If you want to grow a beautiful, green lawn, it pays to pick a species that is hardy, tough, and fully compatible with the climate in your region. While it certainly isn’t impossible to raise rare or high maintenance grass varieties, they require a lot more effort, and the chance of success is smaller. There is a good reason why experienced lawn pros tend to pick species that are close to home.
There are two categories of lawn grass called warm-season and cool-season. As you might imagine, these monikers refer to their desired climate. So, warm-season grasses prefer hotter, slightly drier conditions. They thrive in the south and are a common choice in states like Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama. The other defining feature of warm-season grasses is the fact that they have a dormant period.
This means that they enter a kind of hibernation during the colder months. It can be a frustrating time for property owners because the grass loses its lush green color and turns brown. While this doesn’t mean that the lawn has died (it should still be cared for), it can look a little unsightly. The good news is that it springs right back to full health and color as soon as temperatures start to rise.
This changeability is a double-edged sword for homeowners. On the one hand, it showcases the amazing ability of these grasses to survive winter and re-emerges just as strong as ever. On the other, it makes it tricky to tell if a lawn is getting the care that it needs while it’d dormant. The good news is that, with the support of a local lawn care service, you don’t have to worry. You’ll be assisted by a team of experts who can mow, fertilize, and provide weed control at just the right times.
Different Varieties of Warm-Season Grass
There is a long list of warm-season grasses, but lawns in the southeast tend to come in around ten different varieties. We’re going to talk about some of the most common. They include zoysia, Bermuda, St. Augustine, centipede, carpet grass, buffalo grass, and bahiagrass. If you want to identify the grass type in your garden, ask for advice from a lawn service because these companies handle a wide variety of species.
There are three main species of zoysia grass. They are Japanese lawn grass (japonica), Mascarene grass, and Manila grass. Japonica is the most common in hot weather states like Georgia because it is extremely hardy. The blades are rigid and strong, so they stand up remarkably well under pressure. This is one of the reasons why zoysia is often recommended for family gardens and sports pitches. Some of the most popular varieties of zoysia grass sold by sod farms include emerald, zeon, el toro, empire turf, and Meyer.
It is unlikely to be damaged by vigorous activity. It can also survive with minimal water and maintenance. In fact, zoysia lawns routinely thrive on just an inch of rainwater per week, though they do prefer more. If you’re looking for a grass that can almost take care of itself, zoysia is for you. It grows slowly but can be very thick depending on the variety. The downside of this is that it takes a long time for zoysia to develop from seed. Zoysia should be laid out as sod. Seeding is difficult. Do not re-seed established zoysia.
Bermuda is another tough lawn grass. It is lighter in color than zoysia but no less resilient. It comes in two types – Common Bermuda and Hybrid Bermuda. Both have a tendency to creep and can be very invasive, but Hybrid Bermuda has had some of these qualities tempered. The story with this species is, frankly, that you can always have too much of a good thing. It grows at a rapid rate, which is a helpful characteristic when it comes to seeding and repair.
The problem is that it doesn’t stop at your lawn. If not carefully controlled, Bermuda makes its way into flower beds, snakes across paths, and causes a bit of nuisance. It is less of an issue if you have a team who can assist you with lawn maintenance. When you have help with mowing and weed control, it is easier to keep your Bermuda in check. There are many benefits because the grass offers high levels of drought and wear resistance.
While St. Augustine shares some of the resilience and toughness of zoysia and Bermuda, it isn’t very tolerant of foot traffic. It also finds it very difficult to survive in temperatures of less than ten degrees Fahrenheit, even if it’s just overnight. As it grows fast, it requires frequent mowing, and thatch can be an issue. For this reason, St. Augustine grasses should be carefully monitored and maintained when used for residential lawns.
The variety is vulnerable to iron deficiency. You can see this in lawns which have started to yellow during the summer before the dormant period has begun. Fortunately, a good lawn treatment is usually all that’s needed to fix this. Adding a high-quality iron-based fertilizer helps facilitate the distribution of minerals and restores a healthy green color. The benefits of St. Augustine are that it requires minimal water, and it is both shade and salt tolerant.
Centipede grass is a low, slow-growing variety with a medium texture and a dense consistency. It is very popular with gardeners in the southeast because it is good at adapting to harsh soil conditions. Even when the ground is sandy or acidic, centipede grass has the ability to thrive. It is less tolerant of iron deficiencies, so keep this in mind when testing your soil. The optimal pH balance is between 5 and 6. Any higher and growth is impeded.
