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The Best and the Worst

Kentucky bluegrass, cool season grasses

Cool season turf grass choices are the best and the worst. They are for lawns where temperatures stay below ninety degrees almost all the time. You can seed them. They germinate when temperatures are in the fifties. Cool season grasses go dormant or die during drought or temperatures over ninety, so southerners are out of luck with these. That doesn’t stop them from trying, though.

These grasses stay green all year. That fact alone has created an industry in the south, providing hope and temporary results for people fixated on the idea of having a lawn that is green in the winter. Well-heeled southerners and some golf course superintendents will over-seed Perennial Rye Grass at three to four pounds per one thousand square feet every fall on their dormant, brown, warm-season sod to maintain the pretense of the ideal lawn. By the heat of early summer, the Perennial Rye has burned out and died, and the warm-season species has finally “greened up”. This process stresses the lawn, and uses a lot of wasted effort and chemicals to provide a temporary look.

Some of the cool season rye grasses are adapting to southern climates and have become invasive. You will need full sun for decent ground coverage. In cooler areas the main cool-season grasses can create beautiful, lush, green lawns. Here are some quick facts about each.

Kentucky Bluegrass

They nicknamed a state after a turf grass—and the state is famous for Bourbon, but they chose the grass, instead! That alone should tell you something. There are over one hundred cultivars of Kentucky Bluegrass, and they are all pretty. Choosing a cool season turf species is easy.

Kentucky Bluegrass is the best lawn possible, hands down. Why would you plant anything else? This makes a beautiful, run-barefoot-to-your-true-love-gorgeous lawn. It is refined and soft. Its only weakness is shade-tolerance. There is no need to make choices. The only other competitive turf seed species are slightly cheaper, but the quality is no contest at all. For those of you in the south who would like to take on the challenge of growing Kentucky Bluegrass, forget about it. It can’t be done. Really. Don’t bother.

Being able to seed a beautiful lawn is a great cost advantage, because seed is much less expensive than sod or sprigs, but suppliers attempt to reduce costs even more by mixing cheaper species in with the finest, most elegant turf grass of them all—Kentucky Bluegrass. It is best to avoid the mixes. Seed suppliers will market their special mixes aggressively, so don’t be tempted. Instead of trying to compete with the shade, turn those areas into mulched plant beds. Go for pure Kentucky bluegrass seed, without the added shade fillers. Pick the best.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue is another cool season grass that many people choose. Suppliers love to market this grass. There have been attempts at creating a more refined version of tall fescue’s coarse-textured clumps to increase sales. Tall Fescue is a forage grass. It requires a good bit of management to prevent it from reverting back to a clumpy, mangy pasture look. One way to keep a more uniform look is to reseed every year to fill in bare spots. This can get very expensive over time. Its genetic makeup goes against the idea of carpeted, flat coverage, but it will always look like a second-class substitute for Kentucky Bluegrass. Tall Fescue can become a persistent, ugly bunchgrass if not actively managed. Once established, it is really hard to remove without chemical herbicides.

Southerners are lured into establishing Tall Fescue lawns by the promise of year-round green. A newly established plot in fall will lose about seventy percent coverage by late spring in the Deep South. The only way to support survival is to overwater it, which results in diseased growth. At yet, people will reseed again every fall. What is it about green blades in winter that is so alluring? The attraction is undeniable.

You can find cheap bags of Tall Fescue at every discount store in the country. Don’t buy them.


Bentgrass is a cool season grass used for putting surfaces on golf courses. It creeps by stolens to form a dense sod that recovers quickly from damage. It can be mowed very low. It takes a lot of skill to grow well, and a lot of maintenance to keep healthy. Unless you are a golf course superintendent, there is no need to know much about Bentgrass. If you are in charge of a golf course, you will spend a lot of time studying it. Bentgrass can be fascinating to the people in the golf turf industry, but not to most of us, so I’ll leave its discussion at that.

Cool Season Grass Choices