Choosing the right type of grass for your lawn is no different from successfully cultivating any other variety of flora: not every strain will grow healthily in every environment. After all, when was the last time you read about Alaska’s bountiful citrus groves and cacti scattered across its majestic tundra?
Some of these grasses’ unique qualities lend to dependable survival in just about any setting. A few thrive only under notably specific conditions. Just as you would when choosing a lawn mower, lay your sod only after assessing whether the greenery you’ve chosen is adapted to withstand your local weather. Let’s take a break from sizing up the machine you could use to groom your lawn and examine which kind of turf you should plant to maximize the verdant beauty of your property.
Best Grass For Hot Climates
When temperatures hit freezing, grasses naturally cut out to grow in hot climates revert to a dormant state signified by a dull brown coloration. Dense and shade-tolerant Zoysia is easily the most cold-resistant of the varieties naturally adapted to the sweltering southern United States. By comparison, it regains its vibrant green shade quite gradually in spring after staying brown all winter in chillier climates. Whereas Zoysia grows best in the upper reaches of the South, Bermuda grass retains its color longer and wears best in regions where it has access to the greatest supply of water possible, such as the Gulf Coast and Florida. The South’s most humid coastal areas are ideal settings for naturally coarse St. Augustine grass, which has a high threshold for sunlight and heavy traffic but falters against shade and freezing weather. Choose whether to start from seed or grow strictly from sprigs or sod according to the specific strain you choose.
Fine Fescue Grass
Ordinarily regarded first as a cool-season grass for its low maintenance needs and tolerance of drought and shade, the delicate leaf of fine fescue cannot handle much heavy foot traffic but stands up to seasonal heat remarkably well.
This is one of the finest choices around for torrid environments. Notoriously tolerant of shade, low on maintenance and resistant to drought, Bahia grass is actually most vulnerable to being trampled to death by significant traffic.
This strain can be a bit needy when it comes to the maintenance required to keeps its thatch in check. That being said, as long as you plant it somewhere steadily showered in as much sun as possible, Bermuda grass holds up famously when faced with drought or tons of regular traffic.
St. Augustine Grass
Plant this decidedly popular warm-weather grass, and you may have your work cut out for you. St. Augustine stubbornly holds weeds at bay in no small part because of its notoriously robust constitution. However, despite tolerating shade remarkably well, this strain achieves its optimal health only with ample water, fertilizer and mowing.
This strain loves to sunbathe. Zoysia is nearly as suited to warm climates as it is to transitional seasons. Your sod will stand up impressively against drought and ample traffic without an inordinate amount of maintenance, but it does crave a tremendous amount of sun.
Cool and transitional-season grasses don’t come much more popular than this, especially because it can it can survive a good stomping like nobody’s business. It’s also immensely common along coastal areas, due to its love of sun and water and exceptional tolerance for salt.
Best Grass For Transitional Climates
Climate change and appreciable improvements in how warm-season grass strains endure cold have shifted the way Transition Zone homeowners and lawn care professionals regard a once-traditional choice between lawn or turf grasses that maintain their green all winter and fry each summer or types that flourish in warm weather but turn tan from late fall until spring. Nowadays, cool-season grasses have actually become harder to maintain each summer as average temperatures have gradually risen. In addition to warmth-loving Zoysia’s gradual adaptation surviving balmier temperatures, resilient Kentucky bluegrass and dense, sturdy ryegrass reign as favorites throughout the Transition Zone. Meanwhile, tall fescue grasses will grow to surprising degrees of health with their deep roots bearing onslaughts of traffic in dry clay, despite needing precious little sun and barely any maintenance to sustain themselves.
This adaptable strain rewards meetings its high maintenance needs with a gorgeously lush lawn – no doubt, a substantial reason it ranks among the most popular turfgrasses. Be sure to plant in a well-drained, sunny area where it can reap the benefits of the warmth it loves.
Tall Fescue Grass
Property owners in the Transition Zone love tall fescue for its rapid spring and fall growth as much as its notoriously low maintenance. Known for a moderate to high shade tolerance, this strain needs only between four to six hours of steady sunlight, but it can survive with minimal exposure when mowed to its ideal height of two inches or higher. For best results, plant in dry clay soil and pamper with regular seasonal fertilizer. Deep roots help it stand up well to traffic.