An important thing to understand about this grass is that it doesn’t enter the same type of dormancy as other warm-season species. While it does have some capacity to bounce back from cold conditions, it is much more vulnerable. It is, specifically, the transition between cold and warm seasons, which seems to cause the grass so much trouble. Adapting so quickly depletes its resources. Therefore, centipede grass is better suited to very mild climates.
This variety is a less common choice, particularly for lawns. This is mostly because it just doesn’t look as attractive as zoysia or centipede. The leaves are broad and squat, and it grows close to the ground. It is rarely used as the main component of a lawn, but it does work remarkably well as a nurse crop for late germinating species. It is also a helpful addition to sections of a garden which collect rain because it has a tolerance for moist soil.
Generally, most lawn care companies will tell you that carpet grass isn’t a high-quality option. Nevertheless, it remains valuable in instances where ease of development is the top priority. If you have quite acidic soil and don’t want to apply regular treatments to correct it, this variety is one that can survive there. Soil conditions as low as pH 4.5 to 5.5 are all suitable, but it does need a lot of sunlight.
The first thing to know about buffalo grass is that it is extremely heat tolerant. It grows in many parts of Mexico, as well as across the Great Plains. It got its name because it was one of the grasses which supported the enormous herds of buffalo which once wandered the region. The early settlers also used it for building houses, so it has a lot of cultural importance for the United States.
The big benefit of growing this variety is that it is almost unbeatable. It can withstand some very extreme environmental conditions. The only real reason why it doesn’t still cover much of the Great Plains is that it was overgrazed. It is also vulnerable to heavy traffic, so it isn’t suitable for sports fields or gardens which see a lot of physical activity. Buffalo grass is well adapted to alkaline soils (even clay) and, in times of drought, it retreats into dormancy.
Finally, Bahia grass is a low to mid maintenance choice for lawns. Like buffalo grass, it has a surprising ability to survive in extreme climates. To be specific, this is one of few kinds of grass which has no trouble cycling back and forth between drought and rain. This would kill most species, but Bahia uses its deep roots to make the most of the soil conditions.
It is a common sight in built-up areas, beside busy roads, because it is very tolerant to wear and traffic. There are two types of Bahia grass – Argentine and Pensacola. Of the two, Argentine is more popular, as it has a darker green color. Keep in mind the fact that Argentine is more sensitive to cold weather, so it is better suited to warm regions.
Sod or Seed?
If you want to have a beautiful lawn you want to make sure the area the grass will be planted gets enough sun for the exact variety you are considering. It is highly recommended that if you want a durable lawn, you will want to purchase pre-grown sod and lay it out like a carpet. We recommend that the only lawns in Georgia that should be seeded are fescue. All other lawns should be sodded with either zoysia or Bermuda warm-season grass.
Trying to seed and grow warm-season grasses is difficult because the grass grows and spreads like a carpet. All of the varieties described can be grown from seed, though some may take much longer than others. Zoysia, for instance, is a slow-developing species and you will not find lawn care services using zoysia seed. The same thing goes for Bermuda.
If you don’t want to pay for higher cost sod, using grass seeds to plant warm-season grasses is feasible, but you will need a great deal of patience for it to grow and develop. Just make sure that you buy high-quality seeds, from a reputable supplier. Three of the most popular manufacturers are Scotts, Pennington, and Sta-Green.
The best place to find seed products from these manufacturers is at large home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. They stock a varied range of grass types, from fast-growing Bermuda to slower, tougher choices like centipede grass. When you get your seeds home, read the instructions provided and, where possible, seek advice from your lawn maintenance team. Careful, precise sowing is essential for the success of your lawn.
How to Care for Warm Season Grasses
How you care for and maintain your lawn will depend on which type of warm-season grass you choose to raise. As we have seen, they all have slightly different needs. However, from a general perspective, you’ve got to mow, fertilize, and provide weed control regularly or hire a lawn care service to do it for you.
Mowing warm season grasses can be tricky and can damage a lawn or make it look unsightly if it is not done correctly. It is very easy to cut too short and put the grass at risk of weeds and disease. So, take care and avoid mowing any shorter than an inch. Similarly, try not to over-water as this can stunt root growth and be a catalyst for fungal overgrowth. Successful lawn maintenance is all about vigilance. Providing too much attention can be just as deadly as giving too little. Observe, monitor, and provide what your lawn needs, and you are on your way to having a healthy, green lawn.