There are many different types of grasses that grow in North America. However, not all lawn grass types are created equal. The type of grass you have growing in your yard will determine what color it is year-round, the texture it has, how easy it is to maintain, and plays a big role in the general look of your lawn and the curb appeal of your home.
Many lawns actually contain a mixture of grasses (or may not even be grass at all). Whether you are picking a new variety of turfgrass to grow or trying to identify what type of grass is in your lawn right now, I’ll explain a lot about the different types of grass that are common in North American lawns.
In the article below, I’ll share how to identify lawn grasses, the characteristics of each one, and how to pick a grass that is well-suited to your climate and maintenance goals.
Let’s jump right in!
How to Determine Your Ideal Lawn Grass Variety
In order to take the best care of your lawn, you will need to understand what type of grass you have (or should have).
There are a few items to examine and steps to take to better understand this.
Grass Growing Regions
Your location will help to provide the first clue into what type of grass you have in your lawn.
Similar to fruits or flowers, grasses thrive in specific climates. Certain grasses are able to survive during the harsh winters of northern climates, while others prefer warmer temperatures and grow best during the heat or humidity of the deep south.
Most lawn grass types fall into one of two categories, with a third category worth noting:
- Warm Season Grasses
- Cool Season Grasses
There is also a transitional zone across the center of the United States where both types of grasses can grow, but not every type of grass should be grown in this region.
Referencing a grass zone map like this one can help you determine the ideal type of grass for your lawn.
There are ways to determine which type of turfgrass you should grow if you live in the transition zone.
More on those in a minute.
About Warm-Season Grass Types
These lawn grasses thrive in warm-weather regions, mainly in the Southern United States. These types of grass peak in growth during the hot summer months. In colder climates, these grasses will die over winter and turn brown.
Even in the south, warm season lawns will often go dormant (and appear dead) during the winter months.
The truth is that it can be more difficult to maintain warm-season grasses than cool-season grasses. They can be a bit needier, requiring properly fertilized soil in these climates to thrive. Also to watch out for fungus and disease.
Don’t skip these important lawn maintenance practices in the south or weeds , pests, or fungus could ruin your lawn.
It’s also challenging to choose which type to warm season grass to use for a new lawn, as many grow better if you start them from plugs or install sod rather than seed.
Cool-Season Grass Varieties
Generally grown in the North, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest, these lawn grass types do best when there are extreme temperature fluctuations.
Most of the common perennial lawn grasses you’ll find in the northern half of the United States are cool-season grasses. This is due to these areas having cold winters and hot summers.
Normally there are intervals of rain within summer months, and the grasses can tolerate extreme drought periods by going dormant.
These types of grasses are called cool-season grasses because their growth peak is during the cool seasons: fall and spring. They require more work and resources (water, fertilizer, iron) during the heat of summer if you want to keep them looking green from spring through late fall.
If you are wondering what type of grass you have, narrow your list by first identifying your growing zone.
And if you’re installing a new lawn, definitely choose a variety that will thrive in your area.
Turfgrass Transition Zone
The transition zone is an area between the two traditional growing zones noted above.
both northern and southern grasses may struggle here since your lawn isn’t technically in either zone, so you can expect to work harder to maintain a beautiful lawn no matter what type of grass you grow here.
Identifying your turfgrass type doesn’t have to be difficult, however – just think back to last season.
- If your lawn grew best during the cooler times of year you likely have a cool season grass.
- If your lawn grew best and greened-up during the summer, you likely have a warm season grass.
Normally these transition zones follow the lower elevations of Virginia and North Carolina and go west through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas as well as southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.
Many of the cool-season grasses happen to do well in these zones, particularly fescue – a grass known for its deep roots (which help it survive periods of heat and drought).
Observe Your Lawn’s Features
After you have determined which growing region you are in, and whether or not you have a warm or cool-season grass, next you can look at lawn features.
These features will help you either identify your existing lawn grass type, or choose a variety (or seed blend) that will work best for your lot.
How much shade and sun you have, whether the grass thins out under trees where there’s less water, and your soil type all come into play.
To Identify Your Turfgrass Variety
Try to look at the similarities as well as the differences between each of the common grasses in your lawn.
Different features can include
- growth habit, and
- touch and feel.
Some grass types even have varied blade types and tips such as sharp points, rounded edges or even boat-shaped ends.
Grass leaves are usually in a V-shape, folded, or circular shape. The growth rate of your grass can also give you a few clues to which type you have growing.
It is important to understand the difference between stolons and rhizomes as well if you have a grass type that spreads laterally to fill in bare patches.
- Stolons are above-ground stems, and
- Rhizomes are below-ground shoots.
Some lawn grass types use both of these propagation methods – an attractive feature which allows your lawn to quickly self-repair and maintain a thick canopy.
Cool-season Lawn Grass Types
Some of the most popular cool season lawn grass types include:
- Fine Fescue,
- Kentucky Bluegrass,
- Tall Fescue, and
- Blends of Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, and Fescue grasses.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these types of cool season turfgrass:
The name of this grass is a collective name of the different types of grass species that are within this group.
