We have gathered the definitions of common lawn care terms, from acidic soil to Zoysiagrass. And we promise that this glossary will be more interesting than watching grass grow.
Also known as “sour soil,” acidic soil is soil with a pH of less than 7. Its opposite is alkaline soil, which has a pH greater than 7. Soil pH ranges from 0 to 14, and most plants like soil somewhere near the neutral mark of 7. Acidic soil is good for some plants and bad for others. Most grass varieties prefer slightly acidic soil, at 6.2 to 6.9
Periodic aeration helps keep a lawn green and helps repair one that is going downhill. Over time, thatch builds up under lawns and soil is compacted by use. Aeration – essentially, putting holes in your lawn – breaks up the thatch and gives roots room to expand. How often you aerate depends on the health of the lawn and how heavily it is used, but once a year is generally considered proper. See “Let Your Soil Breathe: A Guide to Core Aeration.”
Agrostology is the branch of botany concerned with the study of grasses, especially their classification. From the Greek word “agrostis,” meaning “type of grass.”
Also known as “sweet soil,” alkaline soil is soil with a pH of greater than 7. Its opposite is acidic soil, which has a pH of less than 7. Soil pH ranges from 0 to 14, and most plants like soil somewhere near the neutral mark of 7. Alkaline soil is good for some plants and bad for others. Most grass varieties prefer slightly acidic soil.
Anaerobic means lacking in oxygen. A soil structure that is anaerobic will not grow grasses or other plants since they need air passages to survive.
Annual grasses are varieties of grass that complete their life cycle in one year and then die. Annual grasses such as ryegrass are often used by consumers to fill in bald patches on a lawn while slower-growing perennial plants take root.
This perennial, warm-season variety of grass is native to South America. It is extensively planted as a cow or horse pasture, though it is planted in some areas of the deep South and Southern California areas as a lawn due to its tolerance for heat and drought. It likes full sunlight and low pH soils and spreads by short, stout stolons. Easily recognizable because it produces slender spikelets topped by V-shaped racemes.
The carpet-like areas covered by bentgrass have made it ideal for golf course greens in cool-season climates, but it is also sold as seed or sod for lawns. It spreads by above-ground runners (stolons). The three main varieties are Creeping, Velvet, and Colonial, with the Creeping Bent more commonly sold for lawns.
A leading grass for Southern lawns, Bermudagrass likes full sunlight and well-drained soil. It has one of the fastest growing rates of any warm-season grass type and spreads by both rhizomes and stolons.
Pesticides are toxic to the environment and to their non-target species. Natural pesticides are harmful to neither. A biorational pesticide occupies a spot in between — it is only mildly toxic to the environment and non-targets.
Kentucky bluegrass is a dense, cool-season grass introduced to the United States by early European settlers. Because of its low shade tolerance, Bluegrass seed is often sold in a blend with other grass seeds that do better in the shade.
A broadcast treatment refers to the application of fertilizer, pesticide or weed killer across a large area, as opposed to spot treatment of a small area.
This native North American grass is adapted to the prairies of the U.S. When large herds of buffalo roamed the North American continent, buffalo grass was a chief source of forage. It propagates by above-ground shoots and has both male and female plants.
Bunching grasses grow by tillering, that is, by sending out fresh blades from the crown of the plant. They have minimal creeping growth from sending out runners, and so they do not make sod. Examples of bunching grasses include annual ryegrass, hard fescue and some varieties of red fescue.
Calcitic limestone is made by grinding limestone. It is applied to lawns to make them more alkaline and less acidic. Although grasses prefer slightly acidic soil, if the soil becomes too acidic they won’t grow at all, no matter how much fertilizer or water they get. The only way to know for certain if your lawn or garden needs lime is by soil testing to see its pH. Calcitic limestone does not contain magnesium. If your lawn is in need of magnesium, you need dolomitic limestone.
Carpetgrass is a Gulf state native that is a good low-maintenance choice for areas where other grasses have failed. It creates a thick sod that crowds out weeds, tolerates dampness and covers slopes well. It requires frequent mowing if you want a seedhead-free appearance.
