How to Choose the Right Type of Grass for Your Lawn
However much you may love the feel of Bermuda grass between your toes, it may not be the best choice for your property. Here's what to think about when selecting grass seed.
Everyone wants a lush, green lawn that’s the envy of the neighborhood, but no one wants to work too hard at it! The secret lies in choosing the grass that suits your locale and climate. Sow the correct seed and, while you’ll have to put in some regular lawn care, you’ll stress less and enjoy your yard more.
It comes down to understanding different grasses’ unique growing requirements, maintenance needs, and resistance to wear and tear, disease, and pests. This guide will help you distinguish between the dominant types of grass and the species within each category so you can pick the ones sure to thrive and give you the curb appeal you crave.
An Overview of the Different Types of Grasses
Types of grasses found in the United States are broadly classified as either warm season or cool season. These labels indicate the geographic region with the ideal climate for the grass. Each region is further classified into humid or arid zones, with some zones being more hospitable to certain grasses than others.
Humid vs. Arid Grasses
While humid climates get a lot more rain and have higher levels of moisture in the air, arid climates are much drier. Because of these dramatically different growing conditions, the ideal grass types will vary between the two climate types.
The United States is a large country with varying levels of humidity and aridity. Because of this, some regions are better suited for growing humid grasses, while others will do best with arid grasses.
Below is a basic overview of the best grass type for each region of the United States:
- Northeast: Humid grasses
- Southeast: Humid grasses
- Midwest: Humid or arid grasses, depending on the location
- Gulf Coast and Deep South: Humid grasses
- Southwest: Arid grasses
- Pacific Northwest: Humid or arid grasses, depending on the location
- Transition: This area is more complex because the climate varies quite a bit from one season to the next. Some areas may do best with humid grasses, while arid grasses may grow better in other areas.
Warm-season grasses are ideally grown in midsummer at temperatures ranging between 75 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once temperatures fall below 55 degrees, these species go dormant and turn tan or brown until spring returns. Because these types of grass originally hail from the tropics, in the U.S. they’re inherently better suited to warm climates of the Deep South and the lower southwest and southeast.
When thinking about how to overseed a lawn with a warm-season grass, opt for a cool-season grass for the winter months. Lawn overseeding with a cool-season grass will help ensure that grass continues to grow, even as the temperatures drop a bit in the winter.
Cool-season grasses flourish in temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making early spring and early fall their peak growing season in most climates. These types of grass are best suited for regions that experience cold winters and hot summers (Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and New England), and they’re hardy—likely to remain green throughout winter, except for periods of freezing temperatures.
Transition Zone Grasses
If you live between the north and south, in a region known among turf breeders as the Transition Zone, you can grow either cool-season or warm-season grasses. Among warm-season grasses, zoysia grass, Centipede, and Bermuda grass are winter-hardy enough to flourish in the transition zone. Similarly, tall fescue, a cool-season species, is suitable for the transition zone because of its drought tolerance and adaptability to a variety of soil types.
1. Warm-Season Grasses for Humid Climates: St. Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia, and Bahia
The sandy soil, brackish air, and high humidity of the Gulf states make for the ideal breeding ground for St. Augustine, a coarse, light-to-dark green textured grass, and Bahia, resembling a dense sod of tapered, dark green blades. Southern Californians can also find success growing St. Augustine grass. Along with Bahia, a light green, creeping grass known as centipede is commonly grown in the southeast, where rainfall is abundant, while zoysia grass, a highly drought-resistant grass with thick, soft, light-to-medium green blades, is more frequently grown in the South.
Warm-season grass species are prized for their ease of maintenance, with requirements typically limited to irrigation every 3 to 7 days, fertilization on a semiannual basis, and regular mowing to variable heights.
Growing conditions can vary among warm-season species. Zoysia, for example, can be grown in partial shade, while centipede and most varieties of St. Augustine grass require full sun exposure to thrive. Moreover, each grass type can withstand wear, disease, and insects to varying degrees. Zoysia is one of the quickest to mend itself, and is also resistant to weed infiltration. Centipede grass, though rarely plagued by disease or pests, is slow to mend after damage, making it less suited to high-traffic lawns.
Best For: Growing a lush, green lawn in a warm and humid climate.
Our Recommendation: St. Augustine grass can help you achieve a gorgeous and full lawn without spending as much as you would on other grass types, such as zoysia. St. Augustine grass is also easy to grow and requires less maintenance. Additionally, St. Augustine grass turns green in the early spring, rather than later in the season like some other grasses.
