How to choose the right type of grass for a lush green lawn

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How to choose the right type of grass for a lush green lawn
Consider how much traffic your lawn gets when choosing grass. gorodenkoff/Getty Images
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • Knowing your grass type will help you take the best care of your lawn.
  • Some grass varieties thrive in hot weather, while others thrive in cool weather.
  • Some grasses can grow in transitional zones, where there are warm summers and cold winters.

Whether you have a manicured, verdant front yard or an invitingly lush backyard, grass can make your home's exterior sparkle. Knowing your grass type can help you maintain your lawn and treat it with the care it deserves.

Carmen Uribe, landscape designer and CEO of the Los Angeles-based landscaping company A Greener Tomorrow, shares the most useful facts and her best tips on how to maintain your type of grass so every blade can stay healthy and green.

Cool-season grasses vs. warm-season grasses

How to choose the right type of grass for a lush green lawn
Alyssa Powell/Insider

You may not think of grass as a type of plant, it does in fact belong to a family of plants called Poaceae, which includes approximately 11,000 species. Similar to a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, grass types are divided into cool-season and warm-season grasses, with a transitional zone in between. Different grasses will grow and thrive in their appropriate geographical region.

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"Warm-season grasses grow in hot, humid areas that experience temperatures between 80 and 95 Fahrenheit," says Uribe. "These grasses go dormant and brown in the winter when temperatures drop below 65, which is why many homeowners [where temperatures drop] opt for cool-season varieties to ensure a beautiful lawn year-round."

On the other side of the spectrum, Uribe explains that prime cool-season locations include parts of the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and most of the Northeastern regions of the US. "The temperatures here are cool and humid, and fall between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit," says Uribe.

Both warm and cool-season grasses will have a longer dormancy period or show more signs of drought (brownness) when not in their adequate region.

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The transitional zone, however, encompasses a strip of eastern central and mid-central regions of the US. This area allows for some grasses to survive in hot summers and cold winters.

Choosing the right type of grass for your geographical location will allow you to determine watering requirements, sun exposure levels, drought resistance, and traffic tolerance. Although there are thousands of species of grass, there are 10 popular types of cool-season and warm-season grasses in the US.

Take into account traffic tolerance

The key to maintaining a great-looking lawn is to be aware of any activity on and around it. This is especially important with front yard lawns on busy streets.

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"Traffic tolerance refers to how resistant a lawn or sod variety is to pets, foot traffic, and regular activity and how fast it can recover," says Uribe. "Zoysia and Bermuda grass varieties have the highest traffic tolerance."

Cool-season grasses

How to choose the right type of grass for a lush green lawn
Cool-season grasses stay green even when the temperature drops. Steve Prezant/Getty Images

1. Bluegrass

Bluegrass, more commonly known as Kentucky bluegrass, is arguably the most popular and coveted grass type. Because of its shallow roots, bluegrass has a low drought resistance which allows it to thrive in the cooler northern regions of the country.

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  • Botanical name: Poa pratensis
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, light shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water weekly
  • Drought resistance: Low
  • Traffic tolerance: Medium
  • Texture: Soft and smooth
  • Color: Deep green
  • Transitional: Yes

2. Fine fescue

The fine, billowy blades of fine fescue make this grass a lawn favorite, including creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, sheep fescue, and hard fescue. Fine fescue grass is also well known for tolerating warmer conditions than other cool-season grass types.

  • Botanical name: Festuca spp.
  • Sun exposure: Low, mostly shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water weekly
  • Drought resistance: High
  • Traffic tolerance: Low to medium
  • Texture: Fine, delicate
  • Color: Medium green to blue-green
  • Transitional: Yes

3. Ryegrass

The perennial ryegrass is affordable, durable, and easy to maintain, which is why it is often found around schools, parks, and homes. Ryegrass, however, is not tolerant to droughts or freezing temperatures, making it a popular choice in the transition zone of the country.

  • Botanical name: Lolium multiflorum
  • Sun exposure: Full direct sunlight
  • Watering frequency: 2 inches of water, 2-3 times per week in the summer
  • Drought resistance: Low to none
  • Traffic tolerance: High
  • Texture: Coarse
  • Color: Dark green
  • Transitional: Yes

4. Tall fescue

Because of its high drought and traffic tolerance, tall fescue is a popular grass type for athletic fields and parks throughout California. Tall fescue can take on a weed-like appearance and requires frequent mowing, about once or twice a week.

