Kentucky Bluegrass has unique properties

Kentucky Bluegrass, the most common grass in Calgary, has a bad environmental reputation. But there are ways to make this type of grass more environmentally friendly, even though some recommend replacing it completely.

Kentucky Bluegrass, Poa pratensis, is a grass seed that is predominantly planted in Canada, specifically Calgary. Varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass are native to the Northern latitudes and it is what experts call a circumpolar plant, simply meaning that it is well adapted for cooler temperatures. This could be why some experts believe that Kentucky Bluegrass is in most grass seed mixtures found in Western Canada.

Agriculture Alberta forage specialist, Barry Yaremcio said, “It is a very long lived perennial where you seed it once and it last 20-40 years. It forms a thick sod so high traffic areas won’t kill off the grass easily and that is why it is predominant for lawn applications.”

From an esthetic standpoint, Kentucky Bluegrass greens up in the spring right after the snow melts, and it tends to have a nicer texture in comparison to other grasses – which is part of the reason why it’s a popular choice for Alberta communities.

According to Yaremcio, another reason why Kentucky Bluegrass can be seen as the preferred grass seed is because it appears that it may help the environment by capturing contaminated particles in its thick sod.

But Kentucky Bluegrass has a bad reputation because it requires more fertilizer and water than other grasses which can have a negative impact on the environment.

Homeowners like to add a ton of fertilizer and water because they want plush, green grass. Kentucky Bluegrass has very short roots, which tend to make the grass brown and dried out in Calgary’s dryer climate.

Robin McLeod from the Coalition for a Healthy Calgary said, “What we’re suggesting is that people plant a mixture of grass seeds that include some native grass varieties because those roots are much longer so they can pull up more moisture from the ground.”

Kentucky Bluegrass has the shortest root system out of the prairie plants. Seen in the far left corner it has limited access to absorb moisture from the ground because of this.

Photo Courtesy of Honey Bee Club of Stillwater websitePlanting varieties of long-rooted plants can limit the amount of water applied to yards. However, there are still other options for homeowners to keep their yards more environmentally friendly.

Grass expert, June Flannigan from the Lethbridge-based Native Plant Council recommends removing most of the grass in backyards and keeping only a small patch of lawn. She also says, “Substituting bushes, shrubs and perennials all deep-rooted plants may be a better option for those who are environmentally conscious.”

But if homeowners are interested in keeping their lawn, there are alternative watering and fertilizing practices that they can use in order to be environmentally conscious – as long as they don’t mind their grass looking a bit brown.

Rob Witherspoon, director of Turf Grass Institute and turf grass management diploma program at Guelph University says, “Kentucky Bluegrass is drought tolerant; with less rainfall and hotter temperatures, the grass has a natural mechanism where it will go dormant and once the temperatures cool down and more water is applied, it will turn green again.”

That means Calgarian’s can water the grass once a week one inch per watering session without it dying, looking brown and dried out. And, instead of using chemical fertilizers, homeowners can compost their small grass clippings and scatter over their lawn one centimeter in depth.

Flannagan says, “Kentucky Bluegrass is not a bad grass, sustaining alternate maintenance practices and making different choices is the only solution for an environmentally friendly lawn,” she also says, “green grass is physically nice and emotionally nice to look at, but it all comes down to the perspective and ideals.”

criabko@cjournal.ca\