What Are Warm Season And Cool Season Grasses?

What Are Warm Season And Cool Season Grasses?

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It’s almost spring, and already some plants are breaking dormancy in the warmer growing zones and mild winter climates. Just like there are morning people, and then the rest of us, plants have their own timeline on when they are ready to shake off their sleep and jump out of their winter beds.

In terms of your Grasses - both Ornamental and Turf Grass - when each type prefers to get going in the spring and what your hardiness zone is can mean the difference between fields of green, and I-think-it-died-brown.

Warm Season vs. Cool Season Grasses warm vs cool seasons grass

Whether you are talking Ornamental Grass, Native Prairie Grass, or Lawn Grass, you need to know what type you are dealing with to know how to best care for it and know what to expect as it grows.

This will directly relate to when you can expect to see new growth in the spring, when it’s best to fertilize and water your plant. It also relates to when you can expect dormancy, and when to plant them in the fall. You’ll also know which to choose for your Growing Zone and climate, so you will have the greenest landscape possible!

Cool Season Grasses

Some Grasses are the morning person type of grass and will start to grow the moment the soil begins to warm. These are the cool-season grasses and theykentucky bluegrass thrive in those cooler temperatures of spring and fall.

Growing best throughout USDA growing zones 2 through 6, cool-season Grasses handle severe cold, ice, and shorter growing seasons, jumping out of the ground in a hurry knowing that the summer heat is fleeting and cold fall weather will once again be upon them.

Their ideal temperature range for growth is between 65 - 80°F, putting on most of their growth in the spring, taking a break in the summer heat, before growing again in autumn.

The best planting time for these Grasses - both Turf and Ornamental - is in the fall. This gives the plant, plugs, karl foerster or seed plenty of time to establish before enduring summer heat stress. It will have a larger root system to take up water and grow deep enough by next summer to stay cool.

Some examples of Cool-Season Grasses are Annual and Perennial Ryegrass, Bentgrass, Rough Bluegrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Tall Fescue, and Fine (Creeping) Fescue. On the Ornamental Grass side are Overdam Feather Reed, Karl Foerster, and Desert Plains Grasses, just to name a few.

Cool Season Grass Benefits

Cool-season Grasses tolerate cold weather and harsh winters beautifully! Many can handle a bit more shade and can take on higher traffic without issues.

  • With Rye coming out on top for foot traffic blue fescue grass
  • Fescues are great for shade
  • Both Tall Fescue and Fine Fescue are adept at handling heat, drought and cold
  • Bluegrass is the most popular for the lawn so long as it is in a sunny location

You will often see many cool-season Grass seed mixtures include a combination of varieties to cover every possible contingency your lawn may face! From sun to shade, to heat and cold, that way your yard looks best for as long as possible throughout the growing season.

This is the same with Ornamental grasses, planting a mix will ensure you’ll always have something nice in your garden at any point and throughout any type of weather!

The slight downside with cool-season Grasses is that in the heat and during periods of extended drought, they will need extra moisture to keep during rising temperatures and dry conditions so they remain looking good.

To keep your grass green, establish a regular watering schedule of 1 inch of water per week, including rainfall, to maintain a gorgeous green lawn.

Warm Season Grasses

The lower portion of the US, typically zones 7 through 10, needs to plant warm-season Grasses. These Grasses hit the snooze alarm a few times and wait until temperatures are just right. Thecarpet grass downside is that these Grasses look as dead as a doornail until the soil temperatures warm up enough for them to break dormancy! Remaining brown throughout the entire winter months, sometimes until late spring, or even early summer, before they start to grow.

Warm-season Grasses typically flourish between 80 and 95º and put on the most growth. But will go dormant when temperatures are consistently below 60°F. For most of the southern third of the US, it's best to plant these warm-season grasses.

Warm Season Grass Benefits

Warm-season Grass plants are resilient in the heat, highly xeric and drought-resistant, handle occasional cold well, and thrive in both higher humidity or more arid conditions than cool-season Grasses do. Warm-season Grasses take off and just soak up the heat of summer!

With an extensive and tough root system and the ability to stay green despite heat and drought, warm-season Grass just shines in as much sun and heat as you can give them!

Some examples of warm-season Grasses are Switch Grass, Carpet Grass, Buffalo Grass, St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, and Bahia Grasses. There are many warm season Ornamental Grasses, and a few are Miscanthus, Schizachyrium (Bluestem), and Panicum family members.

All these warm-season Lawn and Ornamental Grasses do fantastic in the heat and thrive in both arid Southwestern US and the humid climates of the Southeast US.

  • Bahiagrass comes out on top for the high humidity tolerance in the southeastern US buffalo grass
  • Bahia and Centipede Grasses have good foot traffic resistance
  • Many Native types, like Buffalo Grass, have roots extending several feet into the soil
  • Bermuda, Zoysia, and St. Augustine Grasses are so dense, they handle drought best
  • St. Augustine is recommended for saline and coastal conditions
  • Bermuda and Buffalo are recommended for overseeding and plugs
  • St. Augustine and Zoysia are great when installed as plugs

The downside is once those cooler temperature settle in, you’ll be left with a brown-looking lawn later into the spring, while your neighbors' cool-season lawns are already looking green and lush.

But the jokes on them - while their lawn is struggling and gasping in the heat of summer, your lawn will look fantastic! When drought and sizzling temperatures hit, you and your water bill will have the last laugh!

The In-Between Zones

If you live somewhere in the middle of the US, you get the cold winter weather and the brutal summer heat. Therefore, you are in what is called the Transition Zone. Here you see the bestin-between zones infographic (and worst) of both worlds! So you need a Turf-Grass or Ornamental Grass variety that will either stand up to it all or plant a mixture of both, to always have something nice and green regardless of where and what.

  • Tall Fescue seems to do fantastic in these Transitional states
  • Bermuda and Zoysia too due to their cold tolerance and ability to handle drought.

Transition Zones states can also look for a seed mixture of cool and warm-season Grass to create a dream lawn that stays nice and green all growing season long! Check with your local County Extension Office to find out which lawn and ornamental grass plants do best in your specific area!

Best of Both Worlds?

Buffalo Grass is a fantastic Native choice for these middle states due to its tolerance for about anything these varied climates and wildly changing weather zones can throw at them! Legacy Buffalo Grass is a native selection that can handle a wide range of climates and conditions from USDA Hardiness Zones 2 all the way up to zone 10! Another advantage of Buffalo Grass is they are soft and short, requiring far less mowing and upkeep! This choice is a fantastically xeric and eco-friendly option!

Lush Green Grass!

Don’t hurry your late-rising warm-season Grass along and have some patience! It will show up when temperatures are right. Just because cool-season Grasses have the advantage in the spring and may look better now, planting a mixture of both will give you and your landscape the best of both worlds! Cool-season Grass has its own advantages in the harsh winter, returning year after year of brutal cold and snow-pack and acting as if nothing happened once it all melts away!

So if your Grass is still looking dead as a doornail in your landscape might just be sleeping in, don’t dig it up just yet and compost it, it's just a warm-season Grass waiting for temperatures to rise before it gets growing!

Check out all of Nature Hills' quality Ornamental Grass and Turf Grass available today and make your side of the fence the greenest!

Need some tips and care information for your Ornamental Grass planting and care, or Turf-Grass and Lawn care tricks? Check out our #ProPlantTips Garden Blog for everything you need to know about both!

Happy Planting!

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