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Getting to Know Your Lawn

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

To help you better understand your lawn, there are three questions you should ask yourself: One, what kind of climate is your lawn growing in? Two, what kind of soil (Ground) do you have/want? And third, what kind of grass do you have/want? The answers to all three of these questions can have a dramatic influence on your lawn, therefore it is necessary to understand each before you proceed to the other areas. Please consult the map and explanations below to help you in your quest for the perfect lawn.                    

                    What Kind of Climate do you live in? Most of us have a good idea of what kind of climate we live in simply because, well, we live in it. So does your lawn. But unlike you, your lawn can't turn on the air conditioning when it's to hot or put on a coat when it's cold. Therefore, it's important to understand how your climate effects your lawn, and what lawn is best suited for your climate and needs. Grasses are also categorized as either Warm-Season or Cool-Season grasses to better describe the weather they flourish in. The following map is broken into 8 zones to make it easy to identify where you are in the world of grass. Simply look at the map (You can click on it to enlarge if needed), identify which zone you live, and read its description below. This should help give you a good idea of what grasses are commonly grown in your zone. Then you can decide from the Table of Grasses below which one may best fit your needs!                   

                    Also see: Lawn and Weather Growing Conditions by State                   


Zone 1

(Orange): Coverage - Florida, Gulf Region, and Hawaii                   

                    Grass tends to grow and flourish year-round in this Area. Due to the high amount of rainfall and warmer temperatures, Warm Season Grasses are almost exclusive to this Area. Planting grass typically takes place year round, as does mowing. Remember, Warm Season Grasses grow at their best during the late spring and early summer. Therefore, it is usually best to try to plant just prior to this time. Grasses commonly found here: Bermuda, Centipede, Bahia, St. Augustine, and Zoysia.                   

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                            Map of Growing Conditions                           

Zone 2

(Yellow): Eastern/Central Southeast and Texas                   

                    Grass tends to grow in zone 2 year-round in the Southern regions and most of the year in the Northern Portions. Let's face it, the South can get hot and humid in and around the summer months. This can help the growth of Warm-Season grasses. However, in the Northern-most regions, warm season grasses may go dormant in the brief winter months, but can be over-seeded to provide year-round green lawns. Mowing typically takes place year-round, with watering emphasized during the hot and dry summer months. Although planting can take place year-round, the best results come from planting in the late spring or early summer, just prior to heartiest growing months. Grasses commonly found here: Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, Tall Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, and St. Augustine.                   


Zone 3

(Light-Blue) : Coverage - Mid-Central & Mid-Southeastern States & Mid-Central Canada                   

                    Due to transitional weather patterns in this area that fluctuate from warm an humid summers to mild and cold winters, both Warm-Season and Cool-Season grasses can grow in this Area. Depending on the elevation of your location and the seasonal swings in temperature, you will need to determine which grass will best meet your needs. If you desire a green lawn year-round, this is typically a good place to reseed your lawn during the winter months. Watering and mowing also depend on the grass growth and will vary according to the type of grass and its seasonal properties. Planting warm-season grasses typically is best done during the spring and early summer months. Conversely, Cool-Season grasses are often planted in early fall or early spring. Grasses commonly found here: Bermuda, Tall Fescue, Zoysia, Ryegrass, and Kentucky Bluegrass.                   


Zone 4

(Blue): Coverage - Mid & Upper Mid-West (Heartland)                   

                    The Midwest is known for its hard winters and humid summers. Wide temperature variations are quite frequent and can make growing a lawn very interesting - to say the least. In this area, you will typically find an array of Cool-Season grasses that can better handle variations in weather. You will typically find a lot of Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and an occasional Bent Grass. Mowing usually takes place from mid-spring through mid-fall, with watering emphasized during times of drought or high heat. Planting typically takes place during the early spring or fall for Cool-Season grasses, and early summer for Warm-Season Grasses. Grasses commonly found here: Kentucky Bluegrass, Bent grasses, Fescues, and Ryegrasses.                   


