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How to Choose the Best Grass Seed

timothy grass

There are so many reasons to love grass. A homeowner might want soft grass for the lawn, ornamental grass in the garden, grass with strong roots for erosion control, pasture for livestock, weed-suppressing ground covers, or even grass for a nutrient-boosting cover crop. So which gras is best for each use? Different grasses thrive in different regions, climates, with varying light requirements and soil needs. With all these factors in mind, we can help you choose the best grass seed for your next project.

Understanding Cool Season and Warm Season Grasses

best grass seed
Orchard Grass is a versatile crop that prevents soil erosion, is regarded as one of the best forage grasses, AND provides habitats and safety for birds throughout the year.

Cool season grasses grow most actively between 60°F and 75°F. Northern regions that have a cool spring and autumn, with cold winters and moderate summers are dominated by cool season grasses. Cool season grasses will go dormant in the extreme summer heat, and winter when soil temperatures are consistently below 50°F.

Warm season grasses thrive in summer temperatures between 80°F and 95°F. These grasses dominate in southern regions. Warm season grasses will go dormant in cold winter temperatures. 

For the most part, grasses are mixed in the landscape -- northern regions don't only have cool season grasses, and southern regions don't only have warm season grasses. When selecting new seed for your project, cool versus warm season grasses will give you a helpful starting point, so you can plan around when you'll see most growth from your grasses.

A great way to get around the warm vs. cool debate is to choose a native grass seed mix. Going native often involves less maintenance, and because the grass adapted to its particular location over a long period of time, it often does very well with little attention. See our Regional Native Grass Seed Mixes below!

Choosing The Best Grass Seed for Your Region

Native Grass Seed Mixes

Grass Seed for Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest Regions:

Cool season grasses dominate these northern regions. They green up faster in the spring and stay green longer through the autumn, tolerating the cool temperatures and mild frosts. Keep in mind that if the summer temperatures spike and there is a lack of water, these cool season grasses will go dormant. This is the cause of “browning out” on lawns in the heat of summer. With supplemental watering in the peak of summer, however, this dormancy can be avoided. If you don’t supplement watering, don’t worry! Your lawn will green up again once the temperatures cool and the grass comes out of dormancy.

The best time to plant cool season grasses is when the air temperature is 65-70°. Planting in the spring when the temperature reaches 60°F, or planting in the autumn when the days start cool down to 75°F, are both effective times of year to plant. Tthe germination will be very poor if planted in the middle of summer.

Native Grass Seed Mixes

Best Grass Seed for Southeast, Southwest, and Western Regions:

Southern regions are dominated by warm season grasses. These are tough and drought-resistant grasses that don’t need a ton of supplemental watering to thrive in the heat. Warm season grasses go dormant in the winter and can turn a beige or straw-color. In areas with mild winters, warm season grasses will stay green later into the fall and will green up earlier in the spring.

The best time to plant warm season grasses is late spring to early summer. When daytime temperatures reach about 80°, the grass will germinate quickly and have the best chance at establishing successfully.

Find the native grass seed mix that's perfect for your region!

Lawn and Turf Grasses

Bluegrasses, ryegrasses, and fescues are the most reliable grasses for turf. When choosing to seed turf, blended seed mixes are the best option. This allows your lawn to have many different species – a ‘polyculture’, instead of acting as a ‘monoculture’ where only one variety is present. Polycultures, or mixed-species plantings, offer the most resilience, and the best defense against pests and disease.

Having a blend of grasses in your lawn also allows different grasses to dominate in the areas that they are best suited to within your lawn. For example, over time shade-loving grasses will dominate the edges and under trees, while the sun-lovers will start do the same in open areas, creating a landscape that is green and thriving in all locations!

Lawn and Turf Grasses for Cool Climates

Low Work and Water Dwarf Fescue Grass Seed, is a great option for turfgrass in these northern regions. With its blend of fescue varieties, it creates a lush lawn with very little maintenance required.

Another option for your lawn is No Mow Lawn Grass Seed, which blends six different short fescues. These grasses grow very slowly and lush. If you want to avoid mowing, it will give you a soft and waving lawn about 4-6 inches tall. To keep it more formal, mowing only has to occur every 4 to 6 weeks due to the slow growth rate.