Centipedegrass is a slow-growing, light-green, low-maintenance grass variety that thrives in warm weather. It spreads by sending out above-ground runners (stolons). It thrives in slightly acidic soil and is slightly more cold-tolerant than St. Augustinegrass, but prolonged temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit or below will kill it.
In the context of lawn care, clippings are the portion of the grass cut off by a mower. They can either be removed to give a lawn a clean look, or allowed to fall to the ground to decompose and return the nutrients to the soil. The traditional lawn care advice was to bag and remove clippings because they were thought to produce thatch. Turfgrass researchers found the thatching concern was unfounded. Together with environmental concerns over clippings in landfills, the standard advice has now changed, and mulching clippings is now considered better for lawns in most cases. According to the Composting Council, 25 states have some sort of regulation on whether clippings can be sent to the landfill. The states are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, New York and Wisconsin. See details.
An undesirable mass of grass clippings that results from mowing a wet lawn, a poorly kept lawnmower or a repetitive mowing pattern. Grass clippings are a natural source of nutrients, but too much in one place can smother the living grass beneath it or encourage disease.
A cool season grass is one that thrives in northern states. Varieties of cool-season grass include Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and ryegrasses. They tend to be bunching grasses and grow best in spring, going dormant in winter.
Grass types that spread by sending out horizontal runners are said to be creeping grasses. Those runners can be either above ground (stolons) or below ground (rhizomes) and a few varieties send out both. Examples of creeping grass varieties include Bermuda grass, St. Augustinegrass, and most other warm-season grasses. Creeping grasses are more likely inclined to have thatching issues.
The crown of a grass plant is its most important part. It is the whitish stem right at ground level from which all blades of grass (called “tillers”) emerge. If the crown is healthy and pushing out tillers faster than they die off, then the grass is healthy
The culm is the hollow stem of a grass or cereal plant. The culm often has a flower at the end of the stem.
In real estate parlance, curb appeal refers to whether a home’s outward appearance makes a good impression. A well-kept lawn can add to curb appeal, so it can increase the value of a house.
The drying out of grass plants, which can damage or kill them, is called desiccation. It can occur in summer droughts or during dry winters, when grasses dry out in the cold and wind.
A dethatcher, or scarifier, is a tool that is used to remove thatch from lawns. They can be electric or gas-powered push dethatchers or tow-line dethatchers that can be pulled behind a tractor.
Dethatching is the process of removing thatch from a lawn.
Dichondra is a perennial, dense ground cover with round leaves. It is planted by consumers as an alternative to grass. It propagates from seed and can be mown for an even surface, though it often doesn’t need to be. Does well in full sunlight and partial shade. It can be difficult to establish, but very low maintenance once mature.
Dollar spot is a lawn disease that, true to its name, appears as silver-dollar-sized spots on the grass. It can attack both warm-season and cold-season grasses. Dollar spot thrives from late spring to fall, and especially loves high humidity and temperatures in the low 80s. Causes include mowing too low, lack of fertilizer and overwatering.
Dolomitic limestone is a soil amendment containing ground limestone that also contains magnesium. If your soil lacks magnesium, dolomitic limestone is a better choice than calcitic limestone, which does not contain magnesium. Both types of limestone are used to make soils less acidic. While most grasses prefer slightly acidic soil, if the acidity falls below a pH of 5.5, they won’t grow no matter how well watered or fertilized. A soil test is the only way to know for sure whether your lawn needs limestone.
Dormancy is the act of grass to stop growing without dying. Turfgrass can go dormant either in summer heat or winter cold. To see whether grass is dormant or dead, inspect it closely. If the grass blades are green and the crown of the plant just above ground is still whitish, the plant is still alive. If it is brown and brittle throughout, it is likely dead.
In lawn care, an edger is a tool used to give lawns a crisp, clean edge where it borders other plants or other surfaces. They can be manual or motorized. Also see “25 Things Every Lawn Enthusiast Should Keep in Their Storage Shed.”
