Cool-season grass will thrive in your Northern Lawn

Chances are you have either warm or cold season grass or a combination of the two. You can’t just say “I live in Virginia so I have tall fescue or zoysiagrass.” It is not that easy since many people in Virginia also have Tall Fescue or a combination. I put together several tables to help you better understand where cool season grass grows, the type of weather, temperature it will tolerate and the sun, rain, wear requirements to keep your lawn in great shape this year.

From the map below you can see that cool season grass thrives in the northern portion of the US. This includes the North East, parts of the East Coast, all of the Mid West, Central Plains, Mountain Regions and Northern Western United States.

Cool season grasses are varieties that are in active growth (“green up”) much earlier in the growing season (mid-spring) and stay green longer into the fall before going dormant in late fall. But without regular summer watering, they will go dormant in the heat of summer. These grasses will tolerate a little shade but need at least a 1/2 to 3/4 of a day of full sun.


Watch out for brown spots on cool season grasses. Brown spots are caused by many different grass problems but circular or specific areas of brown spots are often caused by FUNGUS. The solution to brown spots in cool season grasses is to use Scott’s Disease EX and BioAdvanced Effective Fungicide. See the table below. The reason you want to use both chemicals is that they target different aspects of your lawn but work together to eliminate the overwhelming majority of brown spots.

Tall & Fine fescue Grass

Tall fescue has been growing in the USA since the 1800. It originated in Europe and was introduced to various states and eventually spread throughout the entire continent. It turns dark green in the middle of Spring and keeps much of the color until the Fall. 

It has great heat, traffic and drought tolerance – one of the best of the cool season grasses. It can grow in many soil types and in partial shaded areas. Overall it is pretty low maintenance and is a great grass to grow.

Tall Fescue grows quickly, much quicker than Kentucky Blue Grass. The roots are really long, some as deep as 2-3 feet. It can take medium amounts of foot traffic in the Spring and Summer. Just don’t run a lot on your grass.

Fine Fescue

Fine fescue grass have a thin, narrow blade and are very easy to maintain. They are a subgroup of the fescues and live up to their “fine” description. They are also fun to walk on. You will know if you walk on a fine fesue lawn since it is very soft to the touch and easy to walk on barefoot. A few fescues make up the “fine fescue” camp and include the crreping red fescue, hard fescue, cheewings fescue. Fine fesue is often part of a “shade mix” of grass seed as it helps to compliment tall fescue.

Kentucky Bluegrass didn’t originate in Kentucky (even though the State would love to claim it did). The grass also came over from Europe and Asia as many other grasses did. 

KBG has a greater cold tolerance than TTTF or Ryegrass. 

The chart on the right describes the pros and cons of the grass. Here are a few more considerations if you chose to go with KBG for your lawn:

  • Soil testing should be done every 3 years. The optimal pH is 5.8-7.0
  • If the pH is not optimal you should consider a fertilizer or supplement high in Iron to help get the deep green we all seek.

Seeds to consider: Seeds that are engineered to require less water. Pennington Smart Seed Kentucky Bluegrass is a seed that requires 30% less water. This really helps out in the Summer when KBG really needs that extra drink. It is available at Amazon, Walmart or online.

  • Average temp 65-75 degrees
  • Most cool season grasses are turf grasses. 
  • The plants do best in spring and fall when there is a plentiful supply of water.  
  • The grass goes dormant when it freezes
  • Grows slow in hot weather
  • Green year-round in transitional zone

    Combination: Most lawns have a combination of different grasses. When most home builders created the majority of houses in the last 50 years they would normally use the cheapest seed in the area to save money. So, your lawn is probably a combination of different grass, possibly cool and warm as well. 

Perennial Ryegrass

Kicks KBG and TTTF’s butt when it comes to growing fast. It germinates in a few days when it takes KBG several weeks to catch up.

Ryegrass is used for temporary and permanent lawns. It has a decent cold tolerance. Similar to TTTF, it grows in clumps and spreads with tillers, instead of rhizomes. The roots are shallower than KBG and TTTF.

Seeds to consider: Seeds that are engineered to require less water. Nature’s Seed has a great Perennial Ryegrass Seed Blend. The SeedSuperStore also has an excellent variety. It is certified seed from Oregon.

What about Warm Season Grass?

Warm season grasses are varieties that are in active growth beginning in late spring and go dormant in early to mid-fall. So they “green-up” in late spring when the nights begin to warm and go brown in mid-fall (late Sept.-Oct.) These grasses are very intolerant of shade. The more sun the better.

  • Average temp: 85-95 degrees F
  • Warm season grass includes those grass types that will grow best in warm months of spring, summer and fall. 
  • Warm weather turf grass varieties include: Bermuda Centipede Zoysia Buffalo Bahamas St. Augustine Carpet grass
  • Peak growing season in Summer
  • Goes dormant with 1st frost
  • Green year-round in tropical/sub-tropical regions 

Wrapping Up

Regardless of which cool-season grass type you choose, KBG, TTTF or Ryegrass, if properly feed and maintained, the grass will provide your family fun for years. We briefly touch on fungus in this article. If you would like more information click the links for deep dive into the following (fixing lawn fungus, fertilizer, grass seed, watering grass, pest control, weed control).

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D. Hahn

DIY guru, dad, husband, blogger. When I'm not creating life hacks I'm teaching my kids how to fix stuff after their dad breaks it.

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