Sod, Lawn, Turf, Grass, Common Meadow Grass, Poa pratensis. Different names for the most popular and widely planted species of turf.
Anyone who’s weeded flower beds located adjacent to the lawn is familiar with how invasive Kentucky bluegrass can be. If left untamed, it will invade and ultimately crowd out most other plants. It’s this aggressive characteristic as well as it’s lush color, ease of establishment, ability to withstand cold temperatures and long periods of drought that helped to establish this imported grass as a mainstay of turf in northern climates, including Colorado.
Named for the color of the flowering seed heads that develop if it’s left un-mowed and allowed to grow to it’s mature height of 2 or 3 feet, Kentucky blue is a cool season turf that was introduced to the United States by European immigrants and moved west as the frontier was explored and settled. At least, that’s one story.
Another is that industrialization and manufacturing in the late 1800’s led to the development of a ‘middle class’ who had the financial means for travel and other luxuries.
Those returning from Europe brought with them visions of the English countryside where meadows were either grazed or maintained through intensive manual labor. Building upon the theme of the English countryside and having the luxury of free time, the newly wealthy were the first to establish high demand landscapes that served no purposes beyond the aesthetic display of newfound wealth. Lawns became associated as a feature of the wealthy – and were then an ideal that people strove to adopt.
It didn’t take long before the northern two-thirds of the country discovered that native grasses were not ideal for establishing the seamless meadow carpet. They either don’t fare well in cold winters, take years to become established, or they don’t form the dense interweaving ‘carpet’ of lush green plants associated with Kentucky bluegrass.
In general, native species of grass form characteristic clumps that then readily self-seed progeny that fill in the open gaps between plants. While drought tolerance is due to deep root zones, many native grasses lack the vigor needed to compete with weedy plant species, and thusly a lot of time and labor is needed to develop a continuous turf. Additionally, many native grass species have a narrow range of site requirements in order to grow and they don’t tolerate a lot of activity on them or compacted soils.
Prior to the adoption of spans of lush green lawn, the area surrounding the home was dedicated to the ‘kitchen garden’ where flowers, herbs and vegetables were grown for the family’s use. Most did not have the time or money to invest into a ground cover that had no purpose other than for recreation or if they had livestock, grazing.
But if one desired a lawn as a badge of wealth, they needed to dedicate time and labor hauling water from it’s source to the lawn and the physical strength needed to scythe it to maintain the health, vigor and visual image they strove to attain. Alternatively, if money was available, groundskeepers were hired to tend to these laborious tasks.
How did a ground cover that does not produce food, that requires a lot of water (a scarce commodity in drought prone areas), a requires a lot of maintenance and oversight, become one of the most widely planted ground covers in the United States?
Stay tuned for Kentucky Bluegrass part II, to be posted this Sunday.
Until next time, may your knees be green and your spirit light.