Tips & Techniques
Betterdays in Full Swing

Ultimate Guide to Cool Season Grasses

Lawn & Yard Care

By Marty Ross

Wondering how you can maintain a beautiful green yard all year long? Need a grass that tolerates a bit of shade? Looking for a grass you can let go dormant in the summer to save on water usage? Cool sea-son grass may just be your perfect solution.

What are Cool Season Grasses?

Cool season grasses are grass types that grow exceptionally well in the cool weather of fall and spring. Frigid cold winters and moderate summers are no problem for these versatile grass types. These special-ized grasses provide a lush, green lawn no matter how chilly it gets.

The perfect temperature for cool season grass growth is between 65 and 80°F. When the thermometer hovers between these temperatures, cool weather grass experiences the best growth. If you live in the northern half of the United States, this is the lawn seed for you.

When Should Cool Season Grasses be Used?

Cool season grasses can be used by all gardeners who live in cool climates. The most popular types of cool season grasses are Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue and perennial ryegrass. These grass-es are used for new lawns, overseeding troubled spots in yards and for livestock forage areas.

Even though cool season grass seed grows well during the fall and spring months, don’t plant your lawn during the spring. Planting in the fall gives the seed time to establish before the stress of the summer heat and will typically result in an overall healthier lawn with little reseeding necessary. The ideal time for cool season grass seed germination is when the soil temperature is around 55°F.

Do you live a little further south? Don’t worry. You can still find a cool weather grass for your area – es-pecially if you live in the “transition zone.”

What is the Transition Zone?

Cool and warm season grasses

Lawn-care professionals divide the continental United States into three turf-grass regions:

If you live in the transition zone, there are options. Both cool season and warm season grasses perform well in this area. You may even find that planting a mix of cool and warm season grass seed creates that dream lawn that stays nice and green all year long.

Planting Cool Season Grasses

When you’re ready to plant, start by clearing your calendar. If you’re nurturing a new lawn, now is not a good time to take a vacation. Grass seeds must be watered daily until they germinate and the tiny plants are well established. Use a sprinkler every day to make sure your investment in seeds grows into a healthy, well-established lawn.

Spread the seed using the instructions on the bag. A simple, hand-held rotary seed spreader works well, or, if seeding large areas, a walk-behind spreader is a great investment. To use either, just fill the hopper and walk back and forth across the lawn while evenly spreading the seed. Then walk the area again per-pendicular to your first pass to create a grid across your lawn. This will provide seed coverage and help ensure the lawn grows in thick, full and lush. Don’t worry about walking on the seeded areas. Doing so will actually help establish contact with the soil for germination.

Watering Cool Season Grass

Your newly seeded area will desperately need water. Gilmour’s Adjustable Length Wind-resistant Rectangular Sprinkler provides the necessary gentle “rain” that’s perfect for your newly-growing lawn. The sprin-kler’s 20 jets cover up to 3,800 square feet, and it resists wind draft while eliminating evaporation. You won’t waste a single drop of water with this sprinkler!

The easiest way to water new cold weather grass seed is to use a timer. Set it for eight minutes – no longer. Remember, you’re not trying to water deeply at this point; you only want to moisten the seeds. Flooding them with too much water can wash the seed into clumps and create bare spots.

Water daily to provide young grass plants with consistent moisture. Sun and wind can quickly suck the moisture right out of the soil – and away from the grass. If you allow immature cool season grass to dry out or wilt, it may not recover.

Once the grass reaches a height of 3 inches, it’s time to mow. After mowing three times, you can pat yourself on the back and consider your grass established. At this point, water less frequently, but for longer amounts of time. This “deep watering” encourages roots to grow deep into the soil and creates a healthier lawn.

During the peak of the summer, cool season grass may struggle a bit with rising temperatures and dry weather conditions. To keep your grass green, establish a regular watering schedule of 1 inch of water per week, including rainfall, to maintain a gorgeous green lawn. Not sure if how much water your grass is getting? Each watering should provide moisture to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

You may choose to conserve water and allow your cool season grass to go dormant. Dormant grass turns brown, but maintains living roots. Continue to mow your grass as needed during this time. While you’re reducing water usage, don’t completely eliminate watering. Dormant grass often needs supple-mental moisture during drought conditions. Most cool season grasses require between ½ to 1 inch of water each week to remain healthy.

Types of Cool Season Grasses

Nurseries often sell grass seed year-round, which might make it a little more difficult to decide what kind of seed is appropriate for your lawn needs. It’s a good idea to check with the local university exten-sion experts for recommendations about your specific area. Many experts recommend planting a blend of different cool season grasses for the best lawn results. Some blends are designed for specific loca-tions, such as in the shade or for high traffic areas.

Grass types

Some cool season grass seeds to consider are:

It can take a bit of work to establish new grass. But with just a little investment of seed, water and time, you can have the lush, green lawn of your dreams – all year round.

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