There's a revolution brewing in the world of lawns. The bell has tolled for the well-manicured, herbicide- and pesticide-laden grasses of the last 50 years. Gardeners and researchers are looking for tough, no-nonsense lawns that will be nearly self-maintaining and without pesticides, to boot.
The main ingredient of most lawn mixtures in Canada is Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis). This fine-leafed grass is pretty but very high-maintenance, requiring frequent mowing, fertilizing and watering. It is also the only grass currently used in sod production in Canada. Although laying sod is the easiest way to get a lawn (seed-sown lawns take far greater effort to install), afterwards, bluegrass carpets demand all the intensive care we have come to expect from a lawn.
Gardeners looking for an easy way out can, however, turn to seed mixes that need less maintenance. While more labour-intensive to install than sod, mixes such as No Mow Lawn Mix from Prairie Nursery, Low Maintenance Lawn Mixture from Ontario Seed Company and Bio-Tourbe from Labon Inc. contain little or no bluegrass seed. They are blends of different fescues (hard, sheep and red creeping), often dwarf cultivars, with a fair amount of fast-growing but short-lived perennial ryegrass mixed in to act as filler while the slower fescues set up shop. These grasses require much less care.
Although their labels may suggest they need no mowing at all or only one mowing each fall, that's only true if you're looking for more of a meadow than a lawn, as most reach 45 centimetres or more. For lawns billed as no-mow, you'll still need to cut them to about 10 centimetres high when seed heads first appear in early summer, then again whenever they reach 15 centi-metres, which can be as often as once a month.
Fescues aren't as wear-resistant as bluegrass but are more shade tolerant. There aren't, however, any really good lawn grasses for deep shade; groundcovers are your best bet in such sites.
While you're shopping for low-maintenance lawn seed, make sure to purchase endophyte-enhanced varieties. Endophytes are beneficial fungi that live in certain grasses and help them absorb water and fertilizer more efficiently. Endophytes also produce a bitter alkaloid that insects don't like, making endophyte-enhanced grasses highly resistant to leaf-feeding insects, such as billbugs, chinch bugs, sod webworms and fall army worms, even deer and other mammals. Endophyte-enhanced grasses are also less prone to disease than regular grasses.