What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn (2024)

If you live in the southern half of the United States, most of the grasses you see in lawns, parks and athletic fields from coast to coast are “warm-season" grasses. These grasses get their name because their most active growth occurs during warm seasons, from late spring through summer into early fall. Their growing cycles and preferences for warm soil temperatures keep lawns in southern and southwestern climates green and growing in summer heat.

Though warm-season lawn grasses share many traits, they differ in significant ways. Some can only be grown from sod or grass pieces known as sprigs or plugs, but the warm-season grasses noted in the chart below offer the advantages of starting your lawn from seed. By understanding the characteristics of these perennial grasses, you can choose the best warm-season grass seed to meet your lawn maintenance and enjoyment goals.

What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn (1)

Growing Regions

Grass professionals divide the United States into separate grass-growing regionsbased on cool and warm climates, humidity and aridity. Warm-season lawn grasses do best across the country's southern tier of states and up into the challenging midsection known as the transition zone, where cool, warm, humid and arid regions meet and merge. But choosing the right warm-season grass seed for your lawn goes beyond these climate basics to additional regional differences that affect lawn health and maintenance.

Regional norms for soil pH are especially important because soil pH affects your lawn's ability to use soil nutrients, including those you add through fertilizers.Most lawn grasses do best wheresoil testingreveals pH in the slightly acidic to neutral range of 5.8 to 7.0, where essential nutrients stay readily available. Lawns with soil pH outside this range may need applications of limeor other soil amendmentsto restore pH balance and nutrient availability.

Matching your grass to soil conditions helps reduce labor and the need for added fertilizers and amendments. For example, Centipede grassflourishes in acidic, low-pH soil common to the Southeast, but can't tolerate high-alkaline soils of the Southwest. Centipede grass, like Bahiagrass,experiences iron deficiencies in alkaline soil.1 Bermudagrassor Zoysia grass, which both tolerate higher soil pH and salinity, are better choices in such areas.

Maintenance Needs

All lawn grasses require mowing and fertilizing, but they vary significantly in those needs. Matching your grass to desired maintenance levels helps keep lawn care from becoming a burden. Bermudagrass is the fastest growing common warm-season lawn grass.2 Its aggressive, vigorous growth creates a dense, durable lawn — but it can mean twice weekly mowing and monthly fertilization during peak summer growth.

Zoysia grass needs less fertilizer and mowing, but thatch buildup can require dethatching, especially on fertilized lawns.5 Centipede grass has the slowest growth rate of common warm-season lawn grasses, and very low fertilizer needs. offers a low-growing, very low-maintenance lawn with little input on your part.

For any type of lawn grass, mowing should be done as needed to keep the grass at its recommended heightfor optimal health and good growth above and below ground. This means never removing more than one-third of the blade during any single mowing. The faster the growth, the more frequently you should mow.

Heat Tolerance

Common warm-season lawn grasses in the U.S. came from tropical and subtropical regions around the world. As a result, these grasses are well-adapted to high soil and air temperatures. They stay green and growing during hot weather that would cause cool-season grasses to turn dormant and brown.

Bermudagrass is extremely heat tolerant — daytime temperatures of 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal.2 Pennington Bermudagrassyields dense, resilient, heat-tolerant lawns.Zoysia grass, Centipede grass and Bahiagrass also tolerate high heat very well. Bahiagrass tolerates high humidity common in the hot Southeast, as well. Pennington Pensacola Bahiagrassoffers greater tolerance to heat (and cold) than common bahiagrasses do.

What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn (2)

Tropical lawns do best with grasses that thrive in hot, humid conditions.

Cold Tolerance

cool-season lawn grasses, which primarily came from Europe. In frost-free climates, these warm-season grasses may stay green year-round, but when temperatures drop below 65 F, root growth slows and grasses enter dormancy. They stay brown until temperatures rise back above 65 F in spring. Winter dormancy helps protect grasses from cold damage. Centipede grass is especially susceptible to winter injury because it lacks a true dormant period.4

Many southern lawn owners overseedtheir Bermudagrass, Bahiagrass and Zoysia lawns each fall with cool-season perennial ryegrass for green winter color — a practice that doesn't work well on Centipede lawns.4 Zoysia grass is very cold tolerant relative to other warm-season grasses. This gives it added value in transition zone lawns, where winter cold limits other choices. Pennington Zenith Zoysiahas improved cold tolerance. It stays green longer than Bermudagrass and other Zoysia grasses, plus it's one of the earliest warm-season grasses to green up in spring. Pennington Bermudagrassand also offer superior cold tolerance.

