Common warm season grass types found in our area

In some ways, growing and maintaining a good-looking lawn in the South is more involved than in the North. Choosing grass varieties is trickier; many grass varieties do much better when started as plugs or sod than from seed, as is usually done in the North. Good soil is critically important for growing a low maintenance lawn in this region. Most all warm weather grasses will turn brown when cooler temperatures arrive. Some southern gardeners seed their existing lawns with ryegrass each fall to maintain green color during the winter months. This is called “winter over seeding.”

Maintaining ideal growing conditions for your particular grass type is critical, otherwise unwanted grass varieties will start popping up and will be extremely difficult to remove. For example, St. Augustine grass being invaded by Bermuda and vice versa. Here are the main grass types found on most lawns in our area:

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is a major turf species for sports fields, lawns, parks, golf courses, and general utility turfs. It is found in over 100 countries throughout the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Common bermuda grass, C. dactylon, naturalized throughout the warmer regions of the United States, was introduced into this country during the colonial period from Africa or India. The earliest introductions are not recorded, but bermuda grass is listed as one of the principal grasses in the Southern States in Mease's Geological Account of the United States published in 1807.

Prefers full sun, draught resistant, can withstand heavy traffic. Can easily be planted from grass seed (although it was once only grown from sod and the new seed varieties are not as fine bladed as the sodded varieties). One of the South's favorites grass types. Grows in tropical, subtropical and transition zone areas. Found extensively on lawns, golf courses, sporting fields and coast areas.

Turns brown with the first drop in temperature. There are more cold tolerant varieties available. In warmer tropical areas, Bermuda retains a beautiful green color year round. This is a very aggressive grass and flower beds or other areas will be quickly overrun if not kept in check. Once established it is very difficult to remove due to its extensive root system.

Brought to American from Africa in the early 50s


Zoysia grasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. The species was named to commemorate an 18th century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois. In 1911, Zoysia matrella was introduced into the United States from Manila by a U.S.D.A. botanist, C. V. Piper. Because of its origin the grass was commonly called Manila grass.

Piper described the grass as abundant on or near the seashore in the Philippine Islands. When closely clipped, it made a beautiful lawn according to Piper's notes. He suggested that the grass had unusual promise as a lawn grass along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coast of Florida.

Zoysia japonica, sometimes called "Japanese lawn grass" or "Korean lawn grass", is a coarser textured, but more cold hardy species than Zoysia matrella. Zoysia japonica was introduced into the United States in 1895 from the Manchurian Province of China. In the United States, Zoysia japonica could be expected to do very well as far north as Maryland. It is a seeded variety of Zoysia.

The third species of Zoysia used for turf is called Korean velvet grass or Mascarene grass, Zoysia tenuifolia. It is a very fine textured species, but is the least cold tolerant of the three species. Zoysia tenuifolia is native to the Far East and was introduced in the U.S. from the Mascarene Islands. In the U.S. it is used in southern California as a low growing ground cover.

Zoysia grass is extremely drought tolerant. Although it does turn straw colored under severe drought conditions, it has the capacity to respond to subsequent irrigation or rainfall. Its water requirements are similar to those of Bermuda grass. The leaf blades of Zoysiagrass are among the first to roll under drought conditions, thus it tends to conserve moisture more effectively than other species. Zoysia grass also has a deep root system allowing it to more effectively extract water from greater soil depths.

Zoysia grass is nearly as salt tolerant as Bermuda grass. It is widely grown along sandy seashores where drainage is adequate. Zoysia grass does not tolerate poorly drained soils whether they are saline or otherwise.

Zoysia grasses are among the most wear tolerant turf grasses. However, their slow rate of growth gives them very poor recuperative potential.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine grass (also known as Charleston grass in South Carolina) is often the most popular choice for lawns throughout southern United States. Especially in coastal regions where cold temperature extremes are moderated by oceanic climatic conditions. St. Augustine grass is native to the Caribbean, Africa and Mediterranean regions, and best adapted to subtropical climates.

Good for coastal regions, thrives in heat, does poorly in cool climates. Excellent to fair under drought conditions. Moderately good to heavy traffic. Somewhat shade tolerant. Can be used in moist, semi-fertile soils. At the moment, most common installation method is sodding or plugs; seeds are very difficult to obtain if not impossible.

HIGHLIGHTS: St. Augustine grass is a big thatch producer, more so than other types of grass. It also requires plenty of moisture and is best suited to humid regions. Has good shade tolerance, except for Floratam. Susceptible to fungal diseases. St. Augustine grass Decline is a virus common to Texas and Louisiana and there is no known control.
PLANTING: sod or plugs
COMMON PESTS: grubs, chinch bugs, mole crickets, sod webworms, armyworms, and cutworms.

Floratam St. Augustine grass was released by the Florida and Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations in 1972 as a SAD virus and chinch bug resistant selection. It has since been observed to be brown patch tolerant. Like other Florida types, Floratam is a vigorous, coarse textured St. Augustine grass variety. Stolons of Floratam are large, purplish-red in color (demand this characteristic when purchasing sod) with internodes averaging 3 inches in length. Leaf blades are wider and longer than common St. Augustine grass. According to James Beard, TAEX Turf Researcher, tests at A&M concluded it is the most drought-tolerant of all St. Augustine grasses.

