Cootseason and Warmseason grasses

Cool-season grasses are the grasses of the North — the parts of the country where summers, although warm and sometimes humid, are short and where winters are cold and often snowy. These grasses grow actively in spring and fall, slow down a bit in summer, and start to go dormant in the winter. Just so you know, these grasses do best at temperatures between 60 and 80°F and survive freezing winter temperatures; they can't tolerate truly hot weather without going dormant. Favorite cool-season grasses include Kentucky blue-grass, fescue (fine and tall), bentgrass, and perennial ryegrass.

For details on cool-season grasses, including info on appearance, descriptions, and care instructions, see Table 10-1.

Note: Check out "Mowing the Lawn, Cutting the Grass, and Otherwise Giving the Yard a Shave" for more information on mowers. "Thatch: Don't Let It Weigh You Down" can tell you about that problem.

Table 10-1 Cool-Season, Northern Grasses

Type Appearance Ideal Mow- Description and Care to Height

Table 10-1 Cool-Season, Northern Grasses

Type Appearance Ideal Mow- Description and Care to Height

Kentucky bluegrass

Blades are fine- to medium-textured, canoe-shaped, and a nice dark blue-green color

I3// to 2/2"

Not very drought-tolerant (goes dormant if the conditions are too hot and dry); water generously! Good disease-resistance; doesn't tolerate heavy foot traffic; has relatively shallow roots — makes a good showpiece lawn rather than one that's tread upon a lot.


Texture is very fine, bristle-leaved; color is medium-green

W to 2"

Doesn't like to be soaked or soggy; water deeply and infrequently. Fescue is the favored grass type for sports fields, so you know it'll tolerate foot traffic! Some varieties perform well on poor soil and in some shade. Fescues are often mixed with other grasses.


Very fine-textured; at about an inch tall, a blade begins to bend, hence the name

// to 1"

A thirsty grass — give it plenty of water, as often as weekly during the height of the growing season. The stems (technically stolons) are wiry and form thick mats, so don't let this grass get too tall or unkempt or you'll soon have a major thatch problem. That said, bentgrass is a popular grass for golf courses, putting greens, and grass tennis courts. Use a mower with very sharp blades.

Perennial ryegrass

Fine-textured; glossy, dark green blades

W to 2"

Likes consistent, regular water; has shallow roots. Disease-resistant, tolerates foot traffic well. Nice in full sun or shade — quite adaptable. Mixes well with other types.

The West Coast covers a huge area with various climates; bluegrasses and perennial rye grasses work for most of these climates, but be sure to check with your local garden suppliers to find out which varieties perform best in your area.

Warm-season grasses are the grasses of mild climates, including the South and the Gulf Coast, areas where summers are notoriously hot and long, often humid, and where winters are mild but rarely freezing. As you may expect, these sorts of grasses don't survive extremely cold temperatures. Their toughness applies to hot weather. From late fall to early spring, the off-season, they simply turn brown. Favorite warm-season grasses include bermudagrass, bahiagrass, buffalograss, centipede grass, St. Augustinegrass, and zoysiagrass. For more details, see Table 10-2.

Table 10-2

Warm-Season, Southern Grasses



Ideal Mow-to Height

Description and Care


Blades are medium-to-fine-textured and medium green

to W

This one is drought-tolerant — you can get away with infrequent, deep waterings. Tolerates poor and sandy soil; doesn't do well in shade. If it's happy, it can become downright invasive, spreading a little too quickly into areas where you may not want it. Best mowed with a reel mower (a rotary mower can't cope with the wiry stems).


Very coarse-textured and tough, with a low, rambling, open growth habit


Deep, infrequent watering is best; toler ates some drought. Excellent for high-traffic areas because of its natural toughness (even seaside — some varieties tolerate salt). However, that same quality makes it hard to mow — a very sharp reel mower is best.