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Warm-season grasses go dormant during cold winter months.

Drought Tolerance

Deep extensive roots of many warm-season grasses help them withstand drought better than other grasses. Most lawn grasses typically need at least 1 inch of water from rainfall or irrigation per week. During extended dry periods, even drought-tolerant Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass may need 1 to 1 1/2 inches per week to stay green and growing.5 Without enough water, they may enter a period of protective dormancy and go brown until water returns.

Drought tolerance is not the same as heat tolerance. Heat-tolerant Bermudagrass has extensive roots that can reach 6 feet deep or more,2 resulting in excellent drought tolerance as well. However, heat-tolerant Centipede grass has relatively shallow roots that leave it very vulnerable to drought when grown outside regions with reliable rainfall.

Zoysia grass holds its color better than Bermudagrass during short drought periods, but Bermudagrass excels in extended drought.2,5 Deep-rooted, drought-tolerant Pennington Smart Seed Texas Bermudawithstands the rigorous Texas climate. Pennington Argentine Bahiagrasscombines deep, extensive roots and drought resistance with low growth and low maintenance. Both Bahiagrass and Bermudagrass excel in sandy soils.2,3

What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn (4)

Alkaline soil in the Desert Southwest calls for grasses that tolerate high soil pH.

Shade Tolerance

As a group, warm-season lawn grasses do best in full sun. That means six to eight hours or more of direct sunlight each day. Sunlight fuels vigor, good color and healthy lawn growth. Some grasses tolerate less sun, but more shade leads to poor, thin growth and invites common lawn weedsand unwelcome lawn mossesin.

Among warm-season lawn grasses, Bermudagrass has the least shade tolerance. For best performance, it needs full sun. Centipede grass and Bahiagrass tolerate more shade than Bermudagrass, and Zoysia tolerates even more. However, even Zoysia grows weak with less than full sun. The more shade it gets, the thinner it grows. In shady transition-zone lawns, shade-tolerant cool-season tall fescue may be a better lawn option.

Traffic Tolerance

When you use your lawn for family activities, such as lawn games, pet play or entertaining, grasses need to stand up to traffic and wear. Lawn grasses vary in their traffic tolerance and ability to recuperate quickly from wear and other damage. Grasses are most susceptible to injury during dormancy. The ways they grow and spread during active growth influence recovery.

Bermudagrass and Zoysia grass are both aggressive growers that spread by stolons and rhizomes (above- and below-ground stems). This double growing action allows these grasses to recover quickly and repair themselves when wear or other damage occurs. They are favorites for southern athletic fields and golf fairways. Bahiagrass has a very open growth habit and spreads mostly by stolons.3 It's more vulnerable to damage and slower to recover. Slow-growing Centipede grass grows by stolons and doesn't tolerate foot traffic or recover well.

Whatever your goals for using and maintaining your lawn, you can choose a lawn grass that strikes the right balance between your desires and the needs of the grass itself. Pennington is dedicated to producing the finest grass seedand premium lawn care productspossible, so that you and your lawn can succeed. With the Pennington email newsletter and online educational resources, you can learn, grow and enjoy a healthy, attractive lawn wherever you live.

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Tough, durable Bermudagrass withstands heavy traffic on fairways and home lawns.

Pennington is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc.

Sources:

1. Patton, A. and Boyd J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns," University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.

2. Duble, R.L., “Bermudagrass – The Sports Turf of the South," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

3. Trenholm, L.E., Unruh, J.B. and Cisar, J.L., “Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns," University of Florida IFAS Extension.

4. Duble, R.L., “Centipedegrass," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

5. Duble, Richard L., “Zoysiagrass," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn (2024)

FAQs

What Is the Best Warm-Season Grass for Your Lawn? ›

Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass
Bermudagrass is a perennial warm-season grass, meaning it comes back every year in the proper climate and grows most actively from late spring through hot summer months. Bermudagrass is more sensitive to cold temperatures than warm-season Zoysia grass or cool-season grasses such as turf-type tall fescue.
https://www.pennington.com › grass-seed › resources › all-yo...
is the fastest growing common warm-season lawn grass. Its aggressive, vigorous growth creates a dense, durable lawn — but it can mean twice weekly mowing and monthly fertilization during peak summer growth.

