Time for Warm-Season Grasses
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This article was written by Gail Griffin, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.
By now, most warm-season grasses are well on their way to spring greenup. They grow best in summer months and go dormant at the first heavy frost. Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, carpetgrass and bahiagrass are all classified as warm-season grasses. They are best planted in late spring and early summer. Some must be planted by sodding or by using vegetative sprigs or plugs because seeds are not available or don’t produce uniform stands of grass. Others can be seeded, but may be slow to establish. Unlike cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses are generally planted as a single variety rather than blends or mixtures.
Carpetgrass can do well in acid soils and wet, shady areas where other grasses may not grow. It is considered a minor use grass in North Carolina as it does not tolerate cold, drought, salt or foot traffic and is not usually found in retail outlets. Bahiagrass is never recommended as it has unsightly seedheads and is difficult to mow. It is considered a weed in improved turfgrasses.
Bermudagrass spreads by stolons and rhizomes and can quickly spread into areas other than lawns. High quality turf-type bermudagrasses are planted using sod, plugs or sprigs. Common bermudagrass can be seeded. It is very adaptive to sandy soils, withstands wear and traffic and recovers well from injury. It may require mowing more often during its peak growth and will not tolerate shade.
Zoysiagrass also spreads by stolons and rhizomes but is easier to keep in bounds than bermudagrass. It grows well in full sun and light shade and will tolerate wear. It is very drought resistant. It has a dense texture and requires less frequent mowing than bermudagrass. Most cultivars will have to be vegetatively planted.
Centipedegrass spreads by stolons. It is slow growing and requires little fertilizer once established. It grows well in acidic soils in full sun to partial shade and requires infrequent mowing. It will not tolerate foot traffic, high soil pH, drought or heavy shade. It can be slow to establish by seed but can be sodded or plugged. Thatch buildup can be a problem.
St. Augustinegrass also spreads by stolons, but is fast-growing. It is often used in our coastal plain. It is shade and salt tolerant, but is the least cold tolerant. It is also not tolerant of heavy traffic or soil compaction. It is unavailable as seed.
Planting the best adapted grass to lawn areas and using the appropriate watering, mowing and fertilizing recommendations will aid in keeping a healthy lawn. These practices will help enable the lawn to tolerate low levels of disease and pests and make a good habitat for beneficial organisms. A soil test is highly encouraged to determine the level of nutrients and what amendments should be added. For more information on warm-season grasses, go to our lawns handbook or our guide to maintaining Carolina lawns. If there are turf areas in a landscape that are underused, consider turf alternatives such as mulch, ground covers or areas for wildlife habitat.
Lawns that were dormant a few months ago are now turning fully green again, and there is nothing like the smell of freshly cut grass to remind us that the long days of summer will soon be upon us.
Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.