season climates, but it is also sold as seed or sod for lawns. It spreads by above-ground runners (stolons). The three main varieties are Creeping, Velvet, and Colonial, with the Creeping Bent most commonly sold for lawns.
A leading grass for Southern lawns, Bermudagrass likes full sunlight and well-drained soil. It has one of the fastest growing rates of any warm-season grass type and spreads by both rhizomes and stolons.
Kentucky bluegrass is a dense, cool-season grass introduced to the United States by early European settlers. Because of its low shade tolerance, Bluegrass seed is often sold in a blend with other grass seeds that do better in the shade.
A broadcast treatment refers to the application of fertilizer, pesticide or weed killer across a large area, as opposed to spot treatment of a small area.
This native North American grass is adapted to the prairies of the U.S. When large herds of buffalo roamed the North American continent, buffalo grass was a chief source of forage. It propagates by above-ground shoots and has both male and female plants.
Bunching grasses grow by tillering, that is, by sending out fresh blades from the crown of the plant. They have minimal creeping growth from sending out runners, and so they do not make sod. Examples of bunching grasses include annual ryegrass, hard fescue and some varieties of red fescue.
Carpetgrass is a Gulf state native that is a good low-maintenance choice for areas where other grasses have failed. It creates a thick sod that crowds out weeds, tolerates dampness and covers slopes well. It requires frequent mowing if you want a seedhead-free appearance.
Centipedegrass is a slow-growing, light-green, low-maintenance grass variety that thrives in warm weather. It spreads by sending out above-ground runners (stolons). It thrives in slightly acidic soil and is slightly more cold-tolerant than St. Augustinegrass, but prolonged temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit or below will kill it.
A cool season grass is one that thrives in northern states. Varieties of cool-season grass include Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and ryegrasses. They tend to be bunching grasses and grow best in spring, going dormant in winter.
Grass types that spread by sending out horizontal runners are said to be creeping grasses. Those runners can be either above ground (stolons) or below ground (rhizomes) and a few varieties send out both. Examples of creeping grass varieties include Bermuda grass, St. Augustinegrass, and most other warm-season grasses. Creeping grasses are more likely inclined to have thatching issues.
The crown of a grass plant is its most important part. It is the whitish stem right at ground level from which all blades of grass (called “tillers”) emerge. If the crown is healthy and pushing out tillers faster than they die off, then the grass is healthy.
In the context of lawn care, clippings are the portion of the grass cut off by a mower. They can either be removed to give a lawn a clean look, or allowed to fall to the ground to decompose and return the nutrients to the soil.
The culm is the hollow stem of a grass or cereal plant. The culm often has a flower at the end of the stem.
A dethatcher, or scarifier, is a tool that is used to remove thatch from lawns. They can be electric or gas-powered push dethatchers or tow-line dethatchers that can be pulled behind a tractor.
Dethatching is the process of removing thatch from a lawn.
Dichondra is a perennial, dense ground cover with round leaves. It is planted by consumers as an alternative to grass. It propagates from seed and can be mown for an even surface, though it often doesn’t need to be. Does well in full sunlight and partial shade. It can be difficult to establish, but very low maintenance once mature.
Fertilizing is the act of amending the soil with beneficial additives. While lawns need fertilizing for a lush, green look, too much fertilizer at one time is bad. The plants cannot absorb all the nutrients, so they become runoff and pollute the waters.
Fescues are a cool-season grass variety that can be grown in the transition zone and north into Canada. There are dozens of types of fescue, falling into the general categories of tall fescue and the smaller-leaved fine fescue. Fescues are shade tolerant, and fescue seed is often included in grass seed blends so that one bag of seed contains both shade-loving and sunlight-loving varieties.
Grasscycling simply means leaving the grass clippings on the lawn after mowing instead of bagging and disposing of the clippings. The clippings return nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for fertilization.
Hydroseeding, or hydromulching, is a method of establishing turf via a slurry of seed, fertilizer, mulch and often a coloration. The liquid can be sprayed on a yard and is often used on slopes. The method is generally less expensive than sod but more expensive than seeding.
