UTIA Family, please refer to utk.edu/coronavirus for the latest updates and student information. For UTIA-specific resources, including event information and county office status, please visit utia.tennessee.edu/coronavirus .

Turfgrass Extension

This website is intended to help university Extension professionals, athletic fields managers, coaches, golf course superintendents, homeowners, landscapers, lawn care operators, master gardeners, public gardens directors and other enthusiasts managing turfs in Tennessee. Information about each species of turfgrass maintained in the state can be accessed by clicking on the turfgrass selection button below. The turfgrass establishment component of this website focuses on effective seeding, sodding, plugging and sprigging methods. Recommended turfgrass cultural practices including aerifying, dethatching, fertilitzing, irrigating, liming, mowing, rolling and topdressing are discussed in the turfgrass maintenance unit. Tips for renewing a weak and weedy turf are presented in the turfgrass renovation section. Links to information regarding turfgrass diseases, insects and weeds, and their control, are also provided.

Please click below to find out more about turfgrass:

Turfgrass Selection
Expand content up
Turfgrass Establishment
Expand content up
Turfgrass Maintenance
Expand content up
Turfgrass Renovation
Expand content up

Selecting a species and variety that are adapted to the climate and soil of a particular site is a very important part of a comprehensive turfgrass management plan. The goal is to plant an adapted turfgrass capable of providing the desired quality at a reasonable maintenance intensity level and cost. The cost of maintaining a turf through the years is reduced by purchasing the right turfgrass. The long-term, seed or sod bargain is not always the lowest priced turfgrass variety.

Turfgrasses usually grow best in full sun and in nutrient-rich, well-drained soils. Topography and soils of Tennessee influence how turfgrasses perform. Cool-season turfgrasses are usually well adapted in East Tennessee which is mostly mountainous, with broad, fertile valleys. Here, soils were formed from limestone, sandstone or shale. The rolling hills of the Central Basin in middle Tennessee reach an elevation of 800 feet or more. Both warm- and cool-season turfgrasses are maintained in limestone-based, phosphorus-rich soils of the Central Basin. The Highland Rim surrounding the Central Basin is composed of hills often reaching an elevation of 1,000 feet or more. Cool-season turfgrasses usually perform very well on the Highland Rim. Bermudagrass and Zoysia are the predominate turfgrass species maintained at elevations approaching sea level in southwest Tennessee.

Extension Publications on this Subject:

Some turfgrasses are established from seed, others, from sod, plugs or harvested segments of above- or below-ground runners referred to as sprigs. Regardless of the method of establishment, site preparation, timing and post-planting care usually determine whether turfgrasses survive. 

Since bluegrasses, fescues and ryegrasses grow best from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, late August to mid-October is an ideal time to plant seed of these cool-season turfgrasses. Although wet, rainy weather may make soil preparation difficult, fescues and ryegrasses are also seeded in late winter or early spring. Kentucky bluegrass seed germinates slowly compared to fescues and ryegrasses, and poorly developed seedlings resulting from spring seeding may be killed by hot, dry weather in summer. 

Temperatures from 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit promote the growth of bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass and Zoysia. Seed, plugs or sprigs of these warm-season species should be planted between May 1 and June 30. Sod of cool- or warm-season turgrasses can be installed any time of year, as long as the planting bed is not frozen. However, several weeks or months may be required before a newly sodded turf can withstand traffic. 

Extension Publications on this Subject:

  • W160-A: Preparing to Plant – provides information on how to prepare soils for planting.
  • W160-B: Seeding – Provides information on seeding as a method for establishing turfgrass.
  • W160-C: Sodding and Plugging – Provides information on sodding and plugging as methods for establishing turfgrass.
  • W160-D: Sprigging – Provides another method for establishing turfgrass.
  • W160-E: Turfgrass Seed – Provides information about turfgrass seeds, seed blends and seed mixtures.
  • W160-F: When to Plant Turfgrass – Provides information on the timing of turfgrass establishment.

Turfgrasses require routine maintenance. Mowing, fertilization and irrigation are primary maintenance practices most often needed to keep turfs healthy. Mowing maintains uniform plant height, suppresses weeds and stripes the turf. Turfs are fertilized to provide nutrients that would otherwise limit plant growth. An application of lime may be necessary to neutralize soil acids and supply plants with calcium and magnesium. Actively growing turfgrasses often contain more than 70 percent water and use from 1/10 to 3/10 inch of water each day. Turfs are irrigated to prevent severe drought stress and activate fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.

Sometimes, turfs benefit from supplementary maintenance practices such as dethatching, mechanical aeration, topdressing and rolling. Turfs are dethatched to lift and remove excess organic matter from the soil surface. Core aerification loosens soil and speeds the flow of water into the turfgrass root zone. Broadcasting a shallow layer of soil or compost over a turf after core aerifying may smooth the surface and improve the soil’s biological activity. Turfgrass plants can be lifted from soil as it freezes and thaws during winter. A roller is used to press plants back into contact with soil.

Extension Publications on this Subject:

Sooner or later, diseases, insects, extreme heat or cold, drought and saturated soils may severely damage turf. For example, each spring, Rhizoctonia fungi are responsible for patches of injured plants observed in bermudagrass, tall fescue and Zoysia. White grubs, the larvae of scarab beetles, feed on roots. Fescues and Kentucky bluegrass plants may die in summer when leaf temperatures reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass and Zoysia are dormant and prone to low temperature injury in winter. Excessively dry soils resulting from extended periods of drought do not provide adequate amounts of water or essential nutrients. Too much water may accumulate on sites with poor surface or subsurface drainage. Roots of turfgrasses growing in saturated soils often die from a lack of oxygen.

Improper mowing, fertilization or pesticide application may also damage turf. Removing too many leaves when mowing severely reduces the amount of leaf surface exposed to sunlight. As a result turfgrasses may lose energy and be less able to compete with weeds such as crabgrass and goosegrass. Routine scalping results in poorly rooted turfs that are prone to drought and high or low temperature injury. Soils seldom provide plants with enough nitrogen, and may also be low in phosphorus and potassium. Turfs in need of fertilization are often thin and disease prone. However, applying too much fertilizer at one time can increase the salt concentration of the solution surrounding roots and cause plants to dehydrate and die. The mis-application of a fungicide, herbicide or insecticide is often toxic to turfgrasses as well as troublesome pests.