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How to Identify Types of Lawn Grass

By Laura Reynolds ; Updated September 21, 2017

Not all lawn grasses are the same. The type of grass growing in that park in coastal Virginia may fail miserably in a Pennsylvania school yard. The ability to identify different varieties of lawn grasses is important whenever a new homeowner is faced with a lawn in need of renovation; it is imperative when a whole lawn needs sod or seeding. Some basic questions should give you a good idea of what type of grass is right for your yard and save you and your lawn some expensive experimentation.

Observe the grass for a season. Warm season grasses grow most aggressively during the summer and cool season grasses grow during the spring and fall. Warm season grasses generally flourish in the southern U.S. and cool season turf does best in the north, but a “transition zone” exists where some of each may flourish depending on climate specifics.

Find out whether the grass thrives in shade or full sun. Warm grasses like Zoysia, Bahia and St. Augustine tolerate shade in varying degrees. Cool season sun lovers include Kentucky bluegrass, the most popular grass in most blends for northern lawns.

Determine the character of the grass plant. Red fescue is a dark green, fine-bladed grass that may spread evenly (creeping fescue) or in bunches (Chewings fescue). It grows well in cool, mountainous areas. Turf-type tall fescue, on the other hand, is a lighter green, coarse-leaved plant that will grow in bunches for several years, then suddenly begin to thin. It fades in cooler areas but tolerates drought well.

Find out if the grass has to be replanted every year. Grasses like annual ryegrass are used for quick cover but fade as perennials like Bermuda grass or a fescue take hold. Annual ryes are frequent components in mixes with Kentucky bluegrass, a perennial grass that has a very long germination period.

Ask someone what’s in their lawn. Most owners of Zoysia lawns in cool season areas or Kikuyu grass in warm season areas will tell you they wish they had planted another variety. This is because these varieties, despite their vigorous growth and heat and drought tolerance, have drawbacks that make them a nuisance. Zoysia dies out in huge brown patches in the north and Kikuyu grows a bit too aggressively.


Things You Will Need

  • Turfgrass descriptions


  • Check with your local state university agricultural extension to find out what varieties thrive in your area. The agent can give you a quick course in grass structure -- including leaf shape, crown structure and stolons and rhizomes, all of which vary a bit between species.


  • Beware the advertisements for "miracle" grass that will grow exuberantly anywhere without any maintenance at all. Usually no botanical name is listed. Most of these "miracle" grasses are tall fescues which grow quickly but must be maintained and rejuvenated just like any other variety.

About the Author


An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.