Grass - Selection
The most popular lawn grass across the south is seeded bermudagrass. Summer heat is not a problem, but the bermudagrasses don't do well in the shade. Like other warm season turfgrasses they turn brown with the first frost in the fall. Some homeowners don't care for brown winter lawns. Bermudagrass is still the most popular grass of all because it is relatively easy to maintain as a green turf and is cheap to install. It grows only in full sun and can be a problem because of its aggressive habit of growing into planting beds while spreading by stolons and rhizomes. It looks fine growing mixed with St. Augustinegrass. Tex Turf 10 is a low growing selection of common bermudagrass and has had greatly mixed reviews. The step down to finer-textured Bermudas is Tifway 419, then Tifgreen 328 and dwarf tiffs, which are used on golf courses. Common bermudagrass is less susceptible to diseases and insects than the dwarf hybrids or St. Augustine. I still use bermuda some, but I prefer buffalograss in full-sun situations.
St. Augustine has the number two spot. It takes the heat as well as bermudagrass and has the advantage of growing well in light to moderate shade. Its' problem with cold temperatures limits its use to the lower two-thirds of the state. St. Augustinegrass is a wider-bladed grass than bermudagrass and can stand more shade – although it won’t grow in heavy shade. It can freeze out in severe weather, even in the south. St. Augustinegrass decline (SAD) is a problem disease in the common variety, but not in the hybrid cultivar ‘Raleigh’. Because it requires more water and care than bermudagrass, it is farther down on my recommended list. It’s a good choice for semi-shady areas in warm parts of the country, however.
There are several other turfgrasses that are used in the South. Both Tall Fescue and Texas Bluegrass can produce year-round green lawns. While Tall Fescue is a heavy water user, Texas Bluegrass is not and performs well during the hot summer.
Centepedegrass is more cold tolerant than St. Augustine and has some shade resistance. It grows best in the acid soils.
Buffalograss is popular for use in non-irrigated, low use areas.
Zoysia lawns are few and far between. Zoysia does better in a zone in the United States from Kansas City east to Washington, D.C. The only use for perennial ryegrass has been to over-seed bermudagrass lawns each fall for winter color. Buffalograss is the best choice for lawns in full sun. It has a soft, beautiful appearance and requires little water and even less fertilization. Some people have tried hard to convince us that the flowers of the male plants are ugly, but the wispy white flags which are often misidentified as seeds are actually quite attractive. If you are hung up on their appearance, female selections such as ‘Prairie’ are available. They are good but expensive. Whether you buy native or hybrid buffalograss, you’ll be pleased with the results.
Zoysia is an exotic-looking grass with thick, succulent dark green foliage. The only problem with zoysia, other than that it won’t grow in shade, is that it is so slow growing. I would never use it in an area that gets much foot traffic from people or pets. A dog or the mail carrier walking the same path regularly will kill it out. For a beautiful grass to look at and not use too much, however, ‘Meyer’ zoysia is hard to beat. The other varieties, such as ‘Emerald’, aren’t as good.
Cool-season grasses include bentgrass, bluegrass, ryegrass, fescue, and other more northern-adapted grasses. These grasses are used as permanent grasses in cool or cold climates. Some are used for overseeding the warm-season grasses in the south, and they are also sometimes used in shady areas in warm climates. Cool-season grasses are of the bunch type rather than spreading like bermuda and buffalo. All grasses are maintained in basically the same way except that bunch grasses should be mowed higher than spreading grasses.