Want to know the secret to having the perfect lawn? Choosing the right grass for your climate. Grasses are divided into two categories: Cool Season grass and Warm Season grass. This is pretty simple, but the trick is knowing how to choose and care for the particular grass type. In this article, we will outline the most common types of grass people pick for their lawns, and explain how and where they thrive.
Cool Season Grasses
Bentgrass is a fine-textured, cool-season species that spreads by stolons and is able to tolerate very close mowing heights of 1/4 to 3/4″. Bentgrass is the finest-bladed, lowest-growing, and highest-maintenance species of all the cool-season turfgrasses.
It makes a nice looking lawn, but requires a great deal of care with frequent mowing, watering, dethatching, and fertilizing. This is the grass that is used on many putting and bowling greens. It forms a soft, dense, carpet like lawn that must have good drainage and frequent watering.
It also needs good air circulation over the surface of the grass to prevent disease, of which it is susceptible to many. It likes full sun, but will tolerate some shade. It is best adapted for use on putting greens, or where professional care is at hand, since it is not a lawn that is as well-suited for home lawns as other grasses.
Kentucky bluegrass gets its name from its rich, blue-green color, and is perhaps the cold hardiest of all turfgrasses, making a dependable lawn in many climates. Noted for its fine texture and dense, thick, habit, Kentucky bluegrass, though a few new varieties have some drought tolerance, generally requires regular watering to maintain its bright color through hot, dry seasons.
It also needs regular fertilization and mowing. Widely used for a good, general-purpose turf for residential lawns, parks, athletic fields, and golf fairways.
Kentucky bluegrass flourishes in fall and spring when temperatures are cool, and in the summer when temperatures are moderate, but not too hot. Because of its shallow root system, it requires frequent irrigation during the summer. It will grow well in most soils, as long as they are well-drained.
Rough bluegrass is a bright green, fine-textured, shallow-rooted relative of Kentucky bluegrass. Although it is not as versatile as Kentucky bluegrass, it is often used as a substitute in moist soils and shade – conditions that don’t suit Kentucky bluegrass.
In mild climates, rough bluegrass will retain its color over the winter, and because it can live without full sun, it is often a component in some shady-lawn mixtures that also contain perennial ryegrass, fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass.
It is sometimes included in a seed mixture with Kentucky bluegrass because of its shade tolerance, however, due to its tendency to produce bright yellow-green patches, it does not blend well with Kentucky bluegrass unless mixed with other grasses like rye or fescue to smooth out the color difference.
Perennial ryegrass has the best wear and traffic tolerance of any of the cool-season grasses, which is why it’s so often used on playing fields, and residential lawns that have lots of use.
Perennial ryegrass is a very good low-maintenance choice for home lawns that have a lot of wear and foot traffic. It can be mowed closely or left to grow long.
Perennial ryegrass does not do well in the shade, and while it can take some, it cannot take extreme cold, heat, or drought.
Warm Season Grasses
Bahiagrass is a tough, coarse-textured, moderately aggressive warm-season grass that is adapted to a wide range of soil conditions. This grass is used a lot on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but can take a wide range of warm weather climates, doing well in hot, humid areas with high annual rainfall, and can thrive even on poor, infertile soils.
Bahiagrass is a good all-around purpose grass that has increased in use due to it’s ability to survive some periods of drought. It spreads slowly by rhizomes, but when it becomes established it grows aggressively, quickly making a thick, low-maintenance lawn that has some drought resistance.
Because of its coarse texture, uneven growth, and tough stems that are sometimes hard to mow evenly, bahiagrass does not always make a smooth-looking lawn. Newer varieties that have recently come out are more cold tolerant and not as coarse in texture.
St. Augustinegrass is a fast-growing, vigorous, coarse-textured, warm-season grass that has dark green, broad grass blades. It spreads by stolons that root at the nodes which form a dense, thick turf that will crowd out most weeds.
St. Augustine is one of the most shade tolerant of the warm-season grasses and does well in climates such as: Southern California, Hawaii, Texas, and mild areas of the Southwest, Florida and Gulf Coast states. It takes heat, and is tolerant of salt spray and salty soil.
It can take some drought moderately well, but it looks best with regular water. It is not very cold tolerant, and as soon as the weather cools down, it tends to lose its color. St. Augustine grass is a moderate to high maintenance lawn because it requires fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter, it needs regular fertilization, water, mowing, and regular removal of thatch. Even in decent soils, St. Augustinegrass requires regular, high nitrogen, fertilizer.
Buffalograss is a fine-leaved native grass species that has thrived on the Great Plains for centuries. It has survived severe weather extremes and has evolved into a water-efficient, sod-forming grass of incredible durability that is used on residential lawns, golf courses, industrial sites, and acreages.
Buffalograss has become very popular as a low-maintenance lawn grass because this hardy grass greens up only two-to-three weeks later than Kentucky Bluegrass in spring, and stays green all summer with little or no care. Like blue-gramagrass, it goes dormant at the first killing frost and turns a beautiful straw color until it breaks dormancy again in the spring.
Unlike many native grasses, buffalograss grows as much as 5 inches (12.5 cm) within 50 days after planting, and spreads fast on runners or stolons but is not a pest. It is available in seed or sod form, and has both male and female plants.
It needs less mowing than other grasses and it adapts well to poor soil, and resists chinch bugs and brown patch disease. It is also aggressive enough to crowd out weeds. It also makes a great general-purpose lawn in the warm humid climates like the Southeast, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast.
Centipedegrass has shallow roots, so it has no real drought tolerance and often is the first warm-season grass to turn brown in hot, dry spells, and goes dormant when cold. New varieties however, have been developed with better drought and cold tolerance, make sure to ask when purchasing.
Centipedegrass will not tolerate lots of foot traffic, and is slow to recover when damaged. It does not tolerate salt spray, so not a good choice for beach areas. In alkaline soils, it will need more iron (such as iron sulfate) to prevent yellowing. It is especially subject to decline from over fertilization and watering.
See full descriptions and learn more about different grasses from Weekend Gardener here.