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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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!