A quick guide to British grass species

By | 16/07/2015
Grass in the Sunshine

Even if you consider yourself a big fan of gardening, it’s possible you haven’t put all that much thought into grass. Grass is what you put between the more interesting plants to avoid your garden looking too much like a car park. However there are actually many different grass species, even if most of them take the form of something short, green and pointy at the end. Knowing the different species of grass and what circumstances they thrive under can be the difference between having the sort of lush carpet of greenery you dream of your lawn becoming and something far less appealing.

So while you may think of most grass species as interchangeable, when you’re planning a garden from scratch or even thinking about replanting your lawn after it’s been damaged by the elements, it’s worth taking the time to get to know the different types of grass species you could seed the lawn with and the functions and needs of each breed.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common species of grass you’re likely to find on a British lawn.

Dwarf Ryegrass

Dwarf ryegrass is also known as Turf Ryegrass, or Lolium perenne. It’s a strain of perennial rygrass specifically bred for a shorter growth period and its ability to produce more tillers (the stem of the grass shoots), resulting in a thicker lawn. You may recognise this species by the purple or reddish colouration at the base of the plant. Over the last thirty years this species has become one of the most popular breeds of grass around for lawns, particularly because it establishes itself so quickly. It prefers moist soils and doesn’t get on at all well with the shade.

Red Fescue

Known by the Latin name Festuca Rubra, Red Fescue is a cool-season grass that’s great for the difficult to maintain shaded areas. You’ll often find this at campsites, resorts and anywhere in the shade of a mountain.

It’s popular because it’s low maintenance. It needs very little in the way of fertiliser, irrigation or lawn mowing. While it does well in dry, shady environments, it’s not great in very hot climates. Many like to pair it up with smooth-stalked meadow grass to get a good covering in both shaded and sunned areas. It’s not as wear resistant as some grasses and can take some time to germinate.

You can identify by its extremely fine blades and deep green colour. It comes in two varieties, Chewing Fescue, which is a bunchgrass that has an upright growth habit, and Creeping Red Fescue, which as you can imagine, spreads very slowly with short root patterns.

Slender Creeping Red Fescue

Slender Creeping Red Fescue or Festuca Rubra Litoralis, to give it its scientific name, is naturally a more slender relative of creeping red fescue and is a common species to find in most lawn mixes. Gardeners like it for the fine balance it strikes between looking appealing and withstanding harsh weather and environmental conditions. It will always work best in well drained soil, doing well in drought conditions but perhaps not ideally suited to more moist soils. However, you should still be sure to water it at least once or twice a week.

Creeping red fescue does well in shaded conditions, so is perfect for tree-lined areas or spots that don’t get a great deal in the way of sun. It’s also a species that takes hold quickly once it’s planted, so it’s a good breed for when you’re starting up a new lawn.

Common Bent

This species is known by many names. In Latin it is Agrostis Capillaris L. Gardeners known it as common bent-grass, colonial bent, brown bent, fine bent and even highland bent.  It’s well known for being rhizomatous (having a lot of roots) and perennial (it lives longer than two years) and is widely distributed across the UK, doing well in terrains as diverse as damp soils, meadows, acidic grassland, rough ground and pastures. It can thrive even in nutrient poor soil and is commonly found in upland pastures.

This species is a real survivor. It is able to thrive under a vast array of conditions and germinates in both the spring and the autumn. This is why common bent is also one of the more common wild grasses, as likely to be found out in the Lake District as in anybody’s back garden.

Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass

Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass has the Latin name Poa Pratensis. In the States it’s known as the far more folksy sounding Kentucky Bluegrass. It produces a hardwearing turf notable for its dark green leaf. You’ll notice it’s a little bit broader than other, more slender breeds of grass, and benefits from an extensive root system that makes it a great survivor of droughts and damage.

This species also attracts a wide array of wildlife. This is great if you want your garden to be as much a home for nature as somewhere to relax with a tall G’n’T and a good book. Smooth-stalked meadow grass is a dinner invitation to caterpillars of the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, and well as the Common Sun Beetle.

Annual Meadow Grass

Known by the Latin name Poa Anua, annual meadow grass is a staple of golf and bowling greens throughout Great Britain. It’s not often using in seed mixtures but it’s a favourite for cultivated turf and often finds its way onto other lawns as a contaminant.

It tends to avoid acidic soil and soil that is low in phosphate, and can be particularly sensitive to drought. This is why it tends to be more common on those lawns that are regularly seen to. However, it can flower throughout the year, meaning its seeds are commonly spread simply by attaching themselves to the undersides of people’s shoes and tire treads.

To work out which seeds best fit your garden take a look at the landscape, where the sun falls, how much moisture your lawn will be getting, and even which seeds are likely to be coming in from nearby lawns and grassy areas. Whatever your circumstances, there’s bound to be a breed that’ll suit you.

This guest post was written by Mark Bartram, who is the managing director of Lawnmower’s Direct.

Image Credit: CC Image by Nick Dooley on Flickr

5 thoughts on “A quick guide to British grass species

  1. Kevin

    Is it ok to mix species? I want to reseed my lawn to make it thicker but I don’t know what grass is currently there.

    1. Kris Lord

      Hi Kevin,
      Yes it is fine to mix species. Most lawns contain a large variety of grass types.
      Overseeding the whole thing to produce a thicker lawn or just to introduce more desirable grasses is common practice.
      Thanks for reading.

  2. Nadia Khan

    Hi there, it would be useful if your website had images of the grass alongside the text

  3. grass matting

    Well thats a great insight. Ill be honest, to and extent i thought grass was grass! Thanks for the enlightening read!


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