2. Warm-Season Grasses for Arid Climates: Bermuda and Buffalo
If you live in the Deep South, chances are you get enough sun to successfully grow either Bermuda or buffalo grass. Both varieties of grasses are desirable on residential lawns for their low maintenance and relatively strong resistance to drought, disease, and pests. But because both require full sun exposure for optimal growth, avoid sowing them in shady areas.
Bermuda is one of the rare warm-season grasses that can grow in both arid and humid warm climates. Its dense, dark green blades make it the turfgrass of choice for play areas. Moreover, the deep root system of Bermuda grass allows it to withstand and recover from heavy wear in areas where pets and children play. While the thin, softly colored blue-green turf of buffalo grass makes it a uniform-looking and attractive lawn option, the species is not well suited for high-traffic lawns.
Best For: Creating a healthy lawn in a warm and dry climate.
Our Recommendation: Bermuda grass is a good choice for yards that get a lot of traffic. It can be mowed down to a lower height and has a deep root system to protect it from damage. Bermuda grass does not require much water to grow, making it a drought-resistant variety.
3. Cool-Season Grasses for Humid Climates: Kentucky Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Tall and Fine Fescues
High humidity areas in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Northwest create prime conditions for winter-proof grasses such as dense, bright green to blue-green Kentucky bluegrass, shiny, finely-textured dark green ryegrass, moderately dense, medium to dark green tall fescue, or the deep green turf of fine fescue—boasting the thinnest blades of all lawn grasses.
While sowing a single cool-season grass is usually sufficient to maintain a green winter lawn, homeowners with high-traffic lawns can opt to grow two or more cool-season grasses together to achieve more wear-resistant turf. For example, ryegrass and fine fescue can grow in shade, while Kentucky bluegrass loves full sun—but if you sow the three species together on an area that receives a mix of sun and shade, the combination grass should do well, even if your lawn receives full sun or shade only intermittently. As a highly disease-resistant and pest-hardy grass, ryegrass can also serve to bolster the resistance of Kentucky bluegrass.
Annual or perennial ryegrass can also be planted over warm-season grasses. Using this symbiotic approach, lawns can maintain a lush appearance in winter, because when warm-season grasses go dormant, ryegrass stays green. Later, when the warm-season grass turns green again in spring, the ryegrass will die off.
Even when planted as single species, cool-season grasses require only moderate maintenance. Fine fescue can get by with irrigation as infrequent as once a week, and can even go without mowing for a more natural, prairie-like appearance. Kentucky bluegrass, however, should be watered weekly to moisten its deep root system.
Best For: Northern regions with cool winters and humid summers.
Our Recommendation: Ryegrass grows quickly, making it a good choice for northern states with a shorter growing season. It is also easy to maintain and holds up well to periods with little-to-no rain. In addition to being a suitable choice on its own, ryegrass can be used alongside Kentucky bluegrass and others for a full and lush lawn.
4. Cool-Season Grasses for Arid Climates: Canadian Bluegrass and Wheatgrass
Live in the cold and arid climate of the west or western Midwest? Canadian bluegrass and wheatgrass are among the types of lawn grass that may be your prime picks. These grass species can be cultivated in either shade or full sun.
Canadian bluegrass, aptly named for its bluish-green, canoe-shaped blades, is native to Eurasia. It is a particularly hardy grass and able to recover quickly from damage. This is one reason it can still be spotted in drought-ridden areas with poor soil conditions, where a less resilient grass couldn’t survive.
Canadian bluegrass is a low-maintenance grass. It grows quickly and does well on very dry or coarse soil. For this reason, you may even see Canadian bluegrass growing along roadsides, waste grounds, and in other less-than-ideal locations. Additionally, its lower growth rate and deeper roots make it an ideal choice for controlling erosion.
Wheatgrass, resembling a tuft of vivid green needles, can be prone to mold, but a moderate, dry climate with indirect sun exposure can help prevent fungus from forming. Wheatgrass seeds grow quickly and have strong rhizomes to help control erosion.
Like Canadian bluegrass, wheatgrass is easy to maintain and does not require frequent watering. Wheatgrass is also high in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, making it a good choice when feeding cattle. You may have even heard about the health benefits of adding wheatgrass to your diet, such as aiding digestion, lowering cholesterol, and boosting metabolism.
Best For: Drier and cooler climates with sun or shade.
Our Recommendation: Canadian bluegrass is a good choice for yards with less than ideal soil. This easy-to-maintain grass doesn’t require much water and grows well in areas of full sun or full shade. Once planted, it will grow quickly to help transform your yard.
5. Turf Grass
Turfgrass is a broad category that refers to different types of grass that require regular mowing. Many of the grasses referenced above are types of turfgrass. Turfgrasses can be found in different climates and regions of the United States and are typically categorized by the climate type. A few examples of turf grass include Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, St. Augustine grass, and tall fescue. In short, unless you use a grass alternative for your lawn, it is likely covered with a turfgrass.