No cool-season grass deals with frosty environments quite as dependably as Kentucky bluegrass. For that matter, not transitional grass spreads and self-repairs damage quite as effectively, especially when combined with naturally wear-resistant ryegrass on athletic fields. This strain also happens to be as famously appealing visually as it is tough against the elements.
Both perennial and annual varieties of ryegrass are immensely popular as cool-season grasses throughout not only North America but Europe and Asia. In fact, perennial ryegrass has long been the chosen grass of the annual Wimbledon tennis championships because of its tremendous density for such a fine grass and handsome dark color. In the southern United States, this type’s abilities to withstand tremendous traffic and survive colder temperatures than Bermuda grasses make it a frequent winter turf choice for golf courses, residential lawns and sports fields. Ryegrass has also become a widely planted permanent turfgrass throughout the northern United States and Transition Zone.
Best Grass For Cold Climates
In cool northern climates, these grasses tend to grow most heartily throughout fall and spring but turn shades of brown during extremely hot summers. Distributors often sell several blended varieties of the same species or mixes of multiple varieties – for example, combinations of two or more strains of Kentucky bluegrass or Kentucky bluegrass intermingled with fine fescue – to bolster the chances of one type taking over and thriving in the event something kills off its counterpart. Newer Kentucky bluegrass varietals display greatly improved disease resistance combined with the species’ traditionally admired drought tolerance and fine textures without substantial feeding. Chewing, hard and creeping red sub-varieties of fine fescue grass mix particularly successfully with Kentucky bluegrass because of their tendencies to abide drought and shade. Perennial ryegrass is another primary component of numerous cool-season combinations, due to its quick germination and resilience against heavy wear.
Fine Fescue Grass
Thanks to its immense durability, high tolerance for shade, low reliance on sun for survival, low-to-moderate maintenance needs and tendency to go dormant when temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, highly disease-resistant fine fescue grasses excel at surviving the seasonal extreme cold in transitional and frigid climates. When planted in dry clay soil during fall months, these strains will grow steadily during the winter and later hold up strongly in the face of drought but should be planted with more durable Kentucky bluegrass to offset low toleration for heavy foot traffic.
Not many cool or transitional grasses deal with low temperatures quite as well as just about any strain of Kentucky bluegrass. It thrives during the more brisk months of spring and fall, especially at soil temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, its growth rapidly trails off when the mercury climbs above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and enters a dormant state in severely hot drought. This grass has a low shade tolerance and needs a great deal of steady sun and heavy watering to reach its optimal health in drier climates. At the same time, it self-repairs famously quickly when properly irrigated and supplied with adequate fertilizer and herbicides to ward off weeds, disease and pests.
This significantly traffic-resilient grass establishes quickly and repairs itself with impressive efficiency, but requires tremendous TLC. Though ryegrass withstands shade satisfactorily in the southern United States – to the contrary, it benefits from the added protection against brutal midday heat – it falters in the northeastern and northwestern regions without plentiful sunlight. Ryegrass is also almost always one of the earliest species to display the effects of drought stress and demands nearly constant watering, irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, mowing and thatching.
Best Grass For Shaded Lawns
Every species of grass needs at least sunlight.That’s the source of every photosynthetic organism’s nutrition. To cut that off would be to slowly starve it to death. At the same time, there is no more uniformity to how much sun exposure one species needs compared to another than one would find among the appetites of numerous human beings for basic solid food. Some strains need only a bit more than an average of four hours of sunlight per day to sustain themselves. Other varieties need to sunbathe almost continuously to manufacture adequate nutrients for growth and sustenance.
Tall Fescue Grass
Despite only being introduced to the United States as recently as the 1940s, this European cool-season grass is commonly found today throughout the America’s Transition Zone and a combined 1.5 percent of all land across the country – roughly 35 million acres. Tall fescue’s lengthy roots make it the most tolerant varietal of its family to traffic and should be kept high with infrequent mowing. Also a highly drought-resistant grass, it prefers taking root in dry clay soil and only needs somewhere between four and six hours of daily sunlight, as long as it is kept properly groomed to heights no shorter than two inches or, preferably, a bit higher. It’s a low-maintenance and disease-resistant strain, but beware its susceptibility to pests.
