Step by Step: How to identify turf

illustrations: David Preiss
illustrations: David Preiss

To properly manage a lawn or turf area, it’s important to know what type of turfgrass you’re working with. This knowledge helps determine proper mowing height and frequency, as well as water, fertilizer and pesticide needs. Unfortunately, identifying turf can be like solving a puzzle, and no single characteristic or feature can be solely relied upon to determine a turfgrass species.

It’s good practice to identify several samples from the same turf area because most lawns comprise a mixture of turf types. For example, many contractors choose to plant a utility sun/shade seed mixture to accommodate the different environments throughout a lawn. It’s also important to note there can be hundreds of different cultivars within a turfgrass species, each with unique leaf color, texture and density. When selecting grasses for identification, choose the healthiest plants possible, as mature, actively-growing grasses will be easier to identify than wilted, dried or damaged plants.

The first step in the identification process is to confirm that the plant in question is indeed a grass, not a sedge or a rush, which are considered weeds. Grasses have their leaves arranged in ranks of two and a ligule is often present. By contrast, sedges and rushes have leaves arranged in ranks of three, and the ligule is poorly developed or absent. Another distinctive characteristic of a sedge is its triangular-shaped stem.

Follow the steps here, then enter your results into NC State University’s grass identification tool at turfid.ncsu.edu.

Step 1


Determine the grass’s vernation by observing the arrangement of young leaves in a budleaf before it opens. For most turfgrasses, the vernation will either be rolled or folded.

Step 2


Observe the leaf blade. There are four very important features located where the leaf blade and the leaf sheath join: the ligule, the auricles, the collar (the most variable and least reliable identifying characteristic) and the sheath. The sheath may be split-open, split with overlapping margins or completely closed.

Step 3


Observe the leaf blade and leaf tips. Leaf tips may be pointed, rounded or boat-shaped. Often the leaf tips of grasses from the same species are similar—for example, a boat-shaped leaf tip generally indicates a type of bluegrass. The mid-rib may be present and the leaf blade may be glossy, shiny or dull.

To download a PDF version of this page, click here. 

Source: Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

illustrations: David Preiss

LM Staff

LM Staff

Landscape Management's staff brings together collective experience in journalism, research, writing, and editing. Our team stays tapped into the pulse of the industry, covering a wide range topics with a commitment to delivering compelling stories and high-quality content.

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