Maintenance isn't the only thing you should consider, either. Turf grasses are designed for specific applications. Weather plays a big part in the types of grasses that will do well where you live. Grasses are broken into categories based on how well they fare in different areas of the United States and are typically separated into three broad categories or zones: cool, warm or transitional.
Once you know your lawn zone, you'll be able to refine your grass selection based on that and other factors that relate to your specific circumstances, like how much work you want to put into mowing, fertilizing, watering, thatching and other lawn-related tasks. The overall makeup of your landscape and the look you want to create are important, too. Most lawns are made up of different grasses that work well in combination. A lawn seed mix might include some grasses that flourish in bright sunlight and others that are suited for the shady areas under trees. Buying a compatible mix will let you incorporate some grasses that will thrive in the shade cast by your oak tree while that sunny afternoon spot next to your mailbox will have coverage, too.
On the following pages, we'll look at 10 popular lawn grasses. No single grass variety is all things to all landscapes, but each of these grasses has something to recommend it and may be just the grass you need to increase the curb appeal of your home, cover an embankment without needing weekly mowing in summer, or spruce up a tree lawn that needs a sturdy grass that can stand up to foot traffic.
A native to the North American plains, buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) is a good warm season candidate for problem lawns. It's very drought-tolerant and prefers dry conditions. It will stand up to high heat and typically requires only occasional mowing and little or no fertilizing. Buffalo grass is an effective lawn grass for arid locations. It's also a good plant for problem spots that are hard to access, like steep slopes or behind outbuildings, or that experience regular foot traffic, like tree lawns.
No grass variety comes without some drawbacks. With buffalo grass, the biggest downside to planting it in your lawn is that it isn't the most beautiful grass around. It can turn brown in weather extremes and doesn't have that emerald green color most people associate with a superior lawn. Newer cultivars, cultivated strains of basic stock, are greener and more attractive than the buffalo grass the early settlers used to build their sod houses.
A sturdy, warm season grass, carpet grass (Axonopus fissifolius) is disease- and insect-resistant, fills in quickly and creates a dense, wear-resistant mat. It prefers acidic, well-drained soil and regular watering. Carpet grass is a Gulf Coast, heat-loving native that can't tolerate freezing temperatures. It does well in sun or shade and will survive boggy conditions better than many other grass options.
Typically used as a utility grass because it grows fast and makes a dense mat that chokes out weeds, carpet grass can be an effective ground cover, but it's no beauty. It's coarse, uniformly pale green and produces seed heads very readily. Like buffalo grass, carpet grass can be used as a fill in for problem areas where children play or that see regular traffic.
Perennial Rye Grass
If you use your lawn for roughhousing and other outdoor activities, perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne) may be the answer to your prayers. A native to Europe, Northern Africa and parts of Asia, this grass is perfect for heavy soils that tend to stay wet after a rain. If you live in a temperate location that gets consistent rainfall, or you're willing to give it regular watering during dry spells, this cool season grass may be just right for you. It's a workhorse that can take some real punishment. It establishes itself quickly, is pest-resistant, and covers evenly to create a dense, dependable mat that discourages weed growth.
Some newer cultivars of perennial rye grass have attractive narrow blades that are a brilliant emerald green and can withstand mildly shady conditions. Like a number of other grasses on this list, cultivation has led to advancements in the original rye grass stock, resulting in more versatile and less demanding strains.
A beautiful, fine-bladed, tufted grass that takes lots of tender loving care, bent grass (Agrostis Spp.) is often included in luxury lawn seed mixes. When you see the rolling lawns of English country estates in the movies or admire those lush golf course putting greens, you're probably looking at bent grass. Although it's available in a number of varieties, bent grass is typically the demanding princess of the cool season grasses. Its detractors will say that it's more work than it's worth, but there's a visceral appeal to the narrow blades and vivid color of this traditional English grass.
Bent grass establishes itself slowly, but if you're willing to put in the time mowing and maintaining it, it will eventually fill in to create a dense, verdant and impressive lawn. You'll have to water, fertilize and mow it often, though. It will also require regular treatment with pesticides to keep it healthy and happy. Of the bent grasses, colonial bent grass is the lowest-maintenance variety and thrives in cool, coastal locations.
If you're looking for a low-maintenance lawn that adjusts well to poor soil, consider using centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides). A warm season grass with poor cold tolerance, centipede grass is a slow grower that needs less frequent mowing than some of the more showy grasses. A light feeder, once established, centipede grass creates a dense, light green mat that discourages weeds and is naturally disease resistant. It's a good choice for a utilitarian lawn that doesn't see much wear and tear. If you think of gardening as a necessary evil, this may be the grass for you.