The four most common types of fine fescue are:
- red fescue,
- chewings fescue,
- hard fescue, and
- sheep fescue.
Fine fescue (as you may have guessed) gets its name from the fact that it is actually very fine-textured.
Fine fescue grass blades are almost needle-like, and grow to 1/16 of an inch in width or less. You’ll find Fine Fescue in seed mixes and the color of this grass is usually a soft or dull gray to green.
This is a very popular type of grass to include in seed mixes because it can tolerate a lot of shade, can take an above-average amount of water, and grows very fast.
Fine fescue grasses need to be grown somewhere that does not get increasingly hot or dry, which would usually include the Northeast to North Central parts of the US.
If you have stubborn shade areas under big trees where grass just doesn’t get enough light to grow – try seeding some fine fescue mixes there.
Even if you’re not a big lawn care aficionado, you’ve probably heard of Kentucky Bluegrass.
It’s one of the most popular types of grass in the North, and offers homeowners a deep green color and beautiful texture.
The blades of this grass are pointed in a V-shape and typically reach ⅛ of an inch wide, making it a popular choice for sod farms throughout the Northern US.
It is a medium to finely textured grass, and it’s a common ingredient in northern grass seed mixes.
This grass grows well from seed, though it’s one of the slower germinating cool season grasses. You may see it labeled as KBG.
This grass grows very aggressively from a system of rhizomes (underground stems that shoot off laterally below the soil’s surface to produce new plants).
One drawback to Kentucky Bluegrass is that it does not grow well in very shady areas.
Perennial Ryegrass is a beautiful, fast-growing type of lawn grass that is easy to identify and characterize due to its shine.
Ryegrass is a “bunchgrass”, which means that it germinates quickly and if often found in seed mixtures along with Kentucky Bluegrass.
It is also known as a great grass for overseeding in the South to maintain winter color.
In the North, it makes a great permanent lawn option, and it’s a satisfying type of grass to grow from seed because it germinates so quickly and grows so fast and well.
When mowing, it leaves a white cast behind, making it a good choice for achieving lawn stripes.
Ryegrass has pointed but visible veins with a ⅛ inch wide blade. One advantage is that it needs only an average amount of water, which makes it perfect for the cool season parts of the North, but often it will not survive the far north, such as Canada or Wisconsin.
Also, if you have issues with fungal disease, then this might be the grass for you.
This grass may seem familiar to you if you have ever been on a golf course in the Northern United States.
It has become a popular choice for golf courses due to the fact that it can be mowed as low as 1/10th of an inch and it will still feel extremely dense.
Bentgrass can be very expensive to maintain due to the need for fungicides, insecticides, fertilizer, and expensive mowing equipment.
It also needs a very large amount of watering and grows fully above ground. It’s high-maintenance all the way.
Although it is typically a cool-season type of grass, tall fescue can be found thriving in the transitional zone, and in hotter regions as well.
Tall Fescue is a versatile type of lawn grass that can handle heat because of its deep roots. In some lawns that are not primarily tall fescue, there may be patches of tall fescue that stick out and look as though it is a grassy weed.
This bunchgrass is popular in athletic fields. Tall fescue can withstand heavy use and foot traffic such as what you’ll find in competitive sports, but it’s also a great low maintenance grass for families, or yards with dogs.
The dark green and stiff textured grass grows in clumps, so it looks best when it is nice and thick (a thin lawn will look very patchy). Tall Fescue requires infrequent watering, but you’ll want to water deeply to really saturate the soil during periods of extreme drought.
The pointed blade of Tall Fescue has visible veins that grow to no more than 3/16 of an inch wide. You won’t see Tall Fescue grass in most grass seed blends because it grows in bunches and thus does not mix very well, though some turf type tall fescue varieties blend well with other grass types.
Northern Seed Blends: Kentucky Bluegrass, Ryegrass, Fescue
Interestingly enough, most Northern lawns are a combination of some of the popular cool season types of grass mentioned above.
Kentucky bluegrass, Ryegrass, and Fescues are often included in northern seed blends. Essentially, this helps you to establish a tough, resilient lawn that will grow well in a variety of conditions.
Kentucky bluegrass will generally form the nicest lawn but it has a very low shade tolerance. Ryegrass tolerates large amounts of foot traffic, but it cannot handle extreme cold or drought. Fescues tolerate shade as well as foot traffic, cold, and drought.
A seed blend allows you to seed all of these grasses over the entire yard, and the dominant grass for different light and growing conditions will take over in different areas of your property.
These seed mixes generally select grasses with similarity in the shade of green, so your lawn will still enjoy a consistent, uniform appearance.
When combined in the proper ratio, these three types of grass will form a dense and well-rounded turf with a blade that is thin and tall. You can grow these grasses in most Northern lawns throughout the United States with great results.
Your lawn will require average water and low maintenance when choosing a seed blend that’s built for your area.
Warm-Season Lawn Grass Types
The most popular types of grass for warm season lawns include:
- Bahia Grass,
- Bermuda Grass,
- Centipede Grass,
- Carpet Grass,
- St. Augustine Grass, and
- Zoysia Grass.
Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics and growth habit of each of these types of lawn grass.
