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Grasses for sports fields

The major cool season grass species used for sports fields include Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea). These grasses are selected based on their ability to withstand traffic (wear and tear) and stress (from drought and heat), recovery from field use (recuperative ability), good color, desirable growth characteristics, resistance to pest pressure (insects, weeds and diseases) and maintenance requirements.

Characteristics Kentucky bluegrass Perennial ryegrass Tall fescue
Quality Good Good Medium
Establishment Speed Fair Excellent Medium
Wear Tolerance Medium-good Good Good
Recuperative Potential Good Medium Fair
Drought Tolerance Fair-medium Good Good
Disease Tolerance Medium Fair Fair-medium
Insect Tolerance Fair-medium Medium-good Good
Shade Tolerance Fair Fair Good
Fall/spring Color Fair-medium Good Medium

Considerations: Can you supply the maintenance required? Do you have irrigation?

Managers also need to recognize within grass species there can be slight to great varietal differences (i.e. color, spring green up, resistance to pest pressure, etc.) that will impact selection decisions.

Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a fine-textured cool season grass which spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. This characteristic gives it the ability to form a dense sod, crowd out weeds and recover from heavy traffic.

Management requirements:

  • Best results when irrigation is available
  • Requires medium level of management
  • Mowing height ranges from 1¼ -3”
  • When seeded alone apply 1-3 lbs./1,000 sq. ft.


  • It takes up to 3-4 weeks to germinate and 12-18 months to develop a sod that is dense enough for sports turf use.

There are over 170 Kentucky bluegrasses (KBG) on the market today! Select the variety that matches your management program.

Level of Management Requires Type Comments
Minimal 1-2# of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year
Mow at 2½ “ height
Select drought tolerant varieties For non-irrigated sites
High 3-4# of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year
Regular mowing
Select aggressive types Ideal for high traffic sites
Produces dense growth
Recovers quickly from traffic
Requires aerification to reduce thatch
Slow to green up, may not be ideal for spring sports

Aggressive types of KBG produce dense growth and recover quickly from traffic. They generally produce more thatch then other bluegrass varieties and will require routine core aerfication programs. During initial establishment and when overseeding, use aggressive types in high traffic areas of football and soccer fields.

Compact types are varieties that have a low, compact growth habit and good resistance to leafspot. They can be mowed at ¾ “if properly watered”. These types are also slow to green up so they may not be ideal for spring sports.

Common type Kentucky bluegrass varieties are not recommended for overseeding programs. These older varieties do not have the attributes of disease resistance and wear tolerance found in newer improved varieties but could be used on very low budget fields.

Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is a medium-textured bunch (non-spreading) grass that can germinate within a few days, making it competitive against weed encroachment. It can provide a uniform turf within 2 weeks under ideal conditions.

Management requirements:

  • Select endophyte enhanced varieties
  • Best when mowed at 2½"
  • Prefers sunny, well-drained sites
  • Does not tolerate shade or droughty conditions
  • When seeded alone apply 4-6/1,000 sq. ft.


  • Routine overseeding will be required to maintain density and uniformity so turf won’t become “clumpy” in appearance.
  • Check the latest variety performance data to note visual quality color and texture of improved varieties but pay special attention to the disease resistance ratings.

Tall fescue

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a bunch-type, coarse leaf-textured cool season grass. In the past some managers have avoided using tall fescue (TF) because of its poor winter hardiness and brown patch susceptibility, but these concerns have largely been alleviated with newer, improved varieties.

Endophytes Endophytic fungi are beneficial organisms that produce chemicals that deter surface-feeding insects like chinch bugs and sod webworms and provide improved disease tolerance. Studies have shown that only 20% of the plants in the field need to be endophytic to decrease insect problems so when seeding perennial ryegrass or tall fescue select varieties that contain these endophytic fungi.


  • Select endophytic enhanced varieties
  • Mow above 2"
  • Regularly overseed to avoid its clumpy growth habit and to outcompete weeds in heavily trafficked sites.
  • Establishment window is from August 15 – September 15
  • When seeded alone apply 6-8/1,000 sq. ft.


  • An 8-12 month establishment period will help with long term success of the stand.
  • Use newer varieties. These have improved cold temperature hardiness, excellent drought and wear tolerance and Brown patch resistance.
  • According to the 2010 NTEP results the top performing TF varieties that scored in the top 25% of the ratings included: Bullseye, Falcon V, Monet, Wolfpack II, Faith, Turbo, Catalyst, Firecracker LS and Hemi.