Choosing grass seed can quickly become an overwhelming task. A homeowner might want grass for the lawn, the ornamental garden, erosion control, pasture for livestock, as a weed-suppressing ground cover, or as a nutrient-boosting cover crop. There are different grasses that thrive in different regions and climates, available sunlight, and soil type. With all these factors in mind it can take some thought to choose the best grass seed for your particular need.
Understanding the different types of grass can help you determine how to find what will be best suited for your project. To start, grasses are categorized as either a cool season grass or a warm season grass.
Choose the Best Grass Seed: Understanding Cool Season and Warm Season Grasses
Northern regions that have a cool spring and autumn with cold winters and moderate summers are dominated by cool season grasses.
Warm season grasses dominate in the southern regions where they thrive in summer temperatures between 80°f and 95°f.
Understand that this concept does not mean the northern regions only have cool season grasses and the southern regions only have warm season grasses. For the most part, grasses are mixed in the landscape. However, when selecting new seed for your project, cool versus warm season grasses will give you the best starting point.
A great way to get around the warm vs. cool conversation, is to choose a native grass seed mix to plant, as there are mixes created to thrive in every region. Going native often involves less maintenance; because the grass adapted to its particular location over a long period of time, it often does very well with little attention.
Choose the Best Grass Seed for Your Region
Best 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 your cool season grass mix is when the air temperature is 65-70°. Planting in the spring when the temperature reaches 60° or planting in the autumn when the days start cool down to 75° are both effective times of year to plant. Because these are cool season grasses that go dormant in the heavy heat, the germination will be very poor if planted in the middle of summer.
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 planting time for warm season grasses is late spring to early summer. When daytime temperatures reach about 80°, the grass will germinate (sprout) quickly and have the best chance at establishing successfully.
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-specie plantings, offer the best defense against pests and disease.
Having a blend 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.
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.
Pasture and Meadow Grasses for Erosion Control in 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 Pollinator Cover Crop Seed Mix features a varied mix of easy-to-grow legumes, including Clover, Alfalfa, Vetch, and Sainfoin. Small white, pink, purple, and gold flowers attract and nourish pollinators. Hardworking legumes suppress weeds, fix nutrients into the soil, improve soil condition, and prevent erosion. This is an excellent choice for groundcover and covercrops, as well as lawn replacement, or adding to a wildflower meadow. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
This low growing, low maintenance mixture will help stabilize the land on your solar farm, as well as provide a high quality habitat for wildlife. Comprised of a variety of fescues and ryegrass, this solar farm mix is long lasting and sustainable, making it the perfect choice for any property.
Comprised of a variety of fescues, wildflowers and ryegrass, including Perennial Ryegrass, Hard Fescue, California Poppy and more, this solar farm mix is both functional and colorful, making it the perfect choice for any property. The low growing mixture will help stabilize the land on your solar farm, as well as provide a variety of species for pollinators. All of the seed we handle at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow.
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.
Cool Season Ornamentals:
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.
Warm Season Ornamentals:
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!