Types of Grass Seed: How to Choose the Right One


Did you know that the right or wrong type of grass seed and can make or break a new lawn?

Different grass seeds will act completely differently in different regions, and with different amounts of water and foot traffic.

It pays to get it right!

I’m going to help you get it right first time so that you can be rewarded with a healthy lawn.

Keep reading to learn all about the different types of grass seed and how to choose between them.

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How to Choose Grass Seed

Different types of grass seed are suited to different climates and growing conditions. Some grass seed types can handle a drought while others need regular watering. Different grass seed options also vary in their hardiness when it comes to foot traffic.

full frame grass seed

It’s also not usually best practice to buy just once species of grass seed. Usually, you’ll buy a mix in order to provide a bit of resilience and balance out the pros and cons of different varieties.

It can all sound a bit overwhelming and many people are left wondering – what type of grass seed do I need?

Luckily, if you know the answers to a few basic questions surrounding the temperature, water availability, shade and soil type of your yard, the choice should be fairly straightforward.

 (If you already have a bag of seed that you’d like to use and you’re wondering whether grass seed goes bad, have a read of this article to learn all about the shelf life of grass seed and how to maximize it.)

The table below will sum up the main differences between the most common grass seed options. I’ll go into more detail afterward if you want to know more.

Grass Type Season Sun Foot Traffic Soil Type Maintenance Region
Kentucky Bluegrass Cool Full Low Neutral Prefers regular water Northwest / Midwest
Perennial Ryegrass Cool Full High Any Needs regular water Northeast-Midwest / Southwest
Fine Fescue Cool Full / Shade Low Any Low water and fertilization requirements Transition Zone / Northern Regions
Tall Fascue Cool Full / Partial High Any Low water and fertilization Transition Zone / Northern Regions
Bahia Warm Full / Partial Moderate Any Low water requirements Deep South
Bermuda Warm Full High Can tolerate salt Low water requirements Southeast / Southwest
Centipede Warm Full / Partial Low Slow growing and maintenance Deep South
St Augustine Warm Full / Partial High Sandy Prefers regular water Southern Regions / Transition Zone
Zoysia Warm Full / Partial High Slightly acidic Moderate water requirements Trasition Zone

Growing Conditions

The growing conditions that your region and your individual yard will provide for your lawn are the deciding factors in which type of grass seed to choose.

Generally speaking, first you’ll narrow down the choices to either cool season or warm season varieties based on the region you live in. Then you’ll look at how much sun and foot traffic your individual lawn will be exposed to and what your water availability is.

bag of lawn seed on grass

Sun Versus Shade

The number of hours of sun versus shade that your lawn will get is a pretty key factor in deciding what type of grass to go with. Some grasses need a lot of sun while some are happy with being in the shade for most of the day.

Even if you live in a region with plenty of sunshine hours, if you have an area of lawn that is under shade for most of the day due to a building or large tree, certain grasses will die and the area will get taken over either by weeds or moss.

Generally speaking, warm-season grasses are less tolerant of shade than cool-season grasses.

Water

Water is a big deal. There isn’t enough of it in many parts of the world so using it on our lawns is not the most responsible choice.

Most of the time, when people are wondering ‘what grass seed should I use for a low maintenance lawn?’, they’re thinking in terms of water usage.

So, if you live in a region prone to droughts or hot, dry summers, choosing grasses that are drought-tolerant, or combining varieties, can ensure you have a green lawn without needing to irrigate.

lawn being watered in closeup

Temperature

The temperature may be the biggest factor in deciding between cool season and warm-season grasses.

Cool-season grasses typically grow during fall and spring and go dormant in the summer, while warm-season grasses go dormant in winter.

Cool-season grasses typically do better in the northern regions, while warm season grasses do better in the south.

Foot Traffic

Different grasses cope with different amounts of foot traffic and general wear and tear.

If you know you’re not going to be playing football in the yard and your lawn is more for aesthetic purposes, then you can get away with a more fragile variety.

But if your lawn is going to be exposed to heavy foot traffic, then you’ll want to choose a grass type that can handle it.

Soil Type

There are a wide range of different soil types depending on pH, texture, nutrient density and proximity to the coast (salt exposure).