Fertilizing is the act of amending the soil with beneficial additives. While lawns need fertilizing for a lush, green look, too much fertilizer at one time is bad. The plants cannot absorb all the nutrients, so they become runoff and pollute the waters. See “Quick Guide to Lawn Fertilization” for more details.
Fescues are a cool-season grass variety that can be grown in the transition zone and north into Canada. There are dozens of types of fescue, falling into the general categories of tall fescue and the smaller-leaved fine fescue. Fescues are shade tolerant, and fescue seed it is often included in grass seed blends so that one bag of seed contains both shade-loving and sunlight-loving varieties.
A finishing mower is a specialized lawn mower that gives a smooth, flat finish to an already well-maintained lawn. It generally has multiple blades and cuts lower than a standard mower. Because of its large size, a finishing mower is reserved for professional lawn contractors.
If the grass or brush is too thick for an ordinary lawn mower, it’s time to pull out the big gun of the grass-cutting world, the flail mower. Named for the blades or flails that spin, the flail mower is often made to attach to the rear hitch of a tractor. Its rapidly moving drum sends the flails out by centrifugal force at high speed and cut through thicker grass and brush.
Forage grasses are members of the plant family Poaceae and are chiefly planted to be eaten by livestock grazing in pastures.
Having a smooth, hairless surface. The term is often used in classifying grasses. Kentucky Bluegrass blades, for example, have a glabrous surface.
There are about 10,000 species of grasses, of which 1,400 can be found in the United States. Grass plants are members of the Poaceae family of plants and vary greatly in size. Bentgrass for putting greens is bred to be cut at a height of 3/8 of an inch, while the Giant Bamboo can grow as high as 150 tall.
Grasscycling simply means leaving the grass clippings on the lawn after mowing instead of bagging and disposing of the clippings. The clippings return nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for fertilization.
Grass pollen is the male agent of grass that is distributed by wind. Because grass pollens are generally half the width of a human hair, the wind scatters grass pollen widely.
Grass pollen allergy
A common affliction that affects about 400 million people worldwide with symptoms that include runny noses, itchy throats and red, irritated eyes. See “Achoo! It’s Grass Pollen Allergy Season.”
In gardening, a hard edge on a lawn gives it a defined border. It is usually accomplished by digging a shallow trench along the grass edge.
The hardscape areas of a property are the manmade or hand placed features of a landscape, including paved areas, concrete and stones. It does not include living features such as a lawn or garden plants; those are known as softscape.
Hydroseeding, or hydromulching, is a method of establishing turf via a slurry of seed, fertilizer, mulch and often a coloration. The liquid can be sprayed on a yard and is often used on slopes. The method is generally less expensive than sod but more expensive than seeding.
In grasses, an inflorescence is the complete flowering part of the plant, including the stem, stalk and all its flowers. The arrangement of an inflorescence can often be complex, with multiple flowers coming off a single stalk.
Kentucky Bluegrass is a dense, cool-season grass introduced to the United States by early European settlers. Because of its low shade tolerance, Bluegrass seed is often sold in a blend with other grass seeds that do better in the shade. It grows most actively in the spring and fall.
A lawn aerator is a garden tool that pokes air holes into the turf. There are two basic types: Spike aerators and core aerators. Spike aerators push into the soil to create the holes. Core aerators push a cylinder into the soil, extract a plug and deposit it on top of the grass.
A lawn spreader is a tool for distributing material across the lawn. Usually, they are used to spread fertilizer, but they can also be used for overseeding a lawn or to spread salt on an icy patch in winter. The most common for household use are walk-behind push spreaders. For smaller and more precise applications, a hand spreader can be used; for larger applications, electric or gas motor spreaders are available.
Leaf blowers mechanically move leaves and other lawn trimmings by the force of air. Blowers can be gas powered or electric, hand-held or shoulder-mounted.
Liming is the application of lime to a soil that has become too acidic. If a soil’s pH falls below 5.5, it will inhibit the lawn’s growth. A soil test will reveal whether your lawn needs liming, and the test may also recommend the volume of lime needed. Lime can be applied any time, but applying just before winter sets in will allow the freezing and thawing to better incorporate the material into the soil.
