Few outdoor surfaces are as inviting as turfgrass. A soft, green lawn makes the outdoor landscape look attractive and provides a soft surface for walking, resting, and playing. In order to enjoy turfgrass in your yard, it's necessary to familiarize yourself with the various types of grass.
Knowing if a certain turfgrass requires warm or cool weather and if it tolerates drought will enable you to choose the ideal lawn grass. Some types of grass are better at growing in shade than others, for instance. How much foot traffic grass can take is another important consideration.
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Grass Types for Your Lawn
Many species of grass exist, but there are just two main types. These are warm- and cool-season grasses. Generally, warm-season turfgrass varieties grow best in southern states and cool-season lawn grass types grow well in northern states.
In some parts of the United States, referred to as transitional, you can grow both types of grass. Such transitional areas tend to be those states located down the middle of the country. Such states include Kansas, far eastern Oklahoma, Virginia, Tennessee, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri.
Cool-season grasses grow best in areas of the country that experience cold, freezing winters and hot, dry summers. This lawn grass has peak growth during cool weather. These kinds of grass adapt well to temperature fluctuations. However, such grasses tend to grow the best in the spring and fall seasons when temperatures range from 60 to 75 degrees F.
When grown in transitional areas of the country that experience milder weather, cool-season grasses tend to remain green all year.
Some of the most common cool-season grasses include the following:
Tall Fescue (USDA Zones 4-7)
By far one of the most popular grasses, tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum, formerly Festuca arundinacea) is medium to dark green in color and fairly dense. This grass also has an extensive root system. This means it can stand up to foot traffic and is drought-tolerant.
Tall fescue is also tolerant of heat, which makes it a good choice for transition zones. However, it's less cold-tolerant than other types of cool-season grasses. Tall fescue prefers full sun for optimal growth, yet it will tolerate some shade.
This grass is one of the easiest cool-season grasses to grow from seed.
Fescues (USDA Zones 3-7)
There are numerous types of fescue (Festuca spp.), and they all tend to stay green throughout the year. Common types are fine fescue (Festuca spp.), Chewing's fescue (Festuca rubra subsp. commutata), and creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra). All three of these grasses are tolerant of extreme cold. They also grow well in shade.
None of the fescue types of grass do well with foot traffic. If you decide to grow one of these kinds of grass, it's important that the lawn is for aesthetic purposes rather than use.
Fescue is widely used throughout northern and central U.S. states, including transition zones. Fescue grass seeds easily.
Kentucky Bluegrass (USDA Zones 3-7)
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a dark-green grass with a medium texture and stiff, upright growth habit. The grass spreads by underground stems known as rhizomes, which allows it to develop a dense turf. As a result, this grass can stand up to a moderate amount of foot traffic.
Kentucky bluegrass grows best during fall, winter and early spring when temperatures tend to be cool. This grass slows down growth in the hot summer months. While Kentucky bluegrass prefers full sun, it can tolerate some shade.
Widely used throughout much of the United States, Kentucky bluegrass doesn't do well in areas of the country that experience hot, dry summers. If not given sufficient water in the summer months, Kentucky bluegrass can go dormant and become susceptible to weed invasion and turf disease.
Perennial Ryegrass (USDA Zones 5-7)
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is widely used throughout the United States for permanent and temporary lawns. It is a fine-bladed grass that's deep green in color and creates a lush lawn. Perennial ryegrass actively grows from fall through spring. It thrives in cool weather.
Perennial ryegrass is the least cold-tolerant of the cool-season grasses. This turf grass thrives where summers are moderate and winters are cool. The grass is marginally drought-tolerant, and it can withstand slight shade.
In some areas of the country, such as the south, where warm-season grasses are grown and go dormant in the winter, perennial ryegrass is over-seeded. This is done so the turf remains green throughout the winter. Perennial ryegrass germinates fast and grows quickly, creating a green lawn.
As their name suggests, warm-season grasses grow best in warm weather. This is generally 80 to 95 degrees F. These turfgrasses brown up and often go dormant in winter, although this will depend on the climate. Winter dormancy for warm-season grasses lasts three to five months.
Some of the most common warm-season grasses include the following:
Bermudagrass (USDA Zones 7-10)
This warm-season grass is a popular turfgrass choice for good reason. Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) an easy-to-grow, extremely drought-tolerant lawn grass. Bermudagrass also stands up to high heat and is tolerant of heavy foot traffic.
Bermudagrass actively grows from late spring through the hot summer months. It isn't as cold-tolerant as the other warm-season grasses.
Growing from stolons, which are horizontal above-ground stems, and rhizomes, which are horizontal below-ground stems, Bermudagrass spreads rapidly. This makes it a good choice if you want to grow a lawn quickly. It can be invasive, but its invasiveness enables the grass to endure heavy use. This grass is often used on athletic fields and golf courses.
Zoysia (Zones 5-10)
Zoysia (Zoysia spp.) is a versatile lawn grass that tolerates high heat, drought and foot traffic. This grass is a good choice for transition zones because it tolerates cooler temperatures better than other warm-season grasses.
Zoysia prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade. This grass tends to be light green to medium green in color. It greens up the fastest in spring out of all the warm-season grasses.
Though Zoysia establishes more slowly than other grasses, it does eventually create a dense lawn. As a matter of fact, this lawn grass is rarely affected by weeds because of its density. The grass spreads by stolons and rhizomes. Zoysia is ideal if you use your grass regularly for sports and entertaining.
St. Augustine (USDA Zones 8-10)
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is a turf grass that tolerates warm weather and is somewhat-drought tolerant. It doesn't withstand cold temperatures very well. This grass features a broad, medium-green blade and tends to form a thick lawn. St. Augustine can stand up to some traffic, but not heavy traffic, such as sports.
Though St. Augustine lawn grass prefers full sun, it has a high tolerance for shade. That makes it a good choice for lawns that contain shade trees. This grass grows by stolons that creep along the ground. The dense turf this creates results in very little, if any, problems with weeds.
Buffalograss (USDA Zones 4-8)
As its name hints, buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides, formerly Buchloe dactyloides) originated on the open plains where the buffalo roamed. It still grows wild on the western prairies of the United States.
Buffalo grass tolerates high heat and drought well. The grass can look good even during the hot days of summer. Most buffalo grass varieties won't tolerate a lot of rain, however. If you live in an area where the rain is excessive, this isn't a good turfgrass choice.
Additional Turfgrass Considerations
When choosing a type of grass, it's also a good idea to look at how much maintenance the grass requires. Some kinds of grass, such as Bermudagrass, require regular fertilizing, while other kinds of grass can get by on less fertilizer.
Mowing is another issue to consider. Some grasses are faster growing than others and will require more frequent trimming.