What is the easiest warm season grass to grow? ›

St. Augustine grass is best suited for areas with hot weather, as it grows slowly and requires less frequent maintenance than many other common types of warm-season grasses. Its thick stalks produce multiple blades and make it easier to stand up against heavy traffic.

What is a warm season grass? ›

Warm-season grasses include Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Centipedegrass, Zoysiagrass, Bahiagrass and Carpetgrass. They are often called southern grasses because they grow best in hot summer areas and lack the winter hardiness of the cool-season grasses.

What is the best grass for summertime? ›

The warm season grasses: Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, St Augustine and Bahia - they love the long sunny days. These grass types are bread to spread and they need all the sunlight they can get to fuel their growth.

What is the most low maintenance grass? ›

Fine fescue is the most popular low-maintenance cool-season grass. Hard fescue and fine fescue mixes require very little maintenance. You'll only have to mow your lawn once or twice a year. Fescues are hardy and they'll naturally crowd out weeds, so you don't have to worry about fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide.

Which is better, zoysia or bermuda grass? ›

Zoysia grass is an excellent choice if you live in an area with hot, dry summers and want a low-maintenance lawn. Bermuda grass, on the other hand, is ideal if you want a durable, high-traffic lawn that establishes quickly.

Is fescue or Kentucky bluegrass better? ›

While Kentucky bluegrass stands up to the North's coldest winters, extreme heat and sunshine can scorch or kill its leaves. Tall fescue is more tolerant of hot weather, making it best suited for transitional climate zones and cool-season regions with milder winters.

What is the easiest grass to grow and maintain? ›

The 5 Low Maintenance Grass Types

Fine fescues, including Slender Creeping Red Fescue, Strong Creeping Red Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Hard Fescue, and Sheep Fescue, are the key to achieving a low-maintenance lawn. These five fescue varieties are highly suitable for low-maintenance lawns due to their various advantages.

What is the fastest spreading warm-season grass? ›

Bermudagrass has the fastest growth rate of any of the common warm-season grasses. It spreads by both above-ground stems known as stolons and below-ground stems called rhizomes.

How do I tell if I have warm or cool-season grass? ›

If your lawn turns brown, you have a warm-season grass like Bermuda grass or zoysia grass. If your lawn remains somewhat green, you have a cool-season grass like fescue, bluegrass, ryegrass or most commonly, a mixture.

What is the fastest growing grass seed? ›

Annual ryegrass seed takes less than 10 days to sprout, boasting one of the fastest germination rates of commonly used grasses. It has an upright and coarse texture, with shiny, lime-green leaves. Because of its shallow root system, annual ryegrass requires constant irrigation to stay green year-round.

When to fertilize lawn warm season grass? ›

What is this? Warm-season grasses like these grow best when the air temperature is 80°F or above. If you have a warm-season lawn, this means you should fertilize your lawn in mid to late spring, then again in summer, and finally in early fall.

What is the toughest grass? ›

Perennial ryegrass is used for the very toughest applications, premiership football pitches, showgrounds, racetracks etc. Over recent years, new varieties of amenity perennial ryegrass have been cultivated to produce finer leaves in order to produce attractive, lush green lawns.

What grass stays green in the summer? ›

Zoysiagrass (Zoysia species)

This warm-season grass is a good choice for homeowners that don't want to exert a lot of effort on their lawns. Zoysiagrass is deep emerald green, dense, and rather stiff. In California, two species of Zoysia are common: Zoysia tenuifolia and Zoysia japonica.

What is the fastest growing grass in the summer? ›

One of the fastest-growing grass seed types is Perennial Ryegrass; this germinates in 5-10 days and will show baby grass plant shots appearing in your soil during this time. Other grass types, such as Bent and Fescues, can germinate quickly but require a higher ground temperature.

What is the easiest fastest grass to grow? ›

Bermuda grass is the fastest-growing warm-season grass, germinating in as little as 10 days. Ryegrass, which grows in cool climates, germinates just as fast.

What is the fastest spreading warm season grass? ›

Bermudagrass has the fastest growth rate of any of the common warm-season grasses. It spreads by both above-ground stems known as stolons and below-ground stems called rhizomes.

What is the easiest grass to grow in the lawn? ›

Based on our discussion, we would recommend Zoysia grass as the best option for those who want an easy-to-maintain lawn. The pros at the Turfgrass Group have worked with universities and experts to develop some outstanding Zoysia grass options. The two that would be best for any homeowner: are Zeon and JaMur.

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