Planting Grass Seed in North Carolina

by Dallas Piscopo

When planting grass seed in North Carolina, choosing the right grass to plant is the first and most crucial step.  No one type of grass is best suited for all situations and many factors need to be considered before deciding on which grass seed type to plant.  The most important factor to consider should be in what region of North Carolina you plan to establish your grass lawn.

North Carolina is divided into three regions where soil and climate conditions are different from one another and therefore grass seed selection will be different as well.  Locate your region in the map below.

Both cool season and warm season grasses are grown in North Carolina.  Cool season grasses grow best and stay fairly green during the fall and spring and not as much in the summer.  Tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescue, and perennial rye grass are some of your most commonly used cool season grasses.  Warm season grasses grow best during the summer and go dormant after the first heavy frost. Typical warm season varieties grown in North Carolina are bermuda grass, zoysia grass, centipede grass, St. Augustine grass, and carpet grass.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue grows best in the Western mountains and piedmont regions and is easily established from seed.  Tall fescue performs best in full sun or medium shade but will not grow well in full sun within the coastal plain Eastern region.  It can be seeded by itself but is often blended with other cool season grasses like fine fescue.  Fine fescue varieties are among the most shade tolerant grasses so if you are planting in an area with lots of shade, plant a tall and fine fescue grass blend.  Tall fescue has pretty good disease resistance, drought tolerance, cold tolerance, moderate traffic tolerance, and can grow fairly well with minimum maintenance.

When planting grass seed, it is highly recommended to seed two or even three different tall fescue cultivars.  This expands the genetic diversity which gives your lawn a better chance against a variety of different diseases and pests.  Seed at a rate of 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet and performs best when mowed at a height of 3 inches.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky Bluegrass can produce a high quality, medium to fine-textured turf when grown in the right climate.  Kentucky bluegrass is the most cold tolerant of the grasses and will grow best in the cooler mountainous Western regions of North Carolina and can be grown in the piedmont region if managed correctly.  Because Kentucky bluegrass is not tolerant to warm weather, it should never be planted in the coastal Eastern regions of North Carolina.  It is considered the best quality turf grass and makes a fine textured lawn. It includes the ability to fill-in damaged parts without needing to reseed.  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.

Seeding rates range from 1 to 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet and Kentucky bluegrass grows best when mowed at a height of 2 to 3 inches and for low maintenance lawns, it 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.)

Fine Fescue

Fine Fescue varieties used widely across North Carolina include creeping red, chewings, and hard fescue. Known for good shade tolerance, drought, and growing well in poor soil conditions compared to other cool season grasses, fine fescues are often seeded with tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass cultivars when planted in the shade or in areas where low maintenance is desired.  They are best adapted to the Western mountain regions of North Carolina but can be grown in the piedmont region under good management.  Fine fescues will not grow well in sunny, humid and warm temperatures and therefore should never be planted in the Eastern coastal region of North Carolina.

It is recommended to plant fine fescue with a Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue blend at 1.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.  Maintain mowing height between 1.5 and 2.5 inches if blended with Kentucky bluegrass but no less than 2.5 inches if blended with a tall fescue variety.

Perennial Rye Grass

Perennial Rye Grass is similar in appearance to Kentucky bluegrass, but should only be planted in the Western mountain regions of North Carolina.  Perennial rye grass complements Kentucky bluegrass quite well and for that reason are planted together in a blend often.  Rye grass germinates faster than Kentucky bluegrass but bluegrass has the ability to spread and fill in damaged areas.  This grass seed blend should be planted at 2.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet, with Kentucky bluegrass consisting of 60 percent of the blend by weight.  Mow at 1.5 to 2.5 inches.

Warm Season Grasses for the Eastern Coastal Region:

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is a fine-bladed grass that grows aggressively and strongly bonds to the soil surface via surface runners with stolons and underground rhizomes.  Bermuda grass will grow best in your warmer coastal regions of North Carolina and 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

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. Zoysia grass is suited well for the Eastern coastal region of North Carolina. 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.