If you live in a hot and humid area, then Bahia grass could thrive in your yard.
Bahia grass is extremely heat and drought tolerant. It also does well in sandy soil.
You’ll usually find it in lawns in the Southeastern U.S. The main problem with this lawn grass type is it often allows the growth of common lawn weeds.
Usually found in the South and as far north as Kansas City, Bermuda grass is known for being a nice home lawn. You may also see it used as excellent golf course turf.
It tolerates a low mowing height and forms a thick turf that spreads above as well as below ground.
With a deep green color, Bermuda Grass is beautiful but has high maintenance requirements. You’ll need to fertilize, mow, and water a lot with Bermuda Grass.
The blade of this type of lawn grass is sharp and pointed with a width of up to ⅛ of an inch.
Spreading above the ground, Centipede Grass forms a light green, dense, and soft turf. It strangely grows horizontally, which requires less mowing and makes it easy to place surrounding sidewalks.
Generally, Centipede Grass is found through warm and humid areas of the Southeastern US, but it does not grow well in hot and dry areas.
Centipede grass requires much less fertilizer than other warm-season types, but without a large amount of water, it will die.
Although this is a different species from Centipede Grass, they are actually similar in appearance.
Both of these kinds of grass need the same care. The main difference is that Carpet Grass produces a seed head similar to crabgrass. It also does not contain hairs at the edge of its leaves.
The blade of Carpet Grass is pointed with a notch and it grows very low.
One good aspect of Carpet Grass is that it needs less water than average and goes dormant quickly during a drought, so if your carpet grass lawn suddenly goes brown it may not be dead – just dormant.
Dichondra is actually not a grass, but it is a good choice for home lawns since it can be mowed like grass.
You’ll see it in California and Arizona because it thrives in dry climates where irrigation is frowned upon. Dichondra forms an aesthetically appealing, dense turf, making it an excellent lawn alternative if you have water restrictions and live in the southwestern US.
In Dichondra, the leaves spread opposite of each other with round leaf blades along the stems. It has a pale and bright green color.
One note – you may find that Dichondra requires a constant supply of fertilizer. This is because it is often attacked by insects and diseases.
St. Augustine Grass/Floratam
Mainly suited to warm and humid regions, such as Florida or the Gulf Coast, St. Augustine grass (also known as Floratam) is not tolerant of cold temperatures.
You can occasionally find St. Augustine grass in California, but this grass requires a lot of moisture to flourish, and with water restrictions now the norm in southern California, it may not be a great choice for that part of the country.
St. Augustine is a very coarse grass with a distinctive texture.
It spreads via above-ground stolons that can actually reach a few feet in length! The broad blades of this grass have a dark green color and rounded tip. It needs to be watered frequently and mowed only occasionally (since most of the growth is lateral).
Zoysia Grass is mostly found in and around the middle of the United States, and east toward North and South Carolina. It’s a great choice for much of the transitional zone.
You can find Zoysia in northern climates as well, but your Zoysia lawn will turn a brown color once the weather turns cold.
Unlike many other warm-season grasses, Zoysia Grass has both heat and cold tolerance. It also stays green for a longer part of the fall and becomes green earlier than most other grasses in the spring.
Zoysia Grass grows and spreads very slowly and can take one year or more to establish a full lawn. It’s frustrating to grow from seed, requires patience to grow from plugs, and is a popular choice for those planning to install sod.
The leaves of this grass have a very stiff, narrow, and needle-like blade, and Zoysia will produce seed heads if not mowed regularly.
Zoysia Grass forms a lawn that feels very thick and needs only an average amount of water to grow normally. It has a dense and spreading growth that makes it a grass that often requires dethatching.
The Dethatcher I Use & Recommend
For lawns up to a half acre there’s one clear choice when it comes to dethatching tools. I recommend The Greenworks 27022 10AMP Electric Dethatcher.
It works really well and will pay for itself after a few uses when compared to renting a power rake.
Once established, Zoysia is one of the most beautiful and pleasant types of grass for lawns.
If You are Having Trouble Identifying Your Lawn Grass
If you are still having trouble identifying your grass, then you have options.
You might contact your local county extension agent and bring in a sample. You may even have an agent willing to look at your lawn in person, but if not a sample will do.
Try to take a whole part of the grass from the root to the tip as well as a seed head if it is available. The more complete the sample, the easier it will be for your local extension agent to identify your turfgrass type.
After Identifying Your Lawn Grass
After you have identified the type of grass you have in your lawn, focus on improving the grass you have.
There is so much information available concerning water, temperature, sunlight, herbicide and fertilizer use, and shade requirements for different varieties of lawn grass. Take the time to educate yourself and you will be able to tailor your lawn care program to exactly what you need.
If you live in an area experiencing drought more often as the climate changes, or somewhere with high heat, then you may want to incorporate a different type of grass by aerating and overseeding your lawn to help shift the types of grass growing in your yard to match the evolving environmental conditions you’re experiencing.
By learning how to identify the grass you have in your lawn, you can properly care for it.
Every lawn is different. When you understand your growing zone and grass type, you can give your lawn the proper maintenance and care that it deserves to thrive.
Improving Your Lawn Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
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