There are thousands of grasses growing all over the world. Only a few types are suitable for culture as lawn grasses. Turf grasses must have strong root systems and tolerate constant mowing. Perennial grasses can be warm-season or cool-season specialists, but within their ranges, they must tolerate variances in climate and weather conditions. Where and how grass grows helps identify a grass variety.
Before the invention of the rotary lawn mower in the 19th century, the expansive lawns of nobility were essentially pastures, manicured by grazing animals and an occasional scything to collect winter feed. Once the middle class began growing and mowing, botanists began hybridizing grasses to match growing climates. Most turf grasses were imported to the New World from Europe or Asia but buffalo grass, a sun-loving, fine-textured warm-season grass, is a North American native. It grows by runners or stolons along the surface and is blue-green in color.
Identify warm- and cool-season grasses by location. Leaf texture and color, shade, traffic and drought tolerance also provide clues. Finally, look at the way the grass spreads and the height at which it is kept for hints as to its variety.
Warm-season grasses grow steadily from early spring until late fall or early winter.
St. Augustine grass ranges from blue-green to medium green in color. Its thick, broad leaves tolerate shade well and create a thick turf that is kept mowed from 3 to 4 inches high. It suffers with cold, drought and certain herbicides.
Bermuda grass needs regular over seeding but newer hybrids create thicker, darker turf. Bermuda grass (couch grass) is fine-textured, traffic-tolerant and kept less than 2 inches tall. It is drought-resistant and planted in sunny areas but may enter dormancy if temperatures drop suddenly.
Centipede grass, a medium-leaved, blue-green grass, grows by surface runners and tolerates moderate shade and traffic. Centipede grass is mowed between 1 and 2 inches tall. It is susceptible to centipede decline, small patches of brown with shallow roots or thatch that spread.
Bahia grass is a drought-resistant, coarse green grass with deep roots that's kept at 2 to 4 inches tall.
Zoysia grass and Bermuda grass often grow near the ocean.
Cool season grasses grow actively in the spring and again in fall.
Kentucky bluegrass is blue-green, traffic tolerant and is kept 2 to 3 inches tall. Its blades curl slightly at the tip. It requires full sun but, planted with a blend of other grasses, is a popular choice for lawns.
Perennial ryegrass, dark green red fescue and feathery fine fescue are often planted with bluegrass to improve performance in shade and traffic. All grow best when kept between 1.5 and 2.5 inches tall and brown out without irrigation during dry spells.
Creeping bent grass, a medium-leaved grass that requires close mowing, is found primarily on golf courses where it is regularly irrigated and mowed.
Several bent grass hybrids are salt-tolerant.
Some grasses, notably Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, zoysia grass and tall fescue, grow in the transitional zone that contains large parts of both the northern cool and southern warm grass growing zones. Tall fescue grows up to 3 inches tall in bunches and is used in parks and commercial-site landscaping. New hybrids are making it popular with homeowners.