Types of Grass in the US
Knowing the types of grass that you can grow in the US, and where you can grow them, is incredibly useful for anyone looking to cultivate the perfect lawn. Sowing the right seeds for your area is essential to ensure the proper growth of your turf. Do you know which type of grass is best for your lawn?
These are actually very few turf grasses that are native to the US; Buffalograss being one example. Most turf grass has been imported, and selectively bred to create perfect lawn specimens.
These finely bred turf grasses can be broken down into one of two types: cool season grass, and warm season grass. As you might have guessed, cool season tends to grow well in cooler climates, and in cooler seasons, and warm season, you got it, grows well in hotter climates, and tends to sprout in the summer months.
What is even more convenient, is that the cool season grasses tend to be the better choice for the North of the US, whereas the warm season tends to grow well in the South. This can be demonstrated on a map, as shown below:
Choose an appropriate grass type for the areas of the US that you live in, and you will have much success with your lawn. The transition zone works a little bit differently. If you live in this area then you will be able to grow some cool season, and some warm season grasses, but you will not be able to grow all of the types of grass. This will be discussed later on in the article, so sit tight!
It is worth noting that if you live in an area that experiences extreme conditions from climate, it may well be difficult to establish a nice lush lawn. That is just the way it is we are afraid! There are also many factors that determine which lawn grass is right for you, such as shade, drought and wear tolerance, growth habits, and preference. This guide should help you to choose the right type of grass.
Cool Season Grass
The cool season grass types grow best in the Northern parts of the US, as they cannot handle the intensity of the heat, and the prolonged periods of drought that tend to occur further south. Some of the cool grasses are more tolerant to some heat, and so are better suited in the south of the cool zone, or the transition zone on the map.
Cool season grasses grow well in cooler temperatures, and usually the ideal temperature is between 60-75 degrees F. They tend to shoot up in a flush of growth in the spring months, slow down or lie dormant during the summer, and come back for more in the Fall. They need to be well watered during dry and hot spells.
Popular types of cool season grass include:
This is the most popular type of cool season grass, simply because it makes a lush, green, high quality lawn that is also very low maintenance. You can't really argue too much with that! Kentucky Bluegrass grows at a moderate rate, and spreads to fill any gaps in turf. It is easy to control, and mow, but requires a fair amount of watering in hotter weather.
Kentucky Bluegrass has pretty shallow roots, which makes it particularly vulnerable to drought, when it will go dormant if not adequately watered. This means that irrigation is needed to grow this type of grass in hotter parts of the US, such as the Western States, and you can forget about growing it anywhere South of North Carolina in the transition zone.
We mention rough Bluegrass here as a warning as well as a recommendation. This grass can be deliberately cultivated, and can make for a reasonable turf if it is extremely well managed.
It can handle shade and low temperatures well. Some expert gardeners might be able to work some magic with it, but as a general rule of thumb this stuff is invasive, and considered a weed among Kentucky Bluegrass, and is usually removed. It is a lighter green, and tends to lie flat in one direction.
Bentgrass is another well used cool season grass, but it is not so popular for a home lawn. In fact, unless you want to spend every day of your life mowing your lawn to a length of ½ inch, then it is probably best to avoid seeding your lawn with Bentgrass. It is primarily used for golf courses, as it tends to work well when mowed to really short lengths, and knits itself together into a dense mat that is perfect for the game. Of course, if you are willing to put the effort in, Bentgrass can make a really nice lawn.
So, here we come to another great type of grass that can be used for your lawn, and also looks good around resorts, roadsides, and anywhere it is left unfettered. Red Fescue requires very little maintenance, has a slow growth rate, and can be mowed at a tall height. The grass has a very fine blade, and a lush deep green color.
Red Fescue is a fairly hardy cool season grass that is very tolerant to cold temperatures, can be grown well in the shade, and can even handle a bit of drought, though it will go dormant if not watered in the summer. Its main intolerance is heat, and it is impractical to try to grow it in hot climates. Red Fescue is also available in blends with Kentucky Bluegrass.
Ryegrass is best grown in cool and damp climates, and will die off in the summer heat if temperatures are extreme. It is best used as a a grass for your lawn if you live in the northeast or northwest of the US. It germinates quickly, and grows faster than most grasses, which is why it is often used as a “nurse-grass” to temporarily provide a lawn while other slower grasses, such as Bluegrass, begin to take place.
Ryegrass is also commonly used in warmer climates to overseed a lawn in the winter, and dies off to give way to the summer lawn when the time comes.
It is ultimately your decision which grass you decide to grow to create your ideal lawn, but if you live in the cool season zone you should restrict yourself to the cool season grasses above. The most popular for lawns is the Kentucky Bluegrass, and for good reason, so this should be considered a wise option. Ryegrass is another popular choice.
