Choosing the Right Warm Season Grass

If you live where summer temperatures regularly reach 80-95 degrees and want to have a lawn, you need to choose a warm season grass. Warm season grasses share several characteristics in addition to thriving in warm or hot climates. Because they grow very actively in the summer they have fewer problems with weeds, diseases, and insect pests. But during the winter they brown up at the first killing frost, going dormant for four or five months until they start to grow in mid-April or early May. Warm season grasses do not have heavy irrigation needs; in fact, they need 30 percent less water than cool season grasses.

Major types of warm season grasses are bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustine grass. Let’s take a look at the positive and negative qualities of these four.

Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass is a good choice for athletic fields, golf course fairways, lawns, and parks because it withstands heavy traffic extremely well. It also holds up under extreme heat and drought and has low water needs. The highest quality bermudagrass is only available in sod, although some types can be seeded.

Bermudagrass grows laterally both above and below the ground, making it a very aggressive creeper—hard to keep out of flower beds. It does not tolerant shade at all and needs frequent mowing in summer.

The recommended fertilizer application rate is 1-4 pounds of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet per year. As with other grasses, how much you use depends on your needs and expectations for your lawn. Mowing height is 1 ½-2 inches.

Read more on Bermuda Grass.

Zoysiagrass

Zoysiagrass grows more slowly than bermudagrass and is more tolerant of shade. This dense turf grass stands up well to traffic, but its stiff blades make it very hard to mow. You need a powerful mower with sharp cutting edges to keep it ½ to 2 inches high.

An all-round, well-adapted turf grass, zoysiagrass has outstanding cold and drought tolerance and few weed and pest problems. Recommend nitrogen application is 1-2 pounds per year.

Centipedegrass

Centipedegrass grows very slowly, which means it does not invade flowerbeds but is slow to establish from seed. Compared to zoysia, this warm season grass is not as hardy but equally shade tolerant. Because centipedegrass has poor traffic tolerance it’s a popular choice for cemeteries, utility turf, and golf course roughs. It can work in lawns and parks that are more for show than walking on.

Centipedegrass tolerates drought and low fertility. Of all the warm season grasses it needs the least mowing (1 ½ to 2 ½ inches mowing height). Its nitrogen needs are also low (1 to 2 pounds per year). Overall, centipedegrass is a high quality and low maintenance warm season grass.

St. Augustine Grass

Wide-bladed St. Augustine grass is an aggressive grower that invades plant beds, but it’s not as aggressive as bermudagrass. While no grass grows well in dense shade, St. Augustine grass is the most shade tolerant warm season grass on the market. It does not, however, have good cold tolerance and has more pest and disease problems than other warm season grasses.

Like centipedegrass, St. Augustine grass does not tolerate heavy traffic. Homeowners value St. Augustine grass for the thick, lush turf it creates with relatively low maintenance. This turf grass needs 1-3 ½ pounds of nitrogen per year and a mowing height of 3-4 inches.

Choose the Right Grass

These four turf grasses provide a range of options for warm season growing. The right choice for you depends on your growing conditions, usage, and expectations for your lawn.