Knowing what kind of soil you have and matching it to the type of grass that is suited for that soil is helpful for ensuring the success of your lawn.

You can do a simple at-home soil test to work this out.

Cool Season Grasses

Choosing grass seed might seem overwhelming. But really once you figure out the main criteria for your yard based on the factors above, there won’t be too many options to choose from!

These cool-season grasses are all popular throughout the northern regions of the U.S.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky Bluegrass is well suited to the temperate summers, cool springs and falls, and cold winters of the Northeast. However, despite its temperate preferences, it likes a lot of sun so is well suited to large parks and playing fields.

Kentucky Bluegrass closeup
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poa_pratensis_%283883808523%29.jpg

It is an attractive deep green color when it is well watered, but goes dormant and loses its color if left without water during a hot summer. For this reason it is well suited to combining with ryegrass which helps with greening things up a little quicker.

Kentucky Bluegrass is also popular with young families or people who know their lawn will get a lot of foot traffic. It is more durable than the fescues and self-mending, so a dead spot will recover by itself without needing re-seeding.

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial Ryegrass likes similar conditions to Kentucky Bluegrass and does well throughout the Northeast and Midwest. It is an attractive deep green grass with a fine texture that is surprisingly durable, coping well with foot traffic.

It will go dormant during a drought but recover easily in the fall once water comes on the scene again.

Ryegrasses are also popular in areas of higher rainfall like the Pacific Northwest as they are naturally more resistant to diseases that can be a problem in persistently damp areas.

Ryegrass is also a popular species to patch repair and overseed an already established lawn that needs some improvement. However, make sure you are using perennial ryegrass and not annual ryegrass, or your repairs will only last one season!

If you’re interested in learning more about overseeding, I have an article all about overseeding weedy lawns that will be helpful.

Read more about Kentucky Bluegrass versus Perennial Ryegrass here.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescues are a popular choice in the dryer areas of the Pacific Northwest as well as through the transition zone (the central strip of states from Kansas to the Atlantic Coast).

Despite being cool-season grasses, they are relatively heat-tolerant owing to deep roots.

Durable Tall Fescue can be mixed successfully with Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Ryegrass for year-round color.

Fescue grass
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fescue_9029_2.jpg

Read more on Fescues versus St Augustine here.

Fine Fescue

Fine Fescues are popular throughout the northern regions, though not as common as the Ryegrasses, Kentucky Bluegrass, and Tall Fescue.

Fine Fescue copes well with shade and cold conditions and like ryegrass, is relatively disease resistant. But it’s not as hard-wearing so won’t cope with as much foot traffic as other varieties.

There are a few different varieties of Fine Fescue grass, including Sheep Fescue, Creeping Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue, and Hard Fescue.

Warm Season Grasses

If you’re wondering how to choose grass seed for the southern regions of the U.S., one of these warm-season grasses will likely tick the right boxes.

Bermuda

Bermuda grass is the most popular lawn grass in the hot and humid Southeast. It doesn’t mind salt or droughts making it great for coastal locations too.

While Bermuda grass does require some water, it requires a lot less than most species making it still the most commonly used variety in the hot and dry Southwest region as well.

Bermuda grass goes dormant in the winter if temperatures remain below 40˚F for too long, which means it will go a little brown. But, it has a deep root system and will recover easily in the spring and return to its dense, dark green state as soon as a little water is on the scene.

Bermuda Grass lawn

Combining Bermuda grass with Ryegrass can be a good option for year-round color as the cool season Ryegrass will be green while the Bermuda grass is dormant, and then as the Ryegrass dyes off for summer, the Bermuda grass will already be green.

Read up more on Bermuda grass and Bahia grass here.

Bahia Grass and Centipede Grass

Bahia grass and Centipede grass reign in the hot and humid deep south and gulf coast regions. They are quite coarse grasses compared to cool-season varieties.

They are very tolerant of heat and periods of drought meaning they will survive without regular watering once water restrictions are in place.

Bahia grass in particular is very hardy as well, resistant to most pests and disease and copes pretty well with foot traffic.

Centipede grass is very low maintenance. It out-competes weeds and copes well with poor soil quality, not requiring fertilizer or regular mowing.

