Identify Your Grass
There are about a dozen different grasses, and most lawns contain a mixture of them. Find yours.
Although the grass may be greener on your side of the fence (if not, here’s help with that), turfgrasses are not all alike.
That, says our resident lawn and garden expert Ashton Ritchie, is why some yards are brown in winter and some are green.
One of the best examples of different grass types can be found on a golf course or playing field. Look closely and you’ll notice that the turf in some areas is markedly different in color and texture than other areas.
There are about a dozen different grasses, and most lawns contain a mixture of them. In some cases, like dichondra, your lawns may not be a grass at all. Usually, though, lawns fall into one of these two types:
- Warm season grasses that thrive in warm-weather regions, such as the Southern United States.
- Cool season grasses that do best with extreme temperature fluctuations, such as those found in the North, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest.
It’s important to know your grass type so you can take the best possible care of your lawn. For example, if you pick a Northern weed control for a Southern lawn, you could actually harm it and then, yikes, you’ve got a problem, Houston.
Scroll through these types of lawns to find yours.
Bentgrass can be found on most golf courses in the Northern U.S. It can be mowed as low as 1/10" and makes an ideal surface for putting greens and fairways. Even when mowed very low, it forms a dense turf with a very fine-textured feel. The costs to maintain a home lawn of bentgrass can be very costly due to the fungicides, insecticides, fertilizer, and expensive mowing equipment it requires. It also needs frequent watering - almost daily. Unlike other Northern types, it grows by an extensive production of stolons (above ground).
Blade: Narrow, flat
Color/Texture: Soft, dense
Growth: Low, 1/10"
Popularity: Northern golf courses
Bermuda grass makes for a nice home lawn because it can tolerate a very low mowing height, which is also a reason it is widely used on golf courses in the South. It spreads by both stolons (above ground) and rhizomes (below ground), which helps it to form a thick, dense turf. It is usually found in the South, but may grow as far north as Kansas City. Its maintenance requirements (fertilizing, watering, mowing) are high.
Blade: Sharp, pointed, 1/8” wide
Color/Texture: Deep green, dense
Growth: Close cut, high quality
Popularity: Central U.S.
Centipede grass spreads above the ground through stolons and forms a dense turf. Because it grows horizontally, it requires less mowing and is easy to edge around garden beds and sidewalks. It is found throughout the warm-humid areas of the South. It does not grow well in hot, dry areas and will die if not supplied with adequate moisture. However, it requires less fertilizer than other warm-season types.
Carpet grass, while a very different species, needs the same care and looks very similar in a lawn to centipede except that it produces a crabgrass-like seed head, and does not have hairs along the edges of the leaves.
Blade: Pointed with notch
Color/Texture: Light green, dense, soft
Growth: Grows low, almost horizontal to the ground
Water: Less than average; will go dormant quickly during a drought
Popularity: Southeast U.S.
Mainly found in California and Arizona, dichondra is often used for home lawns since it can be mowed like grass, and it forms a pleasing, dense turf. The leaves spread opposite of each other along creeping stems. It requires a constant supply of fertilizer, and is often attacked by insects and diseases.
Blade: Round leaves
Color/Texture: Pale to bright green, dense
Growth: Broadleaf species; mow like grass
Popularity: Arizona & California
The name "fine fescue" is actually a collective term for the various species of grasses in this group: red, chewings, hard, and sheep. Like the name implies, they are very fine textured with needle-like blades. Fine fescues are popular because of their shade tolerance. However, they do not tolerate heat and dry conditions.
Blade: Hair-like, fine tip, 1/16” or less
Color/Texture: Dull or gray-green, soft
Water: Above average
Popularity: Northeast to North Central U.S. (depending on species)
Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most popular types in the North. It has a deep, green color and excellent texture. It grows well from seed, and is a popular choice for sod farms in the North. It grows from a very extensive system of rhizomes, underground stems that produce new plants. However, it does not grow well in deep shade.
Blade: V-shaped, pointed, 1/8” wide
Color/Texture: Darker green, soft
Growth: Aggressive, via rhizomes
Popularity: Northern favorite, sod farms
Ryegrass is easy to spot in a lawn due to its shine. Also, it leaves a "whitish" cast when mowed. It is a bunchgrass, which germinates quickly and is often found in seed mixtures with Kentucky bluegrass. It is primarily found in cool-season areas of the North, but may not survive as far north as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada.
Blade: Pointed, visible veins, 1/8” wide
Color/Texture: Dark green, soft
Growth: Quick, bunch type
Popularity: Mid- to North U.S.
ST. AUGUSTINE GRASS/FLORATAM
St. Augustine grass is best suited to warm-arid regions such as Florida and the Gulf Coast region. Occasionally, it will be found in areas of California. It is not at all tolerant of cold temperatures, and requires plenty of moisture for survival. It is a very coarse-textured type that grows via above-ground stolons that can reach several feet. It has very broad blades compared to other grasses, with a rounded tip. It is often referred to as "Floratam," which is a variety of St. Augustine grass.
Blade: Broad with rounded tip, 1/4” wide
Color/Texture: Dark green, coarse, spongy
Growth: Slow, from sod or plugs
Popularity: Southern favorite
Typically a cool-season type, tall fescue can also be found in hotter regions due to its ability to tolerate heat. It is a bunchgrass often used in athletic fields because it can withstand heavy use and foot traffic. In some lawns, patches of tall fescue may stick out and appear as a grassy weed. It grows in bunches, and is therefore not used very often in seed mixes.
Blade: Pointed, visible veins, 3/16” wide
Color/Texture: Dark green, coarse, stiff
Popularity: All regions
Zoysia grass forms a lawn that feels like a thick, prickly carpet. Zoysia is found mostly in and from the middle part of the U.S. and east toward the Carolinas. It can also be found in the North, but will turn brown once the weather turns cold. It is very slow-growing—it can take more than a year to establish a lawn of zoysia grass. It has stiff leaf blades and will produce numerous seed heads if it isn't mowed.
Blade: Narrow, needle-like
Color/Texture: Prickly, stiff, carpet-like
Popularity: Mid U.S., East to the Carolinas
The majority of Northern lawns are a combination of Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescues. Kentucky bluegrass will form the nicest lawn, but it has a very low shade tolerance. Ryegrass can tolerate heavy foot traffic, but does not tolerate extreme cold or drought conditions. Fescues (both tall and fine) are often found in mixes due to their tolerance of shade, foot traffic, cold, and drought. When combined correctly, these types will form a dense turf that is acceptable for most Northern lawns in the U.S.
Blade: Thin, tall
Color/Texture: Soft with coarse mix, dense
Growth: Average to tall, via rhizomes
Popularity: Most Northern lawns
For more information and related articles, visit our Grass and Grass Seed section.