In grasses, an inflorescence is the complete flowering part of the plant, including the stem, stalk and all its flowers. The arrangement of an inflorescence can often be complex, with multiple flowers coming off a single stalk.
Kentucky Bluegrass is a dense, cool-season grass introduced to the United States by early European settlers. Because of its low shade tolerance, Bluegrass seed is often sold in a blend with other grass seeds that do better in the shade. It grows most actively in the spring and fall.
A lawn aerator is a garden tool that pokes air holes into the turf. There are two basic types: Spike aerators and core aerators. Spike aerators push into the soil to create the holes. Core aerators push a cylinder into the soil, extract a plug and deposit it on top of the grass.
A lawn spreader is a tool for distributing material across the lawn. Usually, they are used to spread fertilizer, but they can also be used for overseeding a lawn or to spread salt on an icy patch in winter. The most common for household use are walk-behind push spreaders. For smaller and more precise applications, a hand spreader can be used; for larger applications, electric or gas motor spreaders are available.
Liming is the application of lime to a soil that has become too acidic. If a soil’s pH falls below 5.5, it will inhibit the lawn’s growth. A soil test will reveal whether your lawn needs liming, and the test may also recommend the volume of lime needed. Lime can be applied any time, but applying just before winter sets in will allow the freezing and thawing to better incorporate the material into the soil.
A mower is a tool that mows the lawn. Before their invention, lawn grass was shortened by scythes or grazing animals. The lawn mower was invented by English inventor Edwin Beard Budding, who patented the first lawn mower in 1830. Over the years, they have evolved into many forms. Some are still like the Budding mower and are pushed manually. Others are powered by electric motors or gas engines. They can be push-from-behind mowers or riding mowers.
Also known as a “3 in 1” or an “all-purpose” blade, the mulching lawn mower blade is intended for use on lawns where the grass will be returned to the ground to decompose. They often have a curved shape and an extra cutting edge and are designed to lift the cut grass up toward the deck of the mower so that the grass is cut several times before it falls to the ground.
Hundreds of years ago, native grasses covered major parts of what would become the United States. Two varieties, the true or tallgrass prairie, and the mixed-shortgrass prairie covered large swaths of the Great Plains and Midwest and Great Plains. The most common native grass is Buffalograss, a variety of which has been commercially grown for turf. Other varieties include switchgrass, big bluestem, eastern gamagrass, and indiangrass, which can be found in remnants in the wild, and a few are cultivated as ornamental plants.
Lawns need to be fed, but you can reduce your reliance on chemical fertilizers by incorporating organic matter into it. The most obvious is lawn clippings themselves: Let them fall to the ground and decompose instead of bagging them and sending them to a landfill. Composting kitchen and garden material also help restore nutrients. “Natural fertilizers” and organics such as corn gluten meal also help keep a lawn green without resorting to chemicals.
Overseeding is the practice of adding seed to an existing lawn. It is commonly done to fill in bare spots, to introduce a new variety of grass that is more or less shade tolerant, and to build grass density or to alter a lawn’s color. To overseed a lawn, mow it lower than usual, collect the clippings and rake, so that when you spread the seed, it has a better chance of hitting the soil and taking root. Overseed cold-season grasses in spring or fall. For warm-season grass types, overseed in late spring through mid-summer.
The term pH refers to a common scale that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The commonly used pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with acidity at the low end, alkalinity at the high end, with 7 considered neutral. Technically, it is a measure of hydrogen ion in a solution (the letters pH stand for “potential of hydrogen”). In terms of lawn care, most grasses prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6.5.
Plugs are small sections of turf, with the roots in soil, sold in units two to four inches across. They are a less expensive way of establishing a lawn or patching a bare spot than full slabs of sod. The distance between plugs will vary with the species of grass, but 6 inches apart is a good rule of thumb. The downside of plugs is they can take one or two seasons to fill in, so weeds growing between the plugs can become an issue.
