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The Best Types of Grass for Your Southern Lawn

The Grass is Always Greener on These Lush Lawns

When it comes to choosing the right grass for your lawn, it’s essential to consider the growing conditions of your region. Grasses can be broadly categorized into warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses, each with specific preferences for climate, sunlight, water, maintenance, and optimal cutting height. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of grasses, their preferred conditions, growing zones, and recommended cutting heights.


Warm-Season Grasses:

Warm-season grasses are ideal for regions with hot summers and mild winters. They exhibit optimal growth during warm weather and often go dormant or turn brown in the winter months. Here are some popular warm-season grass species and their preferred conditions:


Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge):

  • Description: Bahiagrass is a drought-tolerant grass with coarse blades commonly used for lawns.
  • Preferred Conditions: It requires frequent mowing and lots of sunlight. It is better suited for inland planting rather than coastal areas due to its sensitivity to salty sea spray.
  • Growing Zone: 7-10
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2-3 inches
  • Selections: ‘Argentine’ is resistant to pests and disease, while ‘Pensacola’ and ‘Tifton-9’ are highly drought tolerant.

Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon & Cynodon transvaalensis):

  • Description: Bermudagrass is a popular warm-season grass often seen on golf courses. It can be mowed to very low, uniform heights.
  • Preferred Conditions: It is drought- and heat-tolerant and thrives in full sun. It requires regular watering, fertilizing, and mowing to maintain its best appearance.
  • Growing Zone: 7-10
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 0.5-1.5 inches
  • Selections: ‘FloraTex’ needs less water and fertilizer, while ‘Yuma’ grows densely and tolerates heat and drought.

Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides):

  • Description: Buffalograss is a hardy and low-maintenance warm-season grass that tolerates drought well.
  • Preferred Conditions: It prefers sunny locations and does not typically survive in shade. Minimal fertilizer is required, and it needs mowing only three times a year to maintain a thick turf.
  • Growing Zone: 3-9
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2-3 inches
  • Selections: ‘Top Gun’ is cold hardy and has a great appearance in summer, while ‘609’ forms a thick carpet and has no unsightly seed heads.

Carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis):

  • Description: Carpetgrass is a warm-season grass that can thrive in coastal and tropical regions.
  • Preferred Conditions: It requires moderate shade tolerance and ample water. It grows best in wet, acidic soil and is not well-suited for areas with little water or infrequent maintenance.
  • Growing Zone: 8-9
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2-3 inches
  • Related Species: Broadleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus compressus), Common carpetgrass (Axonopus fissifolius)

Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides):

  • Description: Centipedegrass is a warm-season grass that thrives in hot and humid climates.
  • Preferred Conditions: It tolerates some shade and grows best in acid soil with abundant water but requires minimal fertilization. It is known for its easy establishment and low-maintenance nature
  • Growing Zone: 7-8
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 1.5-2 inches
  • Selections: ‘Oaklawn’ and ‘Tennessee Hardy’ are cold hardy, while ‘AU Centennial’ grows densely and tolerates neutral and alkaline soil.

Seashore Paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum):

  • Description: Seashore Paspalum is a warm-season grass native to sandy coastal soils.
  • Preferred Conditions: It is tolerant of salt spray, making it suitable for coastal lawns. While drought-tolerant, it requires abundant watering during establishment.
  • Growing Zone: 7-10
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 1-2 inches
  • Selections: ‘Sea Isle 2000’ resembles hybrid bermudagrass and has greater cold weather tolerance.

St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum):

  • Description: St. Augustinegrass is a warm-season grass suitable for tropical and sub-tropical areas.
  • Preferred Conditions: It tolerates light shade, various soil types, and salty sea breezes. It requires regular watering and occasional fertilization.
  • Growing Zone: 8-10
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2.5-4 inches
  • Selections: ‘Bitterblue’ is extremely shade tolerant, ‘Palmetto’ is drought tolerant, and ‘Raleigh’ is cold hardy.

Zoysiagrass (Zoysia sp.):

  • Description: Zoysiagrass is a heat- and drought-tolerant grass popular in the South due to its toughness.
  • Preferred Conditions: It tolerates light shade and grows slowly and densely, effectively preventing weed growth. It requires regular maintenance and thrives in the Southern climate.
  • Growing Zone: 5-10
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 1-2 inches
  • Selections: ‘Emerald’ grows densely and transitions from medium green in summer to an attractive beige in winter. ‘Meyer’ zoysia (Z. japonica ‘Meyer’) thrives in the Upper South, while ‘Belaire’ and ‘El Toro’ are more cold hardy and establish quickly.

Cool-Season Grasses:

Cool-season grasses are suitable for regions with cooler climates and can withstand frost and freezing temperatures better than warm-season grasses. Here are some popular cool-season grass species and their preferred conditions:

Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis):

  • Description: Kentucky Bluegrass is a cool-season grass found in cooler parts of the Upper and Middle South.
  • Preferred Conditions: It requires significant maintenance, including regular watering and fertilizing. It thrives in cool weather but is not tolerant of high heat and drought without extensive irrigation.
  • Growing Zone: 2-7
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Selections: ‘Adelphi’ and ‘Parade’ are resistant to disease, while ‘Glade’ and ‘Touchdown’ tolerate shade well.

Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne):

  • Description: Perennial Ryegrass is a cool-season grass known for its quick germination and glossy appearance.
  • Preferred Conditions: It tolerates cold weather and shade and spreads slowly. Recent improvements have led to selections with reduced clumping and tough seed stems.
  • Growing Zone: 3-8
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Selections: ‘Derby,’ ‘Loretta,’ ‘Manhattan’

Fine Fescue (Festuca sp.):

  • Description: Fine Fescue is a group of cool-season grasses known for their shade tolerance and low maintenance requirements.
  • Preferred Conditions: It grows well in cooler climates and shaded areas with acidic soil. It is drought tolerant and requires minimal fertilizer.
  • Growing Zone: 2-7
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2-3 inches
  • Selections: ‘Hard Fescue’ (F. brevipila), ‘Chewings Fescue’ (F. rubra commutata), ‘Creeping Red Fescue’ (F. rubra rubra), ‘Sheep Fescue’ (F. ovina)

Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea):

  • Description: Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass with broad, coarse blades that provide a dense and durable turf.
  • Preferred Conditions: It tolerates a wide range of soil types, drought, and high traffic. It requires less water and maintenance compared to other cool-season grasses.
  • Growing Zone: 3-7
  • Optimal Cutting Height: 2-3.5 inches
  • Selections: ‘Titan’ has superior heat and drought tolerance, ‘Kentucky 31’ is an economical choice, ‘Rebel’ has good disease resistance.

Remember, the optimal cutting height provided for each grass type is a general guideline. Adjustments may be necessary depending on the specific conditions of your lawn and personal preferences.

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