Turfgrass is well-suited for heavier foot traffic. It is made up of narrow blades that fill in together to provide a more uniform and clean-looking lawn.
Turfgrass can provide a full, lush, and green lawn that is perfect for spending time outside or playing sports. However, turf grasses can be more difficult to maintain. They require regular mowing to keep the blades from growing too tall too quickly. Watering, fertilizing, weeding, and raking are also required to keep turfgrass looking its best.
According to the National Park Service, turf grass offers a range of benefits to the environment. It can help reduce runoff by decreasing how quickly water is able to flow. With these slower flowing speeds, the soil is able to absorb more water.
Additionally, well-maintained turfgrass can also help regulate the temperature in the air around the grass. It can bring down the temperature of the surrounding air with its cooler surface. When planted along a sloping barrier, turf grass can even decrease loud noises by up to 10 decibels.
Best For: Maintaining a full and green lawn even in areas of heavy foot traffic.
Our Recommendation: Tall fescue grass grows well in the transition region of the country, and can also do well in some areas of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. It has a deep root system that makes it a drought-resistant turfgrass that won’t require much watering, even during its growing season.
6. Ornamental Grass
Ornamental grass is another broad category that encompasses different kinds of grasses, as well as a few plants that resemble grass. Though it can be used as a ground cover, ornamental grass is most commonly used to fill in other areas of a yard to add visual appeal to the landscaping.
Ornamental grasses can have different textures or colors than the turfgrass on the lawn, adding an eye-catching contrast. For example, Karl Foerster Reed Grass grows tan flower spikes during the fall that will remain throughout the winter, making it a great accent plant for a lawn or garden.
Some species of ornamental grass grow to be very tall, allowing them to act as a natural privacy barrier. Giant Reed and Giant Miscanthus grasses can both grow to higher than 10 feet. This taller height can also help block strong winds. Pampas grass is another type of ornamental grass that can grow to be quite large, with plants reaching up to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Not all ornamental grasses grow that tall, though. Blue oat grass, moor grass, and dwarf fountain grass, don’t grow more than 2 feet tall, which makes them ideal additions to rock gardens. (Bonus: They all also have pretty flower heads, too.)
The ideal growing conditions can vary from one species of ornamental grass to the next. However, as a general rule, most will do best in full sun in a well-draining soil.
Ornamental grasses are not meant to be mowed, making them a lower maintenance grass than most types of turf grass. For optimal new growth, cut most ornamental grasses back during the winter. Most ornamental grasses are also spared from diseases or insect problems.
Best For: Enhancing the landscaping of a lawn or garden.
Our Recommendation: Pampas grass can add a decorative and functional touch to your lawn or garden. This ornamental grass, which grows to up to 12 feet tall, is easy to care for. In the summer or fall, the grass will bloom with beautiful tan fountain-like flowers.
There are many different types of grass. The best grass for your area will vary based on whether you live in a humid or arid climate, the average and extreme temperatures in your region, and whether most of your lawn is in the sun or shade. Before you select a grass for your home, consider these factors to help make it possible for you to achieve that lush and green lawn you’re dreaming about.
FAQs About Types of Grasses
With so many different types of grass, it is possible you are left with a few remaining questions. The FAQs below can be a good resource to help you learn more.
Q: What is the most popular type of grass?
Kentucky bluegrass is probably the most popular type of grass in the United States. With a lush, dark green color and a softer texture, this grass can help users attain an attractive and healthy lawn.
Q: What are the main differences between zoysia grass vs. Bermuda grass?
When comparing zoysia grass vs Bermuda grass, there are few key differences. While zoysia grows well in both sunny and shady areas, Bermuda needs more sun to grow. Bermuda grass is more tolerant to constant foot traffic than zoysia and is less likely to become diseased or as negatively impacted by a drought.
Q: What does Bermuda grass look like?
Bermuda grass is made up of very fine blades with a true-green color. When planted on a lawn, Bermuda grass will offer full coverage for the area, making it difficult for weeds to pop up between the blades of grass.
Q: What is the softest grass?
Zoysia and hybrid Bermuda grasses are often considered the softest varieties.
Q: What are the main differences between tall fescue vs Bermuda grass?
One key tall fescue vs Bermuda grass difference is that Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass, while tall fescue sod is a cool-season grass. If left unmowed, Bermuda grass will only grow to be about 2 inches tall. Conversely, tall fescue may grow to be up to 4 feet tall. Bermuda grass has much thinner and finer blades compared to the wider blades of tall fescue.