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  • Botanical name: Festuca arundinacea
  • Sun exposure: 3-4 hours of direct sunlight, mostly shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water every 7-10 days, 2 inches of water in the summer
  • Drought resistance: Medium to high
  • Traffic tolerance: Medium to high
  • Texture: Coarse
  • Color: Rich, medium to dark green
  • Transitional: Yes

5. Bentgrass

Bentgrass, also known as creeping bentgrass, is high maintenance and most popular for golf courses and athletic fields. While its deep roots allow it to store water, it does not typically survive in droughts due to its constant need for water.

  • Botanical name: Agrostis stolonifera L.
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Watering frequency: 1-2 inches of water 2-3 times per week
  • Drought resistance: Low to none
  • Traffic tolerance: High
  • Texture: Soft and dense
  • Color: Light green to olive green
  • Transitional: Yes

Warm-season grasses

How to choose the right type of grass for a lush green lawn
Warm-season grasses can tolerate higher temperatures and are often more drought-resistant. TerryJ/Getty Images

1. Zoysia

Zoysia grass, native to China, Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia, is one of the most popular grass types for the US transition zone. The lush, green color and bouncy texture make it beloved during the spring and summer, but it goes dormant and brown in the winter.

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  • Botanical name: Zoysia japonica
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water weekly in spring and summer
  • Drought resistance: High
  • Traffic tolerance: Medium to high
  • Texture: Dense, fluffy, wiry
  • Color: Light to emerald green
  • Transitional: Yes

2. St. Augustine grass

"Sometimes referred to as 'carpet grass,' St. Augustine grass is a perennial turfgrass that is tolerant of high summer temperatures and keeps its color at temperatures as much as 10 degrees lower than Bermuda grass," says Uribe. "St. Augustine is also one of the most shade-tolerant grasses of its warm season family, and it thrives in irrigated areas with good drainage."

  • Botanical name: Stenotaphrum secundatum
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, light shade
  • Watering frequency: ½ inch of water twice per week
  • Drought resistance: High
  • Traffic tolerance: Low to medium
  • Texture: Coarse
  • Color: Deep blue-green
  • Transitional: No

3. Bahiagrass

Bahiagrass is one of the most preferred grass types of coastal areas in Florida and Southern California due to its high traffic and drought tolerance. This grass is native to Brazil, meaning full sun is a must.

  • Botanical name: Paspalum notatum
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, little to no shade
  • Watering frequency: 1-2 inches of water weekly
  • Drought resistance: High
  • Traffic tolerance: High
  • Texture: Coarse
  • Color: Muted, medium green
  • Transitional: No

4. Centipede grass

From the Carolinas to the Texas Gulf coast, centipede grass is well-liked for its heat tolerance, low maintenance, and its ability to withstand colder winters when grown in mild climates. This grass, however, is sensitive to alkaline soil which is not typically found in the American Southeast.

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  • Botanical name: Eremochloa ophiuroides
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, partial shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water weekly in the summer
  • Drought resistance: Medium to high
  • Traffic tolerance: Low to none
  • Texture: Dense, coarse
  • Color: Yellow-green
  • Transitional: No

5. Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass is hailed as the most drought-tolerant of the warm season grasses. Uribe recommends the popular Tifgreen variety for Southern Californians in particular. It has a "low, dense growth habit and has fewer pest and disease problems than other grasses."

  • Botanical name: Cynodon dactylon
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, little to no shade
  • Watering frequency: 1 inch of water weekly in the summer
  • Drought resistance: High
  • Traffic tolerance: Medium to high
  • Texture: Slightly coarse
  • Color: Light green to deep green
  • Transitional: Yes

Insider's takeaway

The importance of knowing your grass type, especially when you are first building your lawn, will allow you to know how well your grass will thrive and its specific care requirements. Understanding your geographical region, levels of traffic and drought tolerance of your area, and your ability to care for your grass type are the key to a beautiful lawn.

"If you choose the wrong sod variety, the results will be disappointing because it will look sparse, yellow, or bald," says Uribe. "Before investing and planning on a landscape, you must determine your region, usage, and maintenance. Don't waste time and money!"

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