Which grass is best for your home?

What you expect from a lawn and what you get from a lawn can be very different. Before launching into a full-scale low- or lower-maintenance lawn, consider what you want.

A lawn that is uniform, relatively free of weeds and aesthetically pleasing is usually desired. Kentucky bluegrass, the standard in northern climates, is on the high end of the maintenance spectrum. If you consider mowing, fertilizing and watering chores not relaxing, you should probably consider a lower-maintenance grass.

Another driving force for lower-maintenance lawns is the need for water conservation.

Bluegrass varieties with lower water needs and good drought tolerance are available. Another way to save water would be to restrict bluegrass to the area immediately around the house.

The fine fescues - sheep, chewings, hard and red, are reasonable substitutes for bluegrass, providing comparable turf quality with half the watering and mowing. Fine fescues, particularly red fescue, are more shade tolerant than bluegrass. One disadvantage is that they do not fill in bare spots in a lawn nearly as well as bluegrass. On the other hand, this lack of spreading means they are less likely to invade flower gardens and landscape beds.

Turf-type tall fescue varieties are coarser leaved than the fine fescues, but they have similarly low water needs and are capable of holding up to lots of traffic. If part of a lawn receives heavy traffic, this may be the grass.

Native grasses are on the other end of the spectrum. The wheatgrasses - thickspike, streambank and western - are all sod-forming, provide excellent soil protection and can survive on their own.

For best results, cool-season grasses, including fescue, bluegrass, and wheatgrass, should be planted in the early spring or late fall.

Two warm-season grasses - buffalo and blue grama - do well in some western states with lower altitudes (less than 6,500') and hot, dry summers. These fine-bladed grasses are very drought tolerant, but they green up several weeks later than the cool-season varieties listed above, and they go dormant after the first hard frost.