Marcelling is an undesirable washboard or wavy pattern on top of turf caused by reel mowers. Sometimes called bobbing.
A mower is a tool that mows the lawn. Before their invention, lawn grass was shortened by scythes or grazing animals. The lawn mower was invented by English inventor Edwin Beard Budding, who patented the first lawn mower in 1830. Over the years, they have evolved into many forms. Some are still like the Budding mower and are pushed manually. Reel, or cylinder mowers, have a rotating cylinder comprised of several blades that chop the grass with a scissor-like cut. Others are powered by electric motors or gas engines and usually accomplish the cut via a single, horizontally rotating blade. They can be push-from-behind mowers or riding mowers. The latter category includes both sit-down and stand-on varieties.
In lawn care, mulch consists of grass clippings and leaf debris chopped by the mower. By mulching clippings instead of bagging them, the mulch returns much-needed nutrients to the grass, reducing the need to fertilize.
Also known as a “3 in 1” or an “all-purpose” blade, the mulching lawn mower blade is intended for use on lawns where the grass will be returned to the ground to decompose. They often have a curved shape and an extra cutting edge and are designed to lift the cut grass up toward the deck of the mower so that the grass is cut several times before it falls to the ground.
Hundreds of years ago, native grasses covered major parts of what would become the United States. Two varieties, the true or tallgrass prairie, and the mixed-shortgrass prairie covered large swaths of the Great Plains and Midwest and Great Plains. The most common native grass is Buffalograss, a variety of which has been commercially grown for turf. Other varieties include switchgrass, big bluestem, eastern gamagrass, and indiangrass, which can be found in remnants in the wild, and a few are cultivated as ornamental plants.
Lawns need to be fed, but you can reduce your reliance on chemical fertilizers by incorporating organic matter into it. The most obvious is lawn clippings themselves: Let them fall to the ground and decompose instead of bagging them and sending them to a landfill. Composting kitchen and garden material also help restore nutrients. “Natural fertilizers” and organics such as corn gluten meal also help keep a lawn green without resorting to chemicals. See “Guide to Organic Lawn Care.”
Overseeding is the practice of adding seed to an existing lawn. It is commonly done to fill in bare spots, to introduce a new variety of grass that is more or less shade tolerant, and to build grass density or to alter a lawn’s color. To overseed a lawn, mow it lower than usual, collect the clippings and rake, so that when you spread the seed, it has a better chance of hitting the soil and taking root. Overseed cold-season grasses in spring or fall. For warm-season grass types, overseed in late spring through mid-summer. See “Overseeding: A Quick Guide.”
Patch diseases are a group of fungal diseases that attack lawns, particularly those that suffer from excessive thatch, poor soil or too much or too little nitrogen. Patch diseases typically show up as rings or semicircles of dead grass. Brown patch comes from the Rhizoctonia solani fungus. It can attack any species of grass, usually in wet and hot mid-summer conditions. Summer patch comes from the Magnaporthe poae fungus. Treatment may include overseeding, fungicide, and amending the soil to correct imbalances.
The term pH refers to a common scale that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The commonly used pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with acidity at the low end, alkalinity at the high end, with 7 considered neutral. Technically, it is a measure of hydrogen ion in a solution (the letters pH stand for “potential of hydrogen”). In terms of lawn care, most grasses prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6.5.
Phenology is a branch of science that looks at the relationships between seasonal events. In common practice, that means keeping track of such things as the first bloom of certain plants or the first arrival of migratory birds and using those as the trigger for planting seeds, rather than relying on the calendar.
Plugs are small sections of turf, with the roots in soil, sold in units two to four inches across. They are a less expensive way of establishing a lawn or patching a bare spot than full slabs of sod. The distance between plugs will vary with the species of grass, but 6 inches apart is a good rule of thumb. The downside of plugs is they can take one or two seasons to fill in, so weeds growing between the plugs can become an issue.