Hard Fescue Grass Seeds are ideal for those areas that the mower can’t reach. With a beautiful emerald green color and slow growth rate, it is a great choice to create more naturalized areas that don’t require mowing.

Lawn and Turf Grasses for Warm Climates

Lawns in the southern regions are dominated by bermudagrass, bahiagrass, and buffalo grass. These take longer to green up in the spring and go dormant in the autumn faster than cool season grasses.

However, they require very little water to thrive in the extreme heat and drought conditions, as opposed to cool season grasses that will brown out. While many cool season grass lawns function in a blended seed mix, warm season grasses look more appealing as a uniform variety due to their very diverse textures and colors.

Our Buffalo Grass Seeds is a great option for a low maintenance and drought tolerant lawn.

Pasture and meadow grasses are a great option for restoring soil quality. Grasses add organic matter to your soil, and protect from erosion and loss of nutrients. Plus, these nutrient-dense grasses can provide food for grazing animals. 

Pasture and Meadow Grasses for Cool Climates

Our Orchard Grass Seed is a great solution to plant for cool-season livestock grazing, hay production, or erosion control. Getting to about 18” tall, it is also loved by birds for ground nesting, foraging, and winter cover.

Our other mixes for pastures and grazing are specially suited to your needs. Between Sheep Pasture Seed MixCattle Grazing Seed Mix, and Horse Pasture and Hay Seed Mix, there are many options to find the diverse and nutrient rich grasses for your pastures.

Some great options for erosion control or a tall meadow include our Smooth Bromegrass Seeds,and Canada Wild Rye Grass Seeds. These are all tall perennial grasses that function as ground cover soil stabilizers and attract wildlife to your meadow.

Pasture and Meadow Grasses for Warm Climates

Switchgrass Shelter Seeds provide a perennial grass that stabilizes soil and will produce pasture hay. Growing 48 to 72 inches tall it attracts wildlife.

Other low maintenance grass seed mixtures are our Short Grass Seed Mixtureand Tall Grass Seed Mixture will cover dry areas and wetter areas respectively.

Our Blue Grama Grass Seed is another drought tolerant option that grows up to 24 inches tall. It produces food for and attracts wildlife.

Ornamental Grass Looks Great In Any Landscape

Regardless of the region, many ornamental grasses are a combination of cool and warm season grasses. As long as the particular plant will survive in your hardiness zone they are fun to mix and match. Keep in mind their preference for growing; cool season ornamentals will grow earlier in the spring but might turn brown and be ready to be cut back in the summer. Warm season ornamentals will take a longer time to start growing but will fill in to full height once temperatures are hot enough.

Indian Ricegrass
Indian Ricegrass is drought-tolerant, attracts wildlife, and offers summer-long visual interset.

Cool Season Ornamental Grass

  • Sheep Fescue - Common on banks and along water for its deep rooted stabilization, it provides neat and tidy clumps of feathery texture that pairs well with flowering perennials.
  • Slender Wheatgrass - Reaching about 2.5’ tall, this is a great option for erosion protection in the spring while the warm season grasses slowly establish.
  • Indian Ricegrass – This cool season bunch grass with delicate foliage gets 1-2’ tall. Very drought tolerant, it has a dainty inflorescence that provides a light and airy look.
Weeping Love Grass
Weeping Love Grass provides soil stabilization while offering whimsical whispy plumes.

Warm Season Ornamental Grass

  • Little Bluestem - Maturing at 2-4’ tall it has an upright clump of blue-green foliage. It blooms on tall purple-bronze plumes in August, which turns to white fluffy seed heads that persist into winter. It is also widely loved for its bronze fall color.
  • Weeping Lovegrass – Prized for its soil stabilization, planting weeping lovegrass in mass produces a wispy green wave-like affect about 3’ tall.
  • Indian Grass – This tall prairie grass can reach up to 5’ tall. Indian Grass will fill big areas with blue-green foliage that turns an orange-yellow color in the autumn.

Remember that there are no limits to what you plant if the grass will live in your hardiness zone. Next season, pay attention to if you have any grasses that take longer than others to start growing in the spring, or that brown out as soon as the summer heat comes. Now you can identify your garden’s cool and warm season grasses and understand why they grow the way they do!

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