Zone 5

(Brown): Coverage - Upper Northeastern States & Eastern Canada                   

                    The Northeastern U.S. is known for its cold winters and short (but hot) summers. Due to the lengthy cool and winter months, this area is almost exclusively for Cool-Season grasses. The common exception may be along the coastlines, which can be more mild, and Warm-Season "coastal" grasses may grow. Mowing typically lasts form mid-spring through early fall, and watering is emphasized during hot and dry summer months. Planting of Cool-Season grasses typically takes place during the early fall and late-spring months. Conversely, Warm-Season grasses are typically planted in the early summer months. Grasses commonly found here: Kentucky Bluegrass, Bent grasses, Fescues, and Ryegrasses.                   


Zone 6

(Red): Coverage - Lower Southwestern States                   

                    The lower-Southwest is known for its hot and dry weather. The summers tend to be long and the area often has water restrictions during the hot summer months, so water conservation is a consideration. Warm season grasses are almost exclusive here. Due to the extreme weather, some people even opt for rocks in their yards instead of grass. Mowing needs to be done year-round. Watering, although done year-round, is more heavily emphasized during the long, hot summer months. Sprinkler systems can be a good idea here. Planting is done year-round, but may be best in the late spring or early fall. Grasses commonly found here: Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, Tall Fescue, and Ryegrasses.                   


Zone 7

(Purple): Coverage: Mid-West, Upper-Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and Mid-Western Canada                   

                    The Western and Great Plains areas are known for their cool winters, hot summers, high winds, and relatively dry climates. These conditions can be particularly damaging to many types of grasses. Cool-Season grasses are commonly found in this area. Due to the dry conditions, grasses that handle drought and extreme weather fluctuations are ideal. However, with proper water exposure, some cool & warm season grasses can grow if properly maintained. Mowing typically lasts from early spring through late fall, with watering required for many non-drought tolerant grasses, and during hot summer months. Planting of Cool-Season Grasses is common during late spring and early fall months. Conversely, Warm-Season grasses tend to plant best during the late-spring and early summer months. Grasses commonly found here: Native Grasses (Buffalo grass, Blue Grama, and Wheatgrasses), Fescues, Kentucky Bluegrass, Zoysia, and Bermuda.                   


Zone 8

(Green): Coverage: West Coastal States & Canada                   

                    The West Coastal Region is known for its generally cool, mild weather and abundance of rain (except in the Southern regions of California). Summers are generally dry, and Cool-Season Grasses tend to de best in this area. Mowing typically takes place year-round, with watering emphasized mostly in the Southern regions of the area. Additionally, droughts and water restrictions are becoming more common in the Southern regions of California, so tolerance to these conditions can be a factor in choosing the right grass. Planting usually takes place during the Mid-Spring or Fall Months. Grasses commonly found here: Fescues, Bentgrasses, Kentucky Bluegrasses, and Ryegrasses.                   

                    What kind of Soil do you have? There are three different types of soil - Clay, Loam , and Sand. Most people don't have a purely clay or purely sandy soil, but have a combination (i.e. sandy-loam, Clayish-Loam, etc.). We have put together 3 general descriptions to help determine what type of soil you have and its relative properties:                   

  1. Clay: Clay soils are made up of tiny particles that cling together and subsequently cling well to water. To help determine how much of your soil is clay you can simply take a handful of your soil and try to squeeze it together. Once squeezed, release your fingers and see if the soil is still in a ball. The more clay it has, the more solid and less-brittle it will appear. Although it is not unique to any one place, you can usually find an abundance of clay soil in the southeast portions of the U.S.                   
  3. Sand: Sandy soils are made-up of less-dense soil and sand particles that have much poorer moisture and water holding properties than clay. To help determine how much sand is in your soil, you can simply take a handful of your soil and squeeze it together (the same as we did with the clay). Once squeezed, release your fingers and see if the clump of soil falls apart. Unlike clay, sandy soil will not cling together well and should break apart in your hand after squeezing. Although it is generally not unique to one place, you can usually find an abundance of sandy soils in the southwest regions of the U.S.                   
  5. Loam: As you've probably already guessed, loam is a combination of sandy and clay soils. In fact, most people tend to have some sort of this combination in their lawns. But for purposes of comparison, it is good to think of the extremes so you know where in between your soil may be. When applying the same squeeze test we used with the previous soil types, loam will be somewhere between the solid ball of clay and the brittle mass of sand. In short, only you can determine what kind of lawn you want and can manage. Once determined, you should have a good idea of what kind of soil combination will best fit your needs!                   