A pole edger is a common variety of edger with the cutting head at the end of a pole. On gas-powered pole edgers, the motor is usually mounted at the opposite end of the cutting blade. On electric-powered pole edgers, the motor is generally incorporated into the cutting head.
A pre-emergent herbicide is a chemical that controls weeds before they sprout. Some also contain active ingredients that kill weeds after they sprout. It’s important to time the application of pre-emergent herbicides correctly. Warm-season (summer) weeds begin to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees F. Cool-season (winter) weeds germinate in the fall. The exact timing and the type of herbicide you should apply will depend on your climate and the types of weeds in your area. Because these herbicides prevent germination of all types of seeds, forgo application of pre-emergent herbicides in areas where you plan to overseed or plant sprigs.
The radicle is the first baby root to emerge from a seed. When reseeding lawns, you want good contact between the seed and the soil. Otherwise, the radicle will die out before taking root.
Reel, or cylinder mowers, have a rotating cylinder comprised of several blades that chop the grass with a scissor-like cut. The first mower, invented in 1831, was a reel mower.
Sod varieties of grass spread by sending out creeping runners that have nodes on them that can take root. When they are below ground, they are known as rhizomes. The above-ground variety are called stolons.
Ryegrass is a cold-season grass variety often used for turf. Known for fast germination, it is commonly used in seed blends to give them a quick start. Ryegrass can either be annual, dying off after one season, or perennial. The annual variety is often used as a ground cover to control erosion or to return nutrients to an area.
A scarifier, or dethatcher, is a tool that is used to remove thatch from lawns. They can be electric or gas-powered push scarifiers or tow-line scarifiers that can be pulled behind a tractor.
Seeding – that is, establishing a lawn from seed – is a common and relatively inexpensive way to grow grass. Seed can be used to establish a new lawn, renovate an existing one or fill in bare spots. See our how-to article, “Growing Your Lawn From Grass Seed.”
A skid steer is a heavy-duty, boxy, outdoor machine with lift arms that support a variety of labor-saving attachments. One of the most common adaptations of skid steers is with a mower attachment for heavy-duty lawn and brush cutting.
Slit seeder, slice seeder
A slit seeder, sometimes called a slice seeder, is an advanced seeding tool. There are many types, but what they all have in common is some sort of spinning disc that slices into the soil, plus a seed container that dispenses seeds into the grooves left by the discs.
Sod is your grass, plus the interwoven mass of soil and other organic matter held together by the grass roots. Sod farms generally sell sod by the pallet, which covers 450 square feet, or in rolls that measure 2 feet by 5 feet. See “How to lay down grass sod for a yard.”
In landscaping terms, the softscape portions of a property are those that are soft and living, including lawns and garden plants. This differentiates them from the hardscape, which is such nonliving items as stone and cement.
Soil tests should be done on new lawns and gardens, and periodically once they are established. Test more often in problem areas. A basic soil test will tell you the soil’s pH level, revealing its acidity or alkalinity. It will also reveal the levels of other nutrients, including the macronutrients nitrogen (N), potassium (P), magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (K) and calcium (Ca). It also may include results of micronutrients including iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn) and boron (B). Different soil testing labs will test for different nutrients because of local conditions. Tests are usually conducted by private labs for a fee, but check with your local agricultural extension offices – some provide free soil testing on selected days.
A spikelet is the flowering portion of a grass plant. Spikelets are usually hermaphroditic and are wind pollinated.
Sprigs are 3- to 6-inch sections of grass stems or runners without soil. Sprigging is the act of planting the sprigs to start a lawn or to patch bare spots. In sprigging, you take the runners (rhizomes or stolons) of existing grass and cut them into sections so that two or three nodes are present on each, and then plant them in the soil so a quarter of the sprig is still above the ground.
Standard mowing blade
Also known as “2 in 1” or “high rise” blade, the standard lawn mower blade is intended to allow the operator to decide whether to collect the grass clippings in a bagging system or let them fall to the ground.