Fine Fescue Grass
This grass actually includes the hard, chewing and creeping red sub-varieties found across North America, northern Africa and Europe. When planted in fall, fine fescue grasses thrive growing through extreme winter conditions that would destroy many other species. To make a point of just how little sun they typically need, these strains will enter dormancy in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit, making them highly drought resistant in their favorite dry clay soils. For the sake of withstanding heavy foot traffic, planting in combination with Kentucky bluegrass is highly recommended. However, fine fescue varieties require virtually no mowing and only infrequent fertilizer to remain impressively disease-tolerant in dry conditions.
This warm-season grass with low maintenance standards originally came to North America as a grazing staple for Florida cattle and is often repurposed today as a disease-and-pest-resistant roadside grass to stabilize soil. It requires plenty of sun ordinarily and grows best in the most wide-open areas possible, but Bahia can prosper respectably in shade. Expect it to deal well with drought, but be advised that this species can be a bit wimpy when it comes to foot traffic.
St. Augustine Grass
Ordinarily, this grass proliferates to its greatest potential where it enjoys as much moisture as possible, especially within coastal subtropical and tropical areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, western Africa and the West Indies. The closer an ecosystem’s resemblance to the lagoons, swamps, beach ridges and limestone shorelines where it grows naturally, the greater the likelihood that St. Augustine will grow vigorously, but this thick turfgrass sustains itself surprisingly well in cooler temperatures apart from the hotter climates it favors. More tolerant of shade than many other warm-season grasses, this species is a mainstay of low-traffic ranch lawns and pastures.
Best Grass For Minimal Watering
No moisture? No problem. Perhaps you live in an area prone to dry winters. Maybe nearly year-round arid conditions leave you with few opportunities to dampen your lawn and leave you with a withered brown carpet of grass. Just as any man, woman or child could succumb to dehydration while never wanting for food, all grass needs some degree or another of watering to remain healthy. To close this guide out, these five species just happen to require extremely little irrigation or precipitation in any given climate.
Tall Fescue Grass
By now, we can just be honest: tall fescue can and will grow nearly anywhere with minimal human interference. That’s why this one grass species covers more than 35 million acres of land across America. A highly drought-resistant strain that grows best with its deep roots planted in dry clay soil, you can take its name to heart: mow it high, but don’t groom overly frequently.
This grass loves the sun like a fish adores water. That’s why it was brought to North America in the first place as a grazing grass for Florida cattle. It doesn’t display much tolerance to speak of for heavy foot traffic, but Bahia is typically unfazed by dry conditions, moderately abiding of shade and appreciably low-maintenance in nature. Ideally, introduce this species in the most open spaces you can for best results.
How do we know Mother Nature conceived Bermudagrass with warm, dry places in mind? Well, aside from its origins growing in Africa and prolific spread across the southern United States and South America, this species has also successfully been introduced to such frequently drought-susceptible countries as India and Australia for use everywhere from residential lawns to parks, sporting fields and golf courses. Bermuda strains adore high temperatures and can seem downright impervious to heavy traffic. To put a finer point on it, these varieties are so stubbornly hardy, farmers often regard them as “weeds” when they manage to invade cotton, corn, vineyard and sugarcane crops. Before planting, remember that it is healthiest when daytime temperatures climb above 95 degrees Fahrenheit and can survive nighttime temperatures below 75 degrees, but growth will begin declining around 50 degrees. As long as daytime temperatures don’t drop below 70 degrees, Bermuda grasses can continue to grow when the nocturnal mercury dips as low as 34 degrees.
Buffalo grass owes its name to its birthplace: this exceptionally drought-resistant grass originated as a favorite grazing staple of migrating buffalo on North America’s expansive Great Plains, an environment that also lends the species extremely little tolerance for shade. Plant it in a high-rainfall area, and watch Bermudagrass swiftly overcome it. Cultivate Buffalo grass on land beset with heavy sunshine and minimal precipitation to nurture a native-looking lawn with barely any mowing required during an optimally warm growing season.
This warm-season grass is favored everywhere from modest residential lawns to athletic facilities and sprawling golf courses in warm, dry environments from the United States to China, Japan, Australia and southeast Asia. From a practical standpoint, chalk that up to a moderate shade tolerance offset by a remarkable resistance to drought and heavy traffic. Zoysia grows quickly in spring but often demands frequent mowing (preferably with a reel mower), consistent thatching and at least six hours of daily sunlight to keep it healthy.