Read more about Centipede versus Bermuda grass here.

St Augustine

St Augustine likes heat and humidity making it great for the southern regions. It has a reasonable drought tolerance but is not quite as good as Bahia grass or Centipede grass in this respect.

It has quite a coarse texture and grows quickly but doesn’t tolerate too much shade.

Read more about Bahia grass versus St Augustine here.

Zoysia

Zoysia is a warm-season grass but copes well with cooler temperatures and can be popular in a range of regions, particularly in the transition zone.

Zoysia grass
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zoysia_Tenuifoli_foliage.JPG

It is deep-rooted so can cope well with periods of drought and also copes really well with foot traffic despite its finer texture.  Zoysia does go dormant at cooler temperatures but holds on to more of its color than other warm-season grasses and recovers faster, making it a popular choice.

Read more about Centipede Grass versus Zoysia here.

Clover – The Sustainable Alternative

You might be surprised to see this as an option here. Many people think of clover as a weed that they need to eliminate from their lawn. But in times gone by, clover was deliberately included in lawn seed mixes for its evergreen and nitrogen fixing properties.

Including some clover in your lawn reduces the need for fertilization and helps your lawn to stay green year-round.

Clover is hardy, low maintenance, and soft underfoot. Its only real con is that the flowers can attract bees which may be a hazard for small children – but bear in mind our pollinators need all the help they can get so this is only a con if there are small children around. If this is the case, simply mow the lawn to remove the flowers before letting the kids outside.

If you’d like to read more about clover lawns, I have an entire article dedicated to it here.

What about Seed Treatments?

Most grass seed comes pre-coated in bird repellent and anti-fungal treatments. Whether this is entirely necessary is a debate for another day. Ultimately it comes down to personal choice and an understanding of whether your region or the grass variety you have chosen is prone to many fungal diseases.

Some of the wetter parts of the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and Northeast, might be more disease prone.

But, some varieties of grass are pretty disease resistant, so if you choose the right variety, plant at the right time of year, and aerate your soil effectively, you may not need these seed treatments.

If you have small children, then going the organic route is always preferable. You may lose a few seeds to the birds, but if you keep the lawn well-watered and set up some bird scarers, you are unlikely to lose enough to make a noticeable difference to the success of your lawn.

Seed versus Turf

As you can see there are a lot of factors that can affect your grass seed choice! By now you might be wondering whether you should just buy some ready-to-roll turf, or maybe even veer away from living grass altogether and get some artificial turf for your yard.

man laying turf in backyard

If that’s the case, weigh up the pros and cons of sod versus turf in this article before you make your decision.

There are multiple pros and cons to both seeding a lawn and buying ready-to-roll turf.

Ready to Roll Grass Seed
More initial labor to lay it out. Less initial labor.
Instant lush, green lawn. Takes a couple of months to establish.
Needs a consistent supply of water. Needs a consistent supply of water.
Should be fairly resistant to weeds. Likely a little more prone to weeds.
Expensive. Affordable.

A ready-to-roll lawn will give you an instant lush green lawn after the initial labor of laying it out and trimming it to size. Seeding a lawn requires labor over a longer period of time as you will likely have to wait a couple of months for the lawn to really establish itself, and depending on the quality of your soil, you may need to do some aerating first.

Both need a consistent supply of water to establish successfully, but, once established, a seeded lawn will be more durable than a ready-to-roll turf which may take longer for the roots to really grow deep enough to cope with short periods of drought.

If a ready-to-roll turf doesn’t get enough water, whole sections can die, leaving you with an ugly, shriveled lawn. If a seeded lawn doesn’t get enough water, the results will be a lot less dramatic with lower germination rates that can be fairly easily rectified with a little more seed and water.

Lastly, ready-to-roll turf is much more expensive than seed so if you have a large yard, ready-to-roll is not the most cost-effective solution.

Summary

As you can see, there are quite a few factors to consider when it comes to choosing the best types of grass seed for your lawn.

Whether overseeding an already established lawn that needs some help, or freshly seeding a new lawn, choosing the right kind of seed will go a long way towards helping your lawn flourish.

Are you about to sew some grass seed? Which type of grass seed did you choose? Feel free to share your experiences below and let me know how it worked out!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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