Floratam is not as cold tolerant as common St. Augustine, so preconditioning by use of Winterizer fertilizer (3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio) in the fall (October) is CRITICAL. Floratam may suffer freeze damage.

A study of the drought tolerance of grasses entitled: " Comparative Intraspecies and Interspecies Drought Resistance of Six Major Warm-Season Turfgrass Species" by S. I. Sifers and J. B. Beard, Texas A&M University.

Their findings were: Four years of field drought resistance studies have been completed on a modified sand root zone. In the fourth year of the study, 29 bermuda grass, 2 seashore pespalum, 2 Buffalo grass, 8 St. Augustine grass, 6 Centipede grass, and 11 zoysia grass cultivars were subjected to 158 days of progressive water stress with no supplemental irrigation applied and less than 7.5 cm of natural rainfall. Degree of leaf firing was used as an indicator of dehydration avoidance and post-drought shoot recovery was used as the indicator for drought resistance.

Significant drought resistance differentials were found across the cultivars and among the species. Results were consistent with the first three years of this study among the bermuda grass, seashore pespalum, St. Augustine grass, and Buffalograss cultivars. Among the Centipedegrass cultivars only Oklawn fully recovered. Leaf firing of all zoysiagrass cultivars was in excess of 50 percent. All recovered, except Meyer at 20 percent and Belair at 45 percent after 30 days. Excellent dehydration avoidance was seen in Floratam and Floralawn St. Augustine grass. There were large variations in drought resistance among the five St. Augustine grass cultivars. Floralawn and Floratam showed high green shoot recovery. They showed less than 50 percent leaf firing after 34 days of drought stress and recoveries of over 90 percent. However, Texas Common and Raleigh St. Augustine grass as well as Prairie Buffalograss showed over 98 percent leaf firing and less than 20 percent recovery. The performance of Floratam and Floralawn was excellent throughout the study in terms of shoot color, turgidity, and uniformity. They were comparable to 609 Buffalograss.


Bahia is a warm season grass, resistant to draught, disease and insect attacks. Will survive in a variety of soils from sandy to clay and other infertile, dry soils. Requires some maintenance. The grass will thin out over time and has a low tolerance to many weed control herbicides.

Bahia is used extensively in lawns along coastal areas in Florida. Vigorous growing habit requires frequent mowing during hot weather. It has a coarse blade and is not suitable for soils with high pH.

It does well in lawns and along highways, and its best used in sunny areas in warm humid regions. Its roots sometimes extend to 8 feet deep.

In Florida, Bahia grass survives in level areas with no irrigation, but often fails on sandy embankments. It can also be ruined by excess watering, when none is required. Bahia grass normally goes semi-dormant during winter, yet people sometimes fertilize and water it to keep it green in winter, and thereby encourage weed populations.

There are no post-emergence herbicides for grassy weeds in Bahiagrass, which is a problem. Most weed problems in Bahiagrass could be avoided by proper seed establishment and timely mowing. The large state agencies responsible for maintenance of utility turf struggle to find funds to keep Bahia grass mown properly. In summer its rapid vertical growth and exuberant seed head production are remarkable.

Introduced to the US in the 1930s from South America as a feed grass for cattle grazing.


Centipede grass is native to China and southeast Asia. It was first introduced into the United States in 1916 from seed collected by Frank N. Meyer in South China. Centipedegrass has since become widely grown in the southeastern United States from S. Carolina to Florida and westward along the Gulf Coast states to Texas.

Its popularity as a lawn grass stems from its adaptation to low fertility conditions and its low maintenance requirements. Where Centipede grass is adapted and properly managed, it has few serious pest problems. It is particularly well adapted to the sandy, acid soils of the southeastern United States. Its northward movement is restricted by low temperatures. Centipede grass is slightly more cold tolerant than St. Augustine grass, but extended periods of 5°F or less can kill Centipedegrass.

Centipede grass is moderately shade tolerant, but grows best in full sunlight. It is not as salt tolerant as St. Augustine or bermudagrass. Centipedegrass thrives on moderately acid soils, pH 5 to 6. Above pH 7.0 iron becomes a limiting factor and supplemental applications of iron may be required.

Centipede grass does not enter a true dormant state during winter months and is severely injured by intermittent cold and warm periods during spring. Hard freezes kill the leaves and young stolons of Centipede grasses. The grass usually recovers as soon as temperatures become favorable. Recurring cycles of cold / warm during the winter months depletes its energy reserves and is susceptible to extreme winterkill. Thus, its adaptation is limited to areas with mild winter temperatures.

Centipede grass can be found throughout the West Indies, South America and along some areas of the west coast of Africa. It can be successfully grown in any of the areas where St. Augustine grass is adapted.


This new fine-bladed seashore cultivar. It thrives on salt water. You can irrigate with a blend of seawater, or even straight ocean water with the right management practices. It also grows quite well when watered from recycled or effluent sources.

Paspalum helps clean up contaiminated soils and water, handles a wide range of soil pH (4.0 - 9.8). Has a low fertilization requirements, minimual pesticide requirements with good rooting characteristics in sandy, clay or much-type soils.

Paspalum has a darker green color than bermudagrass. Can be overseeded with Bentgrass, ryegrass, alkaligrass blends. Has a tree shade tolerance similar to Bermuda.




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