Seed blends are available which give you more than one type of grass to play with, and can be bought depending on your circumstances. Usually, Bluegrass is used as the key ingredient, with other grasses complimenting it, such as Ryegrass to add durability and a fast growth, or Bentgrass to add a bit more lush to your lawn.
Warm Season Grasses
Warm season grass types grow well in the Southern regions, in areas that have a sub-tropic to tropic climate. They thrive the most in temperatures of around 80-90 degrees F, and go partially or fully dormant in the winter, turning an undesirable brown color.
To counter this, many gardeners in the southern States overseed their lawn in winter using a cool season variety such as Ryegrass, which allows for a winter lawn, and also protects the warm season grass form the brutalities of the winter.
Warm season grasses tend to be much more difficult to grow and maintain than cool season, so it can be tougher for those who live in the warm season zone to get the lawn of their dreams. Tougher, but not impossible! Good soil is crucial if you want to lower the amount of maintenance needed, but all in all more work will be needed to keep undesirable and invasive grass types from taking over. It can also be much easier to start your lawn from sod or plugs rather than seed.
This is one of the most popular types of grass in the south, and indeed is much loved in hot climates all around the world for its comfortable cushiony feel, and its relative ease for growing in tropic and sub-tropic climates. It thrives well in full sun, and loves the heat, so can stay green as long as the climate allows. When the temperature drops it tends to turn brown quite quickly, though it is durable in many other respects, being drought tolerant and resistant to wear and tear. For a warm season grass it is fairly easy to cultivate, and grows in many types of soil, giving a nice lush lawn as long as it is mowed and fertilized well. It is commonly used on sports fields, parks, and gold courses, as well as being a favorite for lawns.
There are also a variety of Bermuda Grass hybrids available, which have been specially produced as sod or sprig. These hybrids are often lusher, more durable, and able to stand cold more readily, without turning brown immediately in the winter.
Another very popular type of grass for those living in the southern States, is Zoysia, a notoriously durable variety that can withstand a lot of drought, making it ideal where conditions are very arid. It has the ability to retain moisture well, draw deeply from the soil, and though it may become dormant and straw like in extreme conditions, it is easily revitalized when well watered. Zoysia also makes a very attractive lawn, and is finely textured for a nice dose around!
The only drawback really is that it tends to go dormant sooner than other varieties, and stay dormant for longer after the winter.
WARNING! Although Zoysia and Bermuda are extremely attractive types of grass for your lawn, they are both very tough, and can invade other parts of your garden if not kept under control. They are very difficult to replace once they are established, so be sure that you really want to use the type of grass that you have picked.
You probably wouldn't try to grow Bahia in a lot of places, but in certain coastal conditions it is the favorite, mostly because that is what will grow. Residents who live on the coast of Florida will undoubtedly be familiar with this one! Bahia loves sunny areas, and warm and humid conditions, though it is extremely drought resistant. It can grow in acidic soil, and even andy soil, and requires very little in the way of watering, though regular mowing is highly recommended.
Fly your flags high and bring on the Stars and Stripes! This is the only type of grass that is commonly used in the US that is actually native to North America. Buffalo Grass, so named because the buffalo of the Great Plains used to graze on it, is regaining its popularity as a drought-resistant grass that can survive and thrive in many areas, especially in the Southwest. It requires 50% less water than Bluegrass, and can grow in alkaline soil, and clay soil. On top of this it actually makes for a really nice, even, classic-looking lawn that is more usual in a cools season grass.
This type of grass forms a deep and dense turf, and features broad leaves and large flat stems. It is a popular choice in the southern states, especially in costal regions, where it can tolerate the heat and drought. It thrives in hotter climates, and perishes in colder regions. Though a pleasant colored lawn, it does look quite shabby in the winter months. Still, a popular choice where it is easily grown.
The Centipede variety of grass is particularly well adapted to growing in slightly acidic, sandy soil, and is sometimes used as a turf grass in the southeast US. It can grow even in low fertility conditions, and requires very little maintenance, while producing an attractive finish that is dense and weed free. It is slow growing and surface running, making for a low grass that looks thick and lush.
Transition Zone Grasses
As explained, there exists a transition zone between the northern and southern lines. In this transition zone, neither the cool season nor the warm season types of grass can be said to be the most suited, but rather, some varieties of each work well. Recommended types of grass if you live in the transition zone include:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Tall Fescue
Refer to the details given for each of these types of grass below, to see if they might be suitable for your particular climate.
How to Know What Type of Grass to Choose?
There is an entire science of grass, and knowing the ins and outs of it all requires time and patience. Look at the map to find out whether you are in the cool season zone, the warm season zone, or the transition area. This will help you to understand what types of grass are actually suitable for you to grow. Out of the options available, research the types of grass individually to see if they suit your micro-climate, soil, and other requirements.
Alternatively, take a stroll around your town, ask the advice of a local gardener, or have a nosy at your next door neighbors lawn to see what they are growing!