This salt-tolerant warm-season grass tolerates some shade and grows in the subtropical zone of the United States — the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. It has broad, coarse leaves and spreads aggressively with long stolons (above-ground runners). St. Augustinegrass is one of the few species of grass sold exclusively as sod because while it will send out a seed stalk if left unmowed, its seeds are sterile.
String trimmer is one of many of the generic names for a device used to trim and edge lawns via a flexible, fast-spinning string. Other names include “weed-whip,” “strimmer,” “weed whacker” and “weed wacker.
Sod varieties of grass spread by sending out creeping runners that have nodes on them that can take root. When they are above ground, they are known as stolons. The below-ground variety is called a rhizome.
Syringing is lightly watering a lawn so that the blades of grass are moistened without the water getting down to the soil. The technique is used to cool down a lawn in high heat to reduce stress on the grass, and to keep newly seeded lawns moist.
The average blade of grass lives 40 days and then drops to the soil and begins to decompose. Over time, it becomes an interwoven brown mass of dead blades, along with stolons and leaves, between the ground and the green. That intermingled mass is called thatch. A little thatch is beneficial as it moderates the soil from temperature extremes. But if it builds up faster than it breaks down, it can rob the grass of moisture and air. If the thatch builds up much more than a half inch, aeration or dethatching is called for.
Unless you are building new lawn from scratch, the only practical way to add extra organic nutrients to the soil is by top dressing, that is, adding a layer of sand, organic material or both atop an existing lawn. Top dressing is added about ¼ of an inch at a time.
A tow-behind dethatcher is a simple wheeled device with multiple prongs extending from it that can be towed behind a tractor or riding lawn mower. The prongs drag along the ground to loosen built-up thatch and make a lawn healthier.
In terms of growing grass, this section of the central and eastern United States poses the greatest challenge. The transition zone includes the parts of the country with both hot summers that kill cool-season species and cold winters that kill warm-season species. The transition zone includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina in their entirety. It also includes the northern parts of Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, and the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Vernation is a term that describes how the youngest blades of grass emerge from the crown of the plant. The blade can be folded or rolled. You can tell the vernation of a grass plant by cutting across the sheath, or simply by rolling the sheath in your fingers to see if it is smooth (rolled) or if it has edges (folded). Knowing the vernation comes in handy when identifying which type of grass you have.
Warm-season grasses are those that originated in tropical climes and so can withstand summer heat in the Southern United States. Common warm-season grass types include St. Augustinegrass, Bermudagrass, centipede grass and Zosiagrass. Warm-season grasses do most of their growing during the summer months and go dormant during the winter.
The Weed Eater is the brand name of the first string trimmer. It was invented by Houston dance studio owner George Ballas and introduced in 1971. Ballas had been trying to clear brush on his 2-acre homestead. While at a car wash, the swirling brushes gave him an idea. He punched holes in a can, put a wire through it and added a motor to spin the unit. Voila! The Weed Eater was born. The invention revolutionized professional lawn care.
Winterkill, or winter kill, refers to grass that has been done in by wintry extremes. Grass is ordinarily tolerant, and usually snaps out of dormancy after snow melts, but severe or extended cold weather can partly or completely kill off a lawn. Common causes of winterkill include cold desiccation, in which uncovered grasses continue to lose moisture in the cold, and snow mold, which is the collective name for a variety of fungal diseases that cause crusty or fuzzy patches on a lawn. See “How To Repair Winter’s Damage to Your Lawn.”
As its name implies, a zero-turn mower has a turning radius of effectively zero. It can pivot in a circle, making mowing more efficient. That ability makes it a favorite among professional lawn care providers, but do-it-yourselfers with large lawns have begun to purchase them as well, despite their high price tags.
Zoysia is a drought tolerant grass that thrives in warm weather and is moderately shade tolerant. It is native to Japan, China and other parts of Southeast Asia. Because it was introduced to the United States from Manila, it is sometimes called Manila grass. The three main species of Zoysiagrass used for turf are Zoysia matrella, Zoysia tenuifolia, and Zoysia japonica. It is named after Karl von Zois, an 18th-century Slovenian botanist.
Last update: April 12, 2019