Centipede Grass

Centipede grass is a light green, coarse leaved turf grass that is best used as a low maintenance lawn.  It demands little fertilizer, infrequent mowing, and grows well in full sun to partial shade.  Keep in mind that it does not tolerate traffic, compaction, high pH soils, high phosphorus, excessive thatch, drought, or lots of shade.   Centipede is slow to establish from seed and may take up to two or three years.  Mow at 1 to 1.5 inches.

St. Augustine Grass

St. Augustine is a tropical coarse-textured grass with very wide blades that creeps along the soil with a shallow rooting system making it easy to control overgrowth into undesirable areas.  St. Augustine Grass is salt-tolerant and can grow well in the shade but must be established by sod or plugs.  Use St. Augustine in the warmer coastal regions of North Carolina.  Mow at ½ to 1 ½ inches.

Carpet Grass

Carpet grass is a slow and low-growing, medium green, coarse textured lawn grass.  It resembles St. Augustine grass but has wider leaves and produces a very low maintenance, general purpose turf.  It grows well in full sun to moderate shade and may out perform other grasses in wet, shaded, acid soils.  Carpet grass does not tolerate cold, drought, salt, or traffic and needs to be mowed infrequently at 1.5 inches.

Visit the Planting Grass Seed page for detailed instructions on how to correctly plant these grass varieties mentioned above!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Herring June 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

We have house on the NC coast the yard was originally planted with the plugs off the te boxes on the golf coarse. for 5 or 6 years it was abolsutely the best. My father had past away all the care for the lawn has come to a halt .it looks terrible . Stil has some bermuda in it and a 100 other different kinds of grass. Hasn’t been plugged in years,very little fertilizer. Any hope on this and would it be safe to plug and plant Bermuda seed with starter fertilizer Last part of June

Reply

Dallas Piscopo June 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I appreciate your comment and yes, there is still hope for your lawn. It would be ideal to plant or plug Bermuda grass in early May but there shouldn’t be a problem in late June. Two full, warm months with night time temperatures above 65 degrees should be enough time for the grass to establish itself before the fall. If you’re just patching up some bad areas of the lawn, you might find it easier to plant grass sod. Check out these grass sod installation tips.

Good low growing hybrid varieties are readily available in sod, plus the Bermuda grass will establish itself much faster. If using sod, apply a small amount of the grass fertilizer 16-16-16 or 15-15-15. Apply the fertilizer on the soil underneath the sod. If planting Bermuda seed, apply grass fertilizer high in phosphorous on the soil before planting.

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Carrie B February 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

We have a lawn in Raleigh that had coastal bermuda and tall fescue sewn about 3 years ago. The yard has heavy traffic from the use of 4 dogs and in the winter the grass gets ripped out of the ground.

We also have a rain wash issue that leaves our yard wet for many days after rain. Of course there is no grass right now to soak up any rain.

What would be a good grass to handle all of the traffic from the dogs and their activities?

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Dallas Piscopo March 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Bermuda grass is the most traffic tolerant grass however it is a warm-season grass and will be dorment, or brown, 6 months out of the year. You can over-seed in the late summer/early fall with perennial rye grass to maintain a nice green grass all year long but rye grass is not tolerant to heavy traffic and your dogs will do a number on it. 4 dogs are hard to manage when trying to maintain a lush lawn but bermuda grass over-seeded with rye in the winter would be my recommendation.

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Joseph Dupuia March 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

We live in a residential planned area of Cary NC (Western Wake County). We bought a house about 4 years ago with moderately poor-to-poor grass conditions, and have neglected it more since. I’ve noticed almost everyone in the neighborhood surrounding us lay sod, but we would like to explore the option of testing soil; balancing/fertilizing; and planting grass seed.

It is not only a yard with lots of shade from large tree cover, but we also live in the recess of our neighborhood-so there is ample shade almost continually.

If you could point me in a certain direction or two I would be much obliqued-Joseph

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Dallas Piscopo April 13, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thanks for the post Joseph! Before you start check out the planting grass seed page for some useful information. Testing your soil to get a profile of nutrients and structure is a great idea and a good place to start. Take a few soil samples (3-4 inches) from multiple areas of your lawn and take it to the nearest university agriculture extension office. They ought to be able to run a soil analysis for you and provide sound recommendations of soil amendments/nutrients that can be applied to make your grass grow much better. Fine fescue is the most shade tolerant grass species and appears to be your best option. Also check out my post Grass Seed for Shade for more useful tips that will help you out.

