What Types of Lawn Grasses Are There to Choose From?

Pros and Cons of Popular Warm-Season, Cool-Season Kinds

Tall fescue grass with its coarse leaves.
Tall fescue grass is a cool-season grass that can be grown in shade. 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. 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 we sometimes 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, stretching 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, Bermudagrass, 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 the warm weather. In order 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:

  • Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)
  • Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
  • Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis)
  • Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides)
  • St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
  • Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica, etc.)

Each of these categories can be broken down further by listing the different cultivars that are available. Take zoysiagrass, for example; cultivars of just one of the various types of zoysiagrass (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, we can compare St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass.

The pros of St. Augustinegrass include the following:

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

But St. Augustinegrass 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 Bermudagrass, instead.
  • It is not drought-tolerant.

The pros of zoysiagrass include the following:

But zoysiagrass also has some cons, such as:

  • Like St. Augustinegrass, it is not good for high-traffic areas.
  • It is not tolerant at all of wet areas; for areas constantly damp, grow carpetgrass, 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 kinds 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, we will 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.