The old saying “the grass is always greener…” is true for those of us who live where the weather is warm year-round. The grass is most always green, and the challenge of keeping it in shape is a constant task. Lawn maintenance is a constant – and – necessary chore.
St. Augustine ‘Sapphire’ is known for its excellent green color, ability to grow in a wide range of soils and climates, and its good recovery from damage. Mow it to 2 inches for best growth and appearance.
Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey
Centipede grass is a good choice for lawns in low-maintenance and low-traffic areas in warm, humid zones.
Photo Credit: Bosh Bruening
Bahia grass is one of the toughest, most drought-tolerant warm-season grasses for lawns. It has amazing recovery abilities: It goes dormant when no water is available and turns green when the rain returns.
Photo Credit: Carol Cloud Bailey
Seashore paspalum prefers a reel mower when it comes time to cut it, but a rotary mower with very sharp blades will do.
Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr
Zoysia is salt-tolerant, moderately wear-tolerant and slow-growing grass.
Photo Credit: Jessie Keith
Keeping the grass green starts with selecting the right grass for your location. Turfgrasses for subtropical and tropical areas are called warm-season grasses. They’re happiest and grow best when the weather is hot, humid and there’s regular rain. They tend to go dormant if there’s a cold snap, and some can be killed by long bouts of freezing temperatures or a prolonged drought or dry season.
The most common warm-season grasses used for lawns include St. Augustine, centipede, Bermuda, bahia, seashore paspalum, zoysia and buffalograss. Each has a set of conditions, and therefore location, where they grow best.
St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum). This is probably the most popular and widely planted lawn grass in tropical and subtropical zones. It’s a coarse grass that spreads by aboveground runners (known as stolons) and forms thick, dense turf. St. Augustine has moderate wear tolerance, poor cold tolerance and is susceptible to infestation by many pests including , mole crickets, take-all fungus and St. Augustine Decline. It’s said to have some shade tolerance. Though it can endure drought, supplemental irrigation is required to keep St. Augustine green when it’s dry. Seed isn’t available, so plant this turf vegetatively with sod, sprigs or plugs.
Centipede (Eremochloa ophiuroides). This is a slow-growing, coarse, low-maintenance turf for acid soil conditions. Centipede grass spreads by stolons and forms moderately thick turf. It has poor wear- and shade-tolerance, and it recovers from pest damage slowly. This grass also has poor drought tolerance and must have regular applications of water. It can be planted from sod, sprigs or seed.
Bermuda (Cynodon dactylon). Some consider Bermuda grass to be the queen of turfgrasses. It’s fine-textured, fast-growing and the undisputed favorite for golf courses in warm areas. This low-growing turf has excellent wear tolerance and spreads rapidly by stolons and rhizomes (underground stems). It has poor shade tolerance, good salt tolerance and high maintenance requirements. Pests are a constant battle. In fact, Bermuda grass is susceptible to infestation by a wide range of insects and fungi. Though drought-tolerant, it’s only green with regular irrigation. Bermuda grass is planted vegetatively, and there are many hybrid selections available. The best turf is produced when it’s mowed with a reel mower.
Bahia (Paspalum notatum). Lawns of Bahia grass can have an open look. This species is known as a bunchgrass, but it forms a nice turf when planted densely. It’s very wear-tolerant, but the grass has poor shade- and cold-tolerance and is susceptible to damage from mole crickets. The grass is also very drought-tolerant: It goes dormant during dry periods once established, and then it’ll green up when water is available. The texture is moderately coarse, and some varieties produce lots of V-shaped seed heads. Bahia grass can be planted by seed or sod.
Seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum). This newcomer to the lawn world is a first cousin to Bahia grass. The fine-textured turf spreads by stolons and rhizomes. It has excellent salt- and wear-tolerance, but it doesn’t endure shade well. It quickly forms a dense turf and is susceptible to a number of insects and fungi. Like Bahia grass, seashore paspalum is very drought-tolerant. Once established, the grass will go dormant during dry periods and green up when water is available. Seashore paspalum is planted vegetatively. One drawback to this grass, however: Even with the best maintenance practices, the turf forms thatch that must be removed by a process known as verticutting approximately every 12-18 months.
Zoysia (Zoysia japonica). Also known as Japanese lawn grass, this fine-textured, slow-growing turf spreads by stolons and rhizomes and forms dense lawns. It’s moderately shade-tolerant and withstands wear and close mowing well. Zoysia has moderate drought tolerance and quickly turns off-color without regular irrigation. It also turns off-color with low temperatures, though it withstands cold well. A downside: It’s susceptible to a wide variety of pests. Zoysia is best planted vegetatively by sod, sprigs or plugs.
Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides). This is a very drought-tolerant bunching turf that forms tight mats. The fine-textured grass spreads by rhizomes and stolons. It’s poorly adapted to shade, has moderate wear-tolerance and very low maintenance requirements. Buffalograss quickly turns off-color in cold weather and performs poorly in high humidity conditions. It’s best used in low-rainfall areas and can be planted by seed and sprigs.
Once you’ve got the right warm-season turf for your lawn, you’ll find it’s easier to keep the grass greener – all year-round.