Types of Warm- and Cool-Season Lawn Grasses

Tall fescue grass

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

If you are starting a new lawn for the first time in your life, it may dawn on you that you have never really considered what types of lawn grasses there are to choose from. The grass family (Poaceae) is huge. Your choice will depend, in part, on what the climate is like where you live. Accordingly, the two broad classes of turfgrasses are the warm-season and cool-season grasses. While these terms are most typically used in North America, information about these grasses and how to use them is also applicable to other locations that have corresponding climate conditions.

List of Warm-Season Grasses

While you might think of this topic mainly in terms of two disparate regions (the North and the Deep South), there is also what's called the "Transition Zone" between those two, which stretches roughly from southern Pennsylvania to northern Georgia. This is an in-between region. Tall fescue is a particularly tough cool-season grass that can survive in the Transition Zone. Meanwhile, among the warm-season types, Bermuda grass, centipedegrass, and zoysiagrass are cold-tolerant enough to be grown there.

In the Deep South, warm-season grasses are generally grown. These types of lawn grasses grow actively from mid-April to mid-October. As their name implies, they like warm weather. To still have a lawn in winter, Southerners will sometimes overseed with annual ryegrass. Some of the most popular kinds of warm-season grasses are:

  • Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum)
  • Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
  • Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Carpet grass (Axonopus affinis)
  • Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides)
  • Saint Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
  • Zoysia grass (Zoysia japonica)

Each of these categories can be broken down further by listing the different cultivars that are available. Take zoysia grass, for example; cultivars of just one of the various types of zoysia grass (Zoysia japonica) include:

  • Belaire
  • Compadre
  • El Toro
  • Innovation
  • JaMur
  • Meyer
  • Palisades
  • Zenith

Despite their name, warm-season grasses are also sometimes grown in regions that must endure cold winters. Just remember that once the frosts of fall arrive, their blades will turn a color ranging from brown to light tan.

Choosing a Warm-Season Grass

As with all plants, each type of grass has its pros and cons. You will have to research these pros and cons to make a decision just as you would in the plant-selection process for landscape plants. As an example, compare Saint Augustine grass and zoysia grass.

The pros of Saint Augustine grass include the following:

  • It is one of the best kinds of warm-season grass to grow in a location that has shade (in fact, Saint Augustine grass profits from a spot that offers dappled shade).
  • You do not have to mow it much.
  • Few pests bother it.

But Saint Augustine grass also has its cons, such as:

  • It does not hold up well to foot traffic; for high-traffic areas (including areas where you keep a dog), grow Bermuda grass instead.
  • It is not drought-tolerant.

The pros of zoysia grass include the following:

  • It is drought-tolerant.
  • It is another warm-season grass that tolerates shade.
  • It is more salt-tolerant than many kinds of grass.

But zoysia grass also has some cons, such as:

  • Like Saint Augustine grass, it is not good for high-traffic areas.
  • It is not tolerant at all in wet areas; for areas constantly damp, grow carpet grass, instead.

List of Cool-Season Grasses

In the central United States, the northern United States, and the most southerly provinces of Canada, you are more likely to see people growing cool-season grasses. These types often grow the most in the moderately cool temperatures of late spring and early fall. The heat of summer slows them down and can even cause them to go dormant. Examples of cool-season types of grass include:

Choosing a Cool-Season Grass

In the case of cool-season grasses, compare Kentucky bluegrass and creeping red fescue as an example of what issues you should be considering when trying to choose a cool-season grass.

The pros of Kentucky bluegrass include the following:

  • It is considered one of the loveliest lawn grasses. The blades having a dark color to them that accounts for the "blue" in the common name.
  • It also sports a soft texture that makes it pleasant to tread upon barefoot, in contrast to the rougher texture of tall fescue, in particular.
  • It holds up well to foot traffic.

Kentucky bluegrass does, however, have some cons, such as:

  • It lacks shade-tolerance.
  • It is not at all drought-tolerant.

The pros of creeping red fescue include the following:

  • It has some shade tolerance.
  • The seed germinates quickly.
  • It is one of the most cold-tolerant lawn grasses.

Creeping red fescue's drawbacks include these:

Do not forget that, in addition to lawn grasses, there are also ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses can also be classified according to warm-season and cool-season kinds.