Choosing a Sod Grass

NC SPA is here to help!

The transitional climate of North Carolina is best suited to grow: tall fescue, Bentgrass, kentucky bluegrass, zoysiagrass, bermudagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustinegrass sods. The information provided below is intended to help understand the agronomic choices available and how best to select the right choice for your lawn's needs.

What sod grass should I plant?

Selecting your grass type

Whether you're interested in learning how to reduce irrigation, when and how to properly fertilize, or even what height to mow your lawn, it all starts with what type of grass you have. That's why the NCSU Turf CENTERE has created the online program TurfSelect to help homeowners do just that-find the right turfgrass for their needs. The key to selecting the right grass type for your needs begins with a few simple questions.

What are the intended uses?

  • Is this a utility (road side/erosion control, etc.) - or
  • Is this grass a high or low profile home lawn - or
  • a high or low profile athletic field -or
  • is this a golf course?

Answers to these questions will help define the types of grass suitable to your application.

Providing information regarding shade level (shady or not shady), and your geographic location will trim the list of grass types down further. After these three easy questions, you will have a list of grasses left for your consideration. From this list, your decision can be based on your aesthetic, economic, or management preferences. See how easy TurfSelect can make answering these questions and explaining your grass choices can be: TurfSelect also offers a year-round calendar look at grasses. This helpful feature allows users a visual guide to what your grass selection will look like throughout the year.

What is a variety and how do I know which one to choose?

Exactly what is a variety?

Once you have decided upon a grass type, there is then the selection of cultivated varieties (or cultivars) to consider. Cultivars are cultivated plant varieties that are purposefully propagated for commercial plant production. Both asexual (cuttings or vegetative propagation) and sexual (seeded) reproductive propagation methods are cultivar propagation practices.

Plant type cultivar names are regulated under the guidance of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants or (ICNCP). In essence, a cultivar (or cultivated variety) is in fact a trade designation or legal name created primarily for commercial purposes. The cultivar name is a legal designation and serves in part to protect the plant breeders rights-and ultimately the buyers expectations of performance and plant characteristics. Cultivar selection allow growers to rely on years of research and classification of growing expectations as is found in studies such as the NTEP (National Turfgrass Evaluation Program) study program.

NOTE: The term "Varieties" comes from the botanical naming convention you may have learned in 10th grade biology class (Family -> Genus -> Species -> Variety). A "Cultivar" is a cultivated variety specifically grown for purposes such as commercial sale.

If you buy a bag of seed, or a roll of sod it is likely going to contain a specific grass type (say Tall Fescue), and contain a cultivar (or blend of cultivars) specifically selected by the grower (or manufacturer). This grower will have selected the cultivar for reasons or plant characteristics such as, color, resilience, commercial popularity, reputation, cost, texture, leaf shape or size....and the list goes on. Examples of just a few Tall Fescue Cultivars include: "Rebel IV", "Silverstar", "Firebird", and "WolfPack". Notice the clever names? This legal naming convention doubles as a marketing tool.

How do I know which variety to choose?

The North Carolina State University Turfgrass Program works in partnership with the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) to conduct unbiased reviews of North Carolina's regional turfgrass cultivars. This arduous process consists of multi-year studies reviewing cultivar performance under the same maintenance regime AND while in the same location. Located side by side, cultivar plots are mowed at the same height, watered at the same depth, and fertilized at the same rates and times. Often, not released on the market yet, these research turf cultivars are given numbers at this stage of development in expectation of a commercial release. The number system allows researchers a tracking mechanism specific to that plant cultivar, but the trade-mark naming process often is saved for PROVEN performers. Researchers record growth performance characteristics and rate these 12' by 12' cultivar plots to better define variety performance expectations. These results are assembled and recommended cultivars are published annually:

I have my grass type.
I have my selected variety.
Now - where can I find my grass?

Once the average lawn enthusiast begins their quest for a healthy happy lawn it becomes quickly apparent that there is a lot of information, products, and services out there to choose from. Where you find the grass you've selected is often the FIRST critical step. The average North Carolina home owner spent over $838 for all lawn and landscape services in 2005*. In this economy, it is important for homeowners to know where to turn to help find the best information, reputable growers, and turf care professionals-and of course-where to find the grass type they are looking for!

Where do the professionals turn?

As part of North Carolina's $8 Billion dollar GREEN industry, turfgrass plays an important role to its over 150,000 employees and the local economy. Spray painted logos of the NC SPA (North Carolina Sod Producers) , TCNC (the Turfgrass Council of North Carolina), and of course NC State University's Block S, line the hillside located on the Northern slope of the State Fairground's Exposition building. This symbolic display of togetherness does in fact have its "roots" in reality. These organizations work together and individually to help promote North Carolina turfgrass education and outreach. They are a primary resource for turfgrass professionals and serve as an excellent starting point for homeowners looking to find information regarding grass sales, installation, certified lawn care professionals, sod, and more. The types of questions you have will help determine which organization you contact for more information.

Professional resources include:

  • I am looking for Sod : NC Sod Producers Association (NC SPA)
  • I am looking for a certified Lawn Care Professional: Turfgrass Council of North Carolina (TCNC)
  • I am looking for an athletic sports field management resource: North Carolina Sports Turf Managers Association (NCSTMA)
  • I am looking for Certified Turfgrass Seed growers in NC: North Carolina Crop Improvement Association (NCCIA)
  • I am looking for Do It MYSELF lawn care information: or contact your county extension agent.

Is your lawn care professional certified?

It is important to the Certified Turfgrass Professionals to maintain North Carolina's beauty and serve as stewards of the land. That is why they are required to maintain applicator's licensing and pass certification requirements above and beyond NC State laws. With a curriculum established and taught by North Carolina State University's Turfgrass Program professors and staff, short course attendees prepare for the Turfgrass Certification Exam. It is an extensive test administered by the Turfgrass Council of NC and just one of the requirements to become a certified turfgrass professional. When your lawn care professional offers you a quote, you SHOULD consider asking them, are they a NC Certified Turfgrass Professional? Do they have a pesticide applicators license? Do they belong to a professional organization?

Working together with professional turfgrass organizations like the TCNC, NCSPA, NCSTMA, NCCIA, and NC extension services, you can maximize your available resources and achieve a beautiful, environmentally friendly lawn.

*North Carolina's Green Industry 2005 Total Economic Impact Survey can be found: