Both cool season and warm season grasses can be planted in Kentucky, but no one grass is ideal to plant within the entire great state of Kentucky. You must select the correct grass seed type for your specific growing region and climate. Because Kentucky lawns experience relatively high temperatures in the summer but very cold temperatures in the winter, establishing a dense green turf for your lawn can be a challenge. With good grass selection, planting grass seed the right way, and sound management techniques after establishment, you can enjoy a beautiful looking grass lawn.
Which Grass to Select
When one thinks about planting grass seed in Kentucky, one special grass variety that first comes to mind is Kentucky bluegrass. However, even though the grass actually bears “Kentucky” in it’s name, it is in fact not the best adapted grass to plant in Kentucky. Go figure! Although you can find many high-quality Kentucky bluegrass lawns in Kentucky, tall fescue is the most suited grass to plant. Tall fescue can grow well in poor soil conditions, exhibits decent traffic and shade tolerance, and because of it’s drought tolerance, it will manage the warmer temperatures better but green-up nicely during the colder temperatures as well.
Fine Fescue and perennial rye grass may also be seeded in Kentucky under special conditions. In your warmer regions of Kentucky, lawns can also be established with warm season grasses like bermuda grass and zoysia grass. Although these grasses will go dormant and turn brown for 6 to 7 months out of the year, they are extremely heat, drought, and disease tolerant. You always have the option to over-seed your warm season grasses with a cool season variety like perennial rye grass to maintain a green lawn for more months out of the year.
Review the grasses below and after you make your selection that is best suited for where you will be planting, click on the planting grass seed page for detailed instructions on how to prepare your soil, planting grass seed, and watering after planting.
Tall fescue has been used traditionally for a low-maintenance grass in places that a coarser texture is not a concern. Tall fescue can handle soils low in nutrients, grows well under low maintenance and features good tolerance to insects and diseases. Tall fescue seed germinates and establishes rapidly but a bit slower than perennial ryegrass. When fully established, tall fescue has outstanding wear tolerance and due to its deep rooting system, tolerates drought and will stay green for the duration of most Kentucky summers without extra irrigation. Tall fescue seedlings will not be cold-tolerant and can die if planted too late in the season. However, well-established seedlings and fully developed lawns will withstand most Kentucky winters.
The best time for planting tall fescue seed in Kentucky is between Aug. 25 and Oct. 10. Keep in mind that lawns seeded within a week of Labor Day are more likely to fill in completely for winter and produce a thicker, denser turf appearance for the following spring compared to lawns seeded in October. Seed at 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet under a well prepared soil.
Tall fescue grows rapidly and needs frequent mowing, especially during the summer. Mow frequently making sure not to cut off more than one third of the grass height which will prevent unsightly scalping of your grass. Apply 1-1.5 lbs/1,000 sq ft of nitrogen in September and November and in May only apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
Red, hard and chewings fine fescue cultivars are fine-leaved turfgrasses that are suited well for conditions of shade, low soil moisture, low fertility, and soils with unfavorable pH levels. The fine fescues will need well-drained and somewhat dry soils with minimal amounts of management. Extra applications of fertilizer, frequent irrigation or establishment on poorly drained soils can lead to a drop in quality and plant body. With ideal management, the fine fescues could make an attractive turf for your lawn. In Kentucky, fine fescues are seldom seeded by itself. Fine fescues are commonly found in mixtures with the other cool-season turfgrasses on low maintenance or shady lawns. Plant at about 5 lbs per 1,000 square feet.
Kentucky bluegrass is the most cold resistant grass variety and is well adapted for your high elevetion colder regions of Kentucky. Newer varieties will be more resistant against diseases. It performs best in full sun, but could be mixed with a fine fescue to use in shady areas. Bluegrass might need one to three months to germinate and establish, based upon site conditions. It makes an outstanding athletic field. Bluegrass could be seeded or sodded for establishment.
Good soil preparation is very important when planting Kentucky bluegrass seed. (Visit the soil preparation and planting grass seed page for detailed instructions.) September is the best time to plant bluegrass seed because of warm soil temperatures and low weed competition.
Plant at 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet or 1.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet for over-seeding projects. Kentucky bluegrass grows best when mowed at a height of 2 to 3 inches and for low maintenance lawns should be fertilized twice a year. One pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in September and another application at the same rate in November. One more pound of nitrogen in late April or early May is recommended. (Click here for more information on grass fertilizer.)
Perennial Rye Grass
The majority of the perennial ryegrass used in Kentucky lawns is usually blended with a Kentucky bluegrass variety. Its quick establishment time frame works well with the reduced establishment time of bluegrass. It’s also a fine textured grass much like bluegrass with good drought tolerance. Not necessarily as cold tolerant as bluegrass but can produce a nice lawn in your colder regions of Kentucky. Rye grass is also a grass seed that can be used for over-seeding warm season grasses during their dormant period.
This is a fine-bladed grass that grows aggressively and strongly bonds to the soil surface via surface runners with stolons and underground rhizomes. All varieties require sun and should be cut as low as possible (Some hybrid Bermudas can be mowed at very low heights). Bermuda grass looks best when thatch growth is managed well. Because of its vigorous growth, bermuda grass is extremely drought, heat, salt, and traffic tolerant. There are many seeded varieties of bermuda but all hybrid varieties must be established from vegetative plant parts (sod, stolons, and plugs), and not from seed.
If using a seeded variety, bermuda grass should be planted starting in mid-May and can be continued all the way up to July. Seeding rate should be planted at 1.5 – 2.0 pounds per 1,000 square feet. During the summer growing season, apply 2 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square for low maintenance lawns and for a darker and greener bermuda lawn, apply up to 4 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. (Keep in mind that the more nitrogen applied, the faster bermuda grass will grow and the more it will need to be mowed.)
Zoysia grass may be hard to establish because of it slow growth and having a long dormant season, but once established, it can make a wonderful fine-textured turf cover. It can be established by vegetative parts and by seeds. The most common zoysia is a low maintenance turf grass whose leaf texture is like that of bermuda grass and like bermuda grass, forms stolons and rhizomes. Mow at ¾ to 1 ¼ inch. Zoysia leaves and stems are strong and rigid which enables it to handle a good deal of traffic when it is growing well during the hot summer season. With little water required, zoysia grass can grow well during the summer because of it’s heat and drought tolerance. It is more shade tolerant than bermuda grass but only in areas where it is warm year round. Zoysia grass suits well with low maintenance lawns where slow establishment is not a concern.
A true prairie grass with good heat and drought tolerance that is mostly established by vegetative plant parts but can be established by seed which are collected from female plants. Buffalograss is a fine textured grass that forms a dense turf with a light green color. It is not tolerant to sandy or salty soils and will not grow in shade. Buffalograss can be used for low maintenance lawns at 2500 to 7000 ft elevation and does not require a large amount of nitrogen or water. If plenty of water is supplied, buffalo grass can be cut at 1 ½ inches but for a truly low maintenance lawn, mow at 2 ½ to 3 inches during summer months.