'Tis the season for tending green grasses. As the year marches on, our minds turn to our yards, and we crank up the lawn mowers and prepare our watering and fertilizing schedules. This year, some Southerners have made plans to sow—or re-sow—their yards for the first time, which begs the question: Which grass is best? Read on for some information about the South's most popular types of grass, as well as the best selections to plant based on the weather in your area.
Types of Grasses
First, a distinction: Lawn grasses are split into two general categories, warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses grow best in hot weather and turn brown in winter. Cool-season grasses grow best in cool climates and fade when the weather gets hot.
Warm-season grasses are more likely to thrive in the hot and humid weather of the South, though both warm- and cool-season grasses can be found in the Middle and Upper South, which has milder weather year-round. Below, learn about the most popular species of warm-season lawn grasses that are popular plantings across the Southern states.
Paspalum notatum Flugge
The Southern Living Garden Book describes this drought-tolerant warm-season grass as a "tough, rather coarse grass used for lawns." It has green blades which fade to brown when the cold weather arrives each winter. It requires frequent mowing and lots of sun, though it doesn't thrive in close proximity to salty sea spray, so this is a better choice for inland planting rather than coastal.
Selections: 'Argentine' isresistant to pests and disease, while 'Pensacola' and 'Tifton-9' are extremely drought tolerant.
Cynodon dactylon & Cynodon transvaalensis
A popular warm-season grass for the South—you'll see it on golf courses far and wide—Bermudagrass can thrive even when cut to very low, uniform heights. It's drought- and heat-tolerant and grows well in full sun, but it requires significant maintenance to look its best, including occasional watering, fertilizing, and mowing.
Selections: 'FloraTex' needs less water and fertilizer than other hybrid Bermuda grasses; 'Yuma' grows in a dense carpet and tolerates heat and drought.
This is a hardy and low-maintenance warm-season grass that can tolerate drought. It will thrive even with minimal fertilizer, but it loves sun and will not usually survive in shade. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, it is "not well adapted to Florida or the Gulf Coast. Buffalo grass is at its best when allowed to grow tall, but it needs mowing three times a year to form a good thick turf."
Selections: 'Top Gun' is cold hardy, grows thickly,and has a great appearance in summertime. '609' is blue-green in summer and grows in a thick carpet with no unsightly seed heads.
While it is not widely planted, warm-season carpetgrass has the potential to thrive in the coastal and tropical South—as long as you can devote time to its maintenance. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, "Though it requires little feeding and is fairly shade tolerant, this is the lawn grass of last resort; it is fragile, needs lots of water, and does best in wet, acid soil." It's most often found in Florida, where the composition and saturation of the soil make it hard to grow other grasses.
Related Species: Broadleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus compressus) , Common carpetgrass (Axonopus fissifolius)
Centipedegrass is another warm-season species that thrives in the hot humidity of the South. It can tolerate some shade and grows best in acid soil with lots of water and little to no fertilizer. It's sometimes called "poor man's grass" because it's so easy to establish and maintain.
Selections: 'Oaklawn' and 'Tennessee Hardy' are cold hardy; 'AU Centennial' is too, but it grows more densely and tolerates neutral and alkaline soil.
According to The Southern Living Garden Book, this warm-season grass is "native to the sandy soils along the coast from North Carolina to Texas." It's also more tolerant of salt spray than bahiagrass, its close relative, making it a good choice for coastal lawns. It's drought-tolerant but requires abundant watering to get it established.
Selections: 'Sea Isle 2000' resembles hybrid bermudagrass but has a greater tolerance for cold weather.
This warm-season grass thrives in tropical and sub-tropical areas and can tolerate light shade, nearly any soil, and salty sea breezes, making it a popular planting in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. It's a warm-season grass that grows in a dense carpet and requires some maintenance including regular water and occasional fertilizer.
Selections: 'Bitterblue' is extremely shade tolerant, 'Palmetto' is drought tolerant, and 'Raleigh' is cold hardy.
This heat- and drought-tolerant warm-season grass is a popular planting in the South because it's so tough. It tolerates light shade and grows slowly and densely—so densely that it usually keeps out weeds. The Southern Living Garden Book calls it "among the South's best and most popular lawn grasses."
Selections: 'Emerald' grows densely and fades from medium green in summer to an attractive beige in winter. Z. japonica 'Meyer' (Meyer zoysia) thrives in the Upper South, while 'Belaire' and 'El Toro' are more cold hardy and faster to establish.
Other cool-season grasses have grown in popularity in the North, West, and Pacific Northwest. These grasses thrive in cooler climates, though some can be found in the Southern states (especially in the temperate Upper South), including the following species.
Cool-season Kentucky bluegrass can be found in the cooler parts of the Upper and Middle South. There, it requires significant maintenance and attention, including regular watering and fertilizing. It thrives in cool weather and isn't tolerant of conditions involving high heat and drought unless it's extensively irrigated.
Selections: 'Adelphi' and 'Parade' are resistant to disease, while 'Glade' and 'Touchdown' tolerate shade well.
This cool-season grass tolerates cold weather and substantial shade, and it's known to germinate quickly and spread slowly. It's deep green and glossy in appearance. While many ryegrass lawns are difficult to mow because of significant clumping and tough, hard-to-extricate seed stems, recent developments have created improved selections, including those listed below.
Selections: 'Derby,' 'Loretta,' 'Manhattan'
This shade-tolerant cool-season grass is great for areas that don't receive much sun, as it doesn't thrive in extremely hot climates. It grows best with regular watering, but it's hardier and more drought-tolerant than other cool-season grasses. It's a popular planting in Northern states, but it has been known to survive in the transitional Middle South as long as it has plenty of shade and water in the summer months.
Selections: 'Bonsai' and 'Duster' are fine-bladed dwarf types. 'Kentucky-31' is a coarse-bladed selection that has long been a popular planting in the South.
Tips for a Lush Lawn
Planning to sow (or re-sow) a lawn this year? Brush up on these lawn-watering tips direct from The Grumpy Gardener. To ensure green grass year-round, you can overseed your warm-season grass (such as centipede or Bermuda) with cool-season grass (such as ryegrass). And, while you're at it: Cut your lawn high. Can't grow grass? Try these ground covers instead .
What grass is growing in your yard at the moment? Do you have a high-maintenance lawn? Let us know what grass- and ground-cover-related questions you have this season.