  • continued)
  • continued)

Table 10-2 (continued)

Type Appearance Ideal Mow- Description and Care to Height

Table 10-2 (continued)

Type Appearance Ideal Mow- Description and Care to Height


Very fine-

2"to 3"

Wonderfully drought-tolerant


and with stands neglect/

grows low;

minimal maintenance.

color is

However, it goes dormant and


brown if really stressed; to


prevent this, water deeply

twice a month. Best in full

sun, does just fine in full sun

and heat, shrugs at drought,

and resists common lawn

pests and diseases. Slow

to green up in the spring,

though. Also, not very dense

in growth habit, so weeds can

creep if you're not watching.

Centipede grass


1" to 2"

Not very drought-tolerant;

fine in

give it regular soakings (it's

texture, light

shallow-rooted and dries out

green in

if you wait too long). Can take


some shade, resists pests and


diseases well, doesn't need


much fertilizer or fussing;

tolerates poor, acidic soil.

However, it doesn't withstand

foot traffic that well and is one

of the first warm-season

grasses to turn brown as

winter approaches.

St. Augustinegrass

Broad, dark

W to 21/2"

The surface runners (stolons)


that supply the fast growth

blades with

also demand plentiful and

medium to

regular water. Really tough


and durable! Able to handle


heat, sun, shade, and expo

forms a

sure to salt. So what's the

thick, dense

catch? Its thick growth makes


it susceptible to thatch and

pests and diseases. Also, not

very cold-tolerant. Best in

well-fertilized, well-drained,

Appearance Ideal Mow- Description and Care to Height

Zoysiagrass Wiry, dark- 1" 2" Needs plenty of water when green blades getting started, much less of fine to when established. The stiff, medium wiry texture makes for texture uncomfortable barefoot walk ing. Wonderfully drought tolerant after established. Able to take almost any soil or exposure, withstands salt spray. Goes dormant and turns brown early in winter and is slower than most to green up in spring.

Growing lawns from seed

Growing a lawn from seed is cheaper than installing sod. It's satisfying, and it feels like actual gardening. The disadvantages are that it takes longer to become a lawn, you have to protect the baby lawn from birds and pedestrians, and watering just right is tricky but critical. Most grasses do fine from seed; however, zoysiagrass, buffalograss, and centipede grass are most commonly sold as plugs, which are small plants, sprigs, or stolons (ask for planting advice from wherever you buy the plugs) or as sod (see the next section).

AEfl To sow a new lawn — or do patch repairs with seed — make sure you start at the right time. Up North, with cool-season grasses, the ideal time's in the fall. The ground is still warm, and fall rains may help with the watering. Late spring is also possible, so long as the new lawn has a chance to get up and running before really hot weather hits. Warm-season grasses are best sown in the mild days of late spring — again, you want to get it going before blazing summer heat arrives.

To prepare the soil, follow the instructions earlier in the chapter (see "Preparing your yard for a lawn"). Basically, you want to clear out an open area of weeds and obstructions, add some organic matter, and rake it neat and level. Before planting is also the perfect time to put in sprinklers or some more-elaborate in-ground watering system. Chapter 4 gives more details on this kind of equipment.

Buy good-quality seed. If a bag simply says Kentucky bluegrass, be forewarned that it may be a grab-bag of older varieties. Better to get a bag that touts its contents in loving detail, naming the names of the varieties it includes. You're likely to see the following choices:

1 Straights: Only one kind of grass, or only one variety; St. Augustinegrass and bermudagrass are often sold this way.

1 Blends: Up to four different varieties of one type of grass; for example, a tall fescue blend may include more-or-less equal amounts of the tall fescue varieties 'Virtue', 'Monarch,' and 'Duster.'

1 Mixtures: Combinations of different types of grasses; for instance, Kentucky bluegrass is often mixed with some fine fescue and perennial ryegrass. Make sure your mixture is not loaded with cheaper, coarser grass varieties — read the label carefully!

You can even find disease-resistant varieties or grasses with some bug-killing extras (see the "Endophytes: Grass's live-in guests" sidebar near the end of the chapter). If you're at a loss of what to choose, get some professional advice.

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