Common Cool Season Grass Types

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If you live somewhere in the upper regions of the US—New England, the northern Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Northern California, etc.—and have a lawn, it’s almost certain it’s of the cool season variety. Cool-season grasses are the go-to in these regions because, as you might have guessed, they’re able to withstand deep freezes in addition to blistering summer heat. In a nutshell, cool-season grasses are ideal for these regions because they’ll stay green and healthy (barring any droughts) for the duration of the year. Cool-season grasses accomplish most of their growing in the spring and fall, where ground temperatures hover between 50-70 degrees. When temperatures drop below 32 degrees and exceed 85 degrees or so, the grasses will go into self-preservation mode and stop growing.

Whether you’re looking to plant a new lawn or just looking to learn more about your current lawn, having an understanding of the characteristics and growing conditions is the best way to ensure its success. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common cool-season grasses in North America:

  • Good old Kentucky bluegrass
    • Key Characteristics:
      • Unlike many other cool-season types of grass, Kentucky bluegrass spreads very well. In other words, Kentucky bluegrass will spread and fill in pesky bare patches.
      • Cold Tolerance: A-. Recovers well from dormancy.
      • Heat Tolerance: B+. While it does okay with extreme heat, if you live in a warmer climate, grass-like tall fescue may be a better bet.
      • Sun: A+. Loves the full sun. Doesn’t perform well in shady areas.
      • Foot traffic: A-. Performs well with foot traffic (which is also why it’s a favorite on athletic fields).
  • Tall Fescue
    • Key Characteristics:
      • Because of its drought tolerance and ability to thrive in hot temperatures, tall fescue is a favorite in the middle region of the US—otherwise called the “Transition Zone.”
      • Cold Tolerance: A+. Recovers well from dormancy.
      • Heat Tolerance: A+. Loves the heat and handles droughts well, too.
      • Sun: A-. Loves full sun but performs well in the shade, too.
      • Foot traffic: B+. Performs well with medium foot traffic.
  • Perennial Ryegrass
    • Key Characteristics:
      • Perennial ryegrass is a favorite for eager grass growers for its ability to germinate and sprout quickly.
      • Cold Tolerance: B. Usually recovers well from dormancy.
      • Heat Tolerance: B. While it does okay with intense heat, its sweet spot is in the mid-range temperatures.
      • Sun: B. Loves full sun. Performs okay in the shade.
      • Foot traffic: A+. Handles frequent backyard gatherings with ease.

As you can tell, grass types are all about tradeoffs. What might be a good grass for you might not perform well with your neighbor. While it may be slightly frustrating to make compromises based on key characteristics, remember that these grasses are both hardy and enduring. While homeowners can’t be expected to control the weather conditions, all of these grasses are solid bets for the upper regions of the US.

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