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Angela H May 6, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I recently moved into an old house in Walstonburg, NC (near Greenville NC). our home is on an acre lot that hasn’t been maintain well in the last 10 years at least. I have no idea what type of grass is out there except there seems to be multiple types (ares of dark green thick grass as well as light green thin grass) There are many “patches” all over the yard changing from one step to the next. Huge sections are literally covered with clover and dandy’s are naturally present. I have also notice what we call “stickers” in little flat bunches. I also have some completely bare areas where trees were removed. I don’t need a perfect lawn but I would like some helpful info on the best path to a better looking lawn. thanks in advance!!

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Dallas Piscopo May 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Sounds like you need a complete lawn renovation! First of all you want to get rid of all the weeds. If practical, pull the big weeds by hand but you might want to stay away from those patches of “stickers”. Can you send pictures of the different weeds you have? Because you have an acre of land you’ll probably want to mechanically spray the entire area with a herbicide. If you really want to do it right, rent a soil aerator and de-thatcher machine and really beat up the lawn with these two machines. This will loosen up the soil bringing oxygen to the roots and lighten up the thick grass mat preparing it for healthy new growth to snuff out any of the existing weeds. You’ll then want to take a soil sample of your lawn and apply any soil amendments or grass fertilizer needed. For the bare areas, it’ll be easier and faster to simply cover them up with grass sod. I know it sounds like a lot of work, especially for an acre of land, but your lawn will definitely benefit from this extreme makeover. With such a large area, you might want to hire a lawn care specialist to get your lawn back on track. Hope this helps and good luck!

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Angela H June 18, 2013 at 6:04 am

Thanks Dallas. You said what I feared you would say…extreme makeover. We are working on a budget and a full schedule so doing it ourselves or hiring could be a problem haha. Do you recommend any particular herbicide? Is the aerator and de-thatcher all one machine or 2 and are they/it hard to use? If I decide to hire do I tell them I want it aerated, dethatched and fertilized or should they apply a herbicide too? Do you know anything about a weed called “pig weed”? Thanks again for all your help.

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Jeremy F May 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Im building a new house in the western part of NC. So im starting with no grass. I do want a nice lawn however cutting grass every five days is not what I want. I dontwant to sod and would like to start from scratch and see my results. What would you suggest?

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Dallas Piscopo May 27, 2013 at 11:33 am

Hey Jeremy and congratulations on your new house! I think you might be content with a tall fescue grass lawn. It should grow well in the western region, easy to establish, and you can maintain a high mowing height so that you don’t have to mow every week. Just don’t let it get too long between mowings as there is a risk of scalping. Make sure to seed at least 3 different varieties of tall fescue to minimize disease pressures. Hope this helps.

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Monica May 27, 2013 at 2:33 am

Hi! We live in Davie County and for the past 4 years have been trying to grow grass. The area in front is full sun to full shade and in back is full sun. We will have some grass come up, but little of it matures, no matter when we seed. We have tried using lime on this red “clay” and it does help some. We also use a 10-10-10 fertilizer on it several times a year. We probably need high traffic because we can see dog “trails” in a few areas. Can you help?? We can grow flowers, bulbs, shrubs, wild strawberries and wild violets, but NO GRASS!
Thanks- Monica

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Dallas Piscopo May 27, 2013 at 11:45 am

I’m sorry to hear about your grass troubles. Have you tried seeding tall fescue? It’s a pretty hardy grass that grows well in all kinds of soils. You might want to take soil samples and have it tested at your local University Agriculture Extension office. Their labs can determine if soil amendments are needed to help growth. You mention you have a red clay soil and imply that it may be compacted? This could be the problem and would require implementing an aerator breaking up the hard soil surface and adding more organic matter improving the soil profile. Next time you plant grass seed, try top dressing it with a thin layer of organic matter, or compost. After the grass is about an inch tall, you can then hit it with the 10-10-10 fertilizer trying to spread about 0.5-1.0 lbs nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Hope this helps and let me know how things turn out.

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