Sod varieties of grass spread by sending out creeping runners that have nodes on them that can take root. When they are below ground, they are known as rhizomes. The above-ground variety is called stolon.
Ryegrass is a cold-season grass variety often used for turf. Known for fast germination, it is commonly used in seed blends to give them a quick start. Ryegrass can either be annual, dying off after one season, or perennial. The annual variety is often used as a ground cover to control erosion or to return nutrients to an area.
A scarifier, or dethatcher, is a tool that is used to remove thatch from lawns. They can be electric or gas-powered push scarifiers or tow-line scarifiers that can be pulled behind a tractor.
Seeding – that is, establishing a lawn from seed – is a common and relatively inexpensive way to grow grass. Seed can be used to establish a new lawn, renovate an existing one or fill in bare spots.
Soil tests should be done on new lawns and gardens, and every three years once they are established. Test more often in problem areas. A basic soil test will tell you the soil’s pH level, revealing its acidity or alkalinity. It will also reveal the levels of other nutrients, including the macronutrients nitrogen (N), potassium (P), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (K) and calcium (Ca). It also may include results of micronutrients including iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn) and boron (B). Different soil testing labs will test for different nutrients because of local conditions. Tests are usually conducted by private labs for a fee, but check with your local agricultural extension offices – some provide free soil testing on selected days.
A spikelet is the flowering portion of a grass plant. Spikelets are usually hermaphroditic and are wind pollinated.
Sprigs are 3- to 6-inch sections of grass stems or runners without soil. Sprigging is the act of planting the sprigs to start a lawn or to patch bare spots. In sprigging, you take the runners (rhizomes or stolons) of existing grass and cut them into sections so that two or three nodes are present on each, and then plant them in the soil so a quarter of the sprig is still above the ground.
Also known as “2 in 1” or “high rise” blade, the standard lawn mower blade is intended to allow the operator to decide whether to collect the grass clippings in a bagging system or let them fall to the ground.
Sod varieties of grass spread by sending out creeping runners that have nodes on them that can take root. When they are above ground, they are known as stolons. The below-ground variety is called a rhizome.
Syringing is lightly watering a lawn so that the blades of grass are moistened without the water getting down to the soil. The technique is used to cool down a lawn in high heat to reduce stress on the grass, and to keep newly seeded lawns moist.
The average blade of grass lives 40 days and then drops to the soil and begins to decompose. Over time, it becomes an interwoven brown mass of dead blades, along with stolons and leaves. between the ground and the green. A little thatch is beneficial as it moderates the soil from temperature extremes. But if it builds up faster than it breaks down, it can rob the grass of moisture and air. If the thatch builds up much more than a half inch, aeration or dethatching is called for.
Unless you are building new lawn from scratch, the only practical way to add extra organic nutrients to the soil is by top dressing, that is, adding a layer of sand, organic material or both atop an existing lawn. Top dressing is added about ¼ of an inch at a time.
A tow-behind dethatcher is a simple wheeled device with multiple prongs extending from it that can be towed behind a tractor or riding lawn mower. The prongs drag along the ground to loosen built-up thatch and make a lawn healthier.
In terms of growing grass, this section of the central and eastern United States poses the greatest challenge. The transition zone includes the parts of the country with both hot summers that kill cool-season species and cold winters that kill warm-season species. The transition zone includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina in their entirety. It also includes the northern parts of Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, and the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Warm-season grasses are those that originated in tropical climes and so can withstand summer heat in the Southern United States. Common warm-season grass types include St. Augustinegrass, Bermudagrass, centipede grass and Zosiagrass. Warm-season grasses do most of their growing during the summer months and go dormant during the winter.
Zoysia is a drought tolerant grass that thrives in warm weather and is moderately shade tolerant. It is native to Japan, China and other parts of Southeast Asia. Because it was introduced to the United States from Manila, it is sometimes called Manila grass. The three main species of Zoysiagrass used for turf are Zoysia matrella, Zoysia tenuifolia, and Zoysia japonica. It is named after Karl von Zois, an 18th-century Slovenian botanist.