8 Types of Grass in North Carolina – Top Choices for Your Lawn (with Pictures)
One of the main benefits of living in North Carolina is the diversity in landscapes and climates. In one place, you can enjoy snowy winter mountains and bright, breezy beaches that feel like summer all year long.
The only issue with the variety is that it can make picking your grass a little confusing. There is no one-size-fits-all grass for the “Tar Heel State”, so it takes a thoughtful approach to earn a thriving lawn. If you want to ensure the most vibrant growth for your backyard, we’ll break down the top choices for grass in North Carolina, including warm-season and cool-season types.
Growing Grass in North Carolina
Much of North Carolina sits in the tricky transition zone. Cold winters take out warm-season grass, and scorching summers damage cool-season varieties. USDA hardiness zones range from 5b on the northwestern end to 8b on the coast. For simplicity, you can consider North Carolina as having three essential planting zones:
The mountains and much of Piedmont exist in the transition zone. Meanwhile, the northeastern plains and southeast coast sit squarely in the warm-season region.
Living on the coast makes warm-season grass an obvious choice. But the soil conditions near the ocean can still limit the number of practical options. No matter where you live in North Carolina, your backyard’s soil, sunlight exposure, and use are as crucial as the climate in determining the best grass.
The 8 Most Common Types of Grass in North Carolina
Warm-season grasses are ideal for the South, growing their fullest from July to September when temperatures reach 85°F–95°F. These varieties grow when the soil temperatures stay above 60°F–65°F. They’ll usually enter dormancy after the first fall frost, turning brown when the soil temperature dips below 50°F.
In parts of the Piedmont area and across the eastern side of North Carolina, warm-season grass is a must. It can handle the higher average temperatures of the lower regions and stay resilient in an extended drought and high-stress conditions. Choose different varieties for better cold-hardiness and shade or moisture tolerance to suit your unique needs.
Bermuda grass is one of the best types of grass for North Carolina, a sturdy, warm-season variety that can handle heavy use and diverse conditions. After sowing seeds in the spring, you’ll see rapid growth as it spreads through rhizomes and stolons. Once established, you’ll enjoy a dense carpet of durable light-green grass.
Because it grows and spreads so fast, Bermuda grass is quick to recover from damage, making it perfect for high-traffic lawns where kids and pets play. Its fast growth also means you need to mow it more often. Otherwise, it makes for low-maintenance turf, only requiring about an inch of water per week.
Zoysia grass is an excellent Bermuda grass alternative for North Carolina yards, and it boasts many of the same benefits. Growing via rhizomes and stolons and usable in various soil conditions, it’s another wear-resistant and resilient grass for creating lush, thick lawns all across the state.
Although it is much slower to establish (and more expensive) than Bermuda grass, the dense cushion of Zoysia grass is attractive and easygoing once it grows in. It generally requires less mowing than Bermuda, and it enjoys a higher resistance to pests and disease. Some varieties need dethatching, but otherwise, Zoysia is about as low-maintenance as grass can get.
With its pale apple-green color and coarse texture, centipede isn’t the most visually appealing or enjoyable grass to walk on. Still, its aggressive growth and limited maintenance demands make it a practical option for many North Carolina lawns.
Like Zoysia, centipede grass can take a couple of years to establish and need occasional dethatching. Otherwise, there’s a good reason why it’s known as the “lazy man’s grass”. Centipede grows slowly, so it needs infrequent mowing, and there’s little demand for fertilizer.
4. St. Augustine
Another fast-growing spreading type, St. Augustine grass develops into a beautiful, thick lawn of coarse, medium to dark-green blades. Although it’s highly shade-tolerant, this grass does not stand up well to the cold, so it has the most limited use in North Carolina.
St. Augustine is efficient at taking over an area and controlling weeds, but it needs regular mowing. To get the best growth, you’ll need to apply fertilizer regularly and monitor for pests and diseases.
Cool-season grasses thrive in the spring and fall months while going dormant in hot summers and cold winters. In general, you want to plant them about a month and a half before fall frost hits, so they can grow in the fall and come back in the spring.
Growth starts when the temperature exceeds 40°F and kicks into full gear in temperatures between 65°F and 75°F. Although they withstand colder temperatures, cool-season grasses are less drought-tolerant than their warm-season counterparts.
5. Tall Fescue
Tall fescue is a bunching grass, a variety that shoots short rhizomes and has a limited spread. As a result, it’s slower to heal than many other grass types and may need reseeding if it suffers severe damage. That one drawback aside, tall fescue offers numerous advantages over other cool-season grasses for North Carolina.
Although it spreads and repairs slowly, tall fescue is eager to germinate and fast to establish. A deep root system makes it more heat and drought-tolerant, perfect for a cool-season grass trying to get by in warmer climates.
6. Kentucky Bluegrass
Kentucky bluegrass is prized for its gorgeous appearance, with well-established lawns developing into thick mats of medium-dark blue-green hues. The fine texture provides a desirable turf for backyards, athletic fields, and parks.
As it grows via rhizomes, Kentucky bluegrass has quality sod-forming properties and is quick to recover from damage. It thrives in full sun, but it will retain its rich color in partial shade. With its fast recovery, speedy growth after dormancy, and resistance to pests and disease, Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most reliable grasses available.
7. Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial ryegrass is a bunch-growing grass like tall fescue but exhibits much more aggressive growth. It germinates and establishes rapidly, only taking 5–7 days to sprout in many cases. It’s a durable cool-season grass, capable of handling decent amounts of wear and periods of higher heat.
The clumping growth and fast germination give perennial ryegrass unique advantages over many cool-season types of grasses. It can withstand heavy foot traffic better than tall fescue, and it crowds out weeds with ease. As it grows in bunches, it also won’t develop the thatch issues common to spreading grasses. And although its shallow root system makes its heat, shade, and drought tolerance lower than some other cool-season varieties, it boasts excellent pest and disease resistance.
8. Fine Fescue
The dark green, needle-thin blades of fine fescue may make it seem delicate, but this bunching cool-season grass is one of the hardiest options for a mountain or Piedmont lawn. Poor soil conditions won’t hinder its growth, which also means it doesn’t need much fertilizer. It can also tolerate more shade and drought than tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass.
North Carolina’s transition and coastal plains can seem challenging, but there is a silver lining to its unique conditions. It gives residents many grass options that wouldn’t work anywhere else in the country. With some careful planning, you can create a flourishing blend that can last through most of the year.
Featured Image Credit: 1000 Words, Shutterstock