On the downside, centipede grass is sensitive to salt and can't tolerate alkaline conditions. It may require the addition of sand and iron as soil amendments as well. After a little preparation when you first establish your lawn, centipede grass is a carefree choice for the lazy or indifferent gardener.
St. Augustine Grass
A robust, warm season grass, St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) forms a thick, dark green carpet that can stand up to wear. It's a coarse grass with broad blades that establishes itself quickly. The coarse texture of the grass makes it a compromise choice, but St. Augustine grass has some powerful advantages in the yard. Because it's robust and grows fast, St. Augustine grass naturally discourages weed growth. It will flourish in shady spots better than almost any other warm season grass and survive hot temperatures, too. It's also salt-tolerant.St. Augustine grass isn't an ideal choice, though. It requires regular watering to retain its vivid, deep green color, and it's a heavy feeder, which means it will need to be fertilized frequently and mowed at least weekly during the summer months. It also tends to build up thatch that will have to be thinned out periodically. Older varieties of St. Augustine grass have been plagued with disease problems, including St. Augustine grass decline (SAD), but newer cultivars are much more disease-resistant than older strains.
Love it or hate it, Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.), a hardy, warm season turf grass, can have a productive place in your lawn. Even though you might hate its habit of sending out persistent runners that can get under, over or around just about anything, you really have to admire the consistent work ethic of this robust grass. It can take an enormous amount of wear and tear and still survive. It will grow in almost any type of soil, and newer hybrids are drought, cold and disease resistant. Bermuda grass is a staple of Southern gardens, and with some containment to keep it from encroaching on other areas of the yard it will grow a thick mat that can survive many years of heavy use and intermittent neglect. For the best results, thatch Bermuda grass regularly and keep it watered to avoid yellowing.
Although Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) is associated with the state of Kentucky, it's not native to the state famous for horseracing and rolling, blue tinged pastureland. The origin of Kentucky bluegrass is disputed, with one camp claiming that it's native to some areas of the United States, like Utah, while others insist that the colonists first brought it to North America to serve as feed for livestock. Wherever it originally came from, this cool season grass is a favorite with lawn enthusiasts.
One of the first grasses to be used in lawns in the United States, Kentucky bluegrass is a fine bladed grass with vivid greenish-blue coloration. It creates a dense turf that's naturally cold resistant. Newer cultivars have expanded the range and applications for this grass by making it less susceptible to disease and more tolerant of extended dry spells. You can also find cultivars that will tolerate moderate shade. Rough bluegrass (Poa trivialis), a close relation to Kentucky bluegrass, has some of the vivid coloration of its better known relative, but fares better in wetter locations or where conditions are predominantly shady.
A dense grass that can tolerate sun and shade, tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a cool season plant that can extend into transitional locations across the country. It's a favorite with folks who want a low-maintenance yard that looks like they spend more time on it than they actually do. Although tall fescue prefers mild temperatures, it's adaptable, drought tolerant and doesn't require regular feeding. It can stand up to foot traffic, and modern cultivars are hardy and free of pest problems.
Older tall fescue varieties were less attractive than today's stock, with a weedy, light green appearance. If you haven't seen some of the newer incarnations of this grass, don't discount it without checking them out. Narrow bladed, brilliant green and requiring only moderate feeding, modern tall fescues are a good choice for gardeners who want a nice looking lawn but don't want to spend long hours working in the garden.
If you've ever dreamed of a lawn that looks more like a lush pile carpet than a conglomeration of mingled grasses, you'll love fine fescue. A constituent in many premier lawn seed and turf mixes, fine fescue is a cool season grass that establishes itself quickly and comes in a number of varieties with their on distinct characteristics. Less aggressive than other grasses in a premium seed mixture, monitor fine fescue to make sure it isn't being overrun by more aggressive species.
Chewing Fescue (Festuca rubra commutata) -- A good choice for cooler climates and shady areas, chewing fescue is a low maintenance option for low traffic areas and for use in locations with poor soil conditions.
Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) -- A drought- and wear-tolerant choice, red fescue likes a cool climate and can fade when it gets too hot. It often grows in sparsely and should be part of a grass mixture that includes Kentucky bluegrass or another denser turf grass variety.
Hard Fescue (Festuca longifolia) -- Hardy and drought-tolerant, hard fescue is disease resistant and can survive salt contamination, making it a good grass for areas near salt treated roads.