                    What kind of Grass do I have or want? As previously stated, grasses are typically classified as either Warm-Season or Cool-Season grasses. Warm season grasses tend to grow and flourish best in the warmer climates, and the Cool-Season grasses in the cooler climates, hence their name. The following is a general list of grasses and their relative properties to help determine which grass may be best for your needs. For additional information on each grass, simply "click" on the name of the grass. For more information on each grass category, simply "click" on the category.                   

                    Also see:   Lawn and Weather Growing Conditions by State                   

                            Types Of Grasses                         How Each Grass Is Rated for The Following Categories:




                        Disease &

Warm Season Grasses
Bermuda (Common & Hybrid)GoodBad                        Moderate                       BadGoodGood
St. AugustineGoodBadModerateGoodModerateGood
Seashore PaspalumGoodBadLowModerateModerateGood
Carpet GrassGoodBadHighModerateModerateBad
Cool Season Grasses
Kentucky BluegrassModerateGoodModerateModerateModerateModerate
Fescue (Tall, Hard, Creeping, & Chewing)ModerateGoodLowGoodModerateModerate
Bent Grass - ColonialModerateGoodModerateModerateBadModerate
Bent Grass - CreepingModerateGoodHighBadBadModerate
Rough-stalk BluegrassModerateGoodModerateModerateModerateBad
Ryegrass - AnnualBadModerateHighBadModerateModerate
Ryegrass - PerennialModerateModerateModerateModerateModerateGood
Native Grasses
Buffalo GrassGoodModerateLowModerateGoodModerate
Blue GramaModerateGoodLowModerateGoodModerate
Crested Wheat GrassModerateGoodLowModerateGoodGood
Beach GrassGoodModerateLowModerateGoodGood
Types of Grasses                        Drought &                         Water Shortages                                               Mowing                        HeightPlanting Method                        Areas Commonly Found                                               Grass Root Depth                       
Warm Season Grasses
Bermuda (Common & Hybrid)Good3/4"Seed,Sod,Plugs1,2,3,6,7Deep
St. AugustineModerate1/2"Plugs1,2,6Deep
ZoysiaGood"Sod or Plugs1,2,3,6,7Deep
BahiaModerate2-3"Seed or Sod1Deep
CentipedeModerate1/2"Seed or Sod1,2Varies
Seashore PaspalumGood1/2" Sod1,2,8Deep
Carpet GrassBad1/2"Seed or Sod1,2,3,5Deep
Cool Season Grasses
Kentucky BluegrassModerate1/2"Seed or Sod2,3,4,5,7,8Shallow
Fescue (Tall, Hard, Creeping, & Chewing)Good1/2-3"Seed,Sod,Plugs2,3,4,5,6,7,8Moderate
Bent Grass - ColonialModerate1-2"Seed,Sod,Plugs4,5,8Moderate
Bent Grass - CreepingBad1/4 -3/4"Seed,Sod.Plugs4,5,8Moderate
Rough-stalk BluegrassBad1/2-2"Seed or Sod3,4,5,7Shallow
Ryegrass - AnnualBad"Seed1,2,3,4,5,6,8Shallow
Ryegrass - PerennialModerate"Seed or Sod3,4,5,6,8Shallow
Native Grasses
Buffalo GrassGood2-5"Seed,Sod,Plugs6,7Shallow
Blue GramaGood2-4"Seed, Sod6,7Moderate<

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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