Warm season grasses for southern climates

by Caroline Brown

As promised, here's some information on grass seeds for those of you that live in a climate that doesn't have cold winters, such as the southeastern or southwestern U.S. As I mentioned yesterday, it's important to pick the right grass seed based on climate. That way, you're sowing a lawn that's easier for you to take care of and you don't have to use as many chemicals to make it look nice or keep weeds out.

Warm season grasses thrive when temperatures are over 80 degrees. A lot of them turn brown in the winter, so southerners often overseed their lawns in the fall with an annual cool season grass seed. That way they have a green yard all year 'round. However, this seems like too much work to me. It's winter so it's OK if your lawn is brown–that's how I see it!

Warm season grass seeds include:

Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is probably the most common southern grasses because it's inexpensive and easy to establish. It grows well in most soil conditions and tolerates dry conditions. It's fine textured, doesn't do well in the shade, and can withstand a lot of activity. It needs a moderate amount of maintenance, but it stays green year round in southern climates.

Zoysia grasses (Zoysia species). Zoysia is known for withstanding lots of wear and tear–a great grass for kids. Zoysia is drought tolerant and doesn't tolerate poorly irrigated soil or shade well. In an open, sunny yard, zoysia typically produces a beautiful, thick turf. However, it is prone to thatching (you'll have to aerate, but that's not hard), and it gets brown in the winter. So if you want a green winter yard, forget zoysia unless you're willing to overseed with an annual cool season grass.

Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). Believe it or not, there's only one true native American turfgrass–buffalo grass, which is native in Texas and the American southwest. It's tolerant of dry conditions, can withstand only a moderate amount of activity, and needs sun. Other grasses often out-compete it, so it's best to plant it in a spot by itself. It's a great choice for those who want a "natural" look.

Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) seed is relatively inexpensive thrives in poor soil, and tends to have a coarse feel and appearance. Bahia is fairly drought and disease resistant, but it needs sun. You'll find many bahia grass lawns in Florida and southern California. It has a tendency to look patchy if it's not regularly maintained.

You might have wondered why I didn't mention St. Augustine grass as that's another favorite in hot, humid climates. However, you can't seed St. Augustine grass, because you can't find the seed commercially. You have to buy it as sod or plugs.

Image courtesy of BBC Co.

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