Florida environments are some of the warmest and sunniest in the US, but even within the state, there are different climates that suit one type or another of grass. Some parts of Florida have cooler temperatures in the winter, while some southern locations can grow warm-season grasses year-round.
When you’re starting a new lawn, the right seed for each property will be different based on your location within the state, the way you’re planning on using the yard, and your landscape features. Otherwise, taking care of seeds as they sprout will be the same for all types of grass, although for different lengths of time, and at different times of the year.
What’s The Best Grass Seed To Plant In Florida?
Certain factors will count in choosing the best grass seed for your Florida lawn. These include:
- Location – Some parts of Florida are warmer than others. It’s a long state, and as you go further south, the monthly average temperatures change less and less.
- Use – Some grasses are better than others for foot traffic. Dense turf grasses that can be cut low are better for yards and fields that are meant for lots of wear, while other grass types are better for show only.
- Landscape features – All grass, especially warm-season types, needs lots of sunlight throughout the day. Different grass types have different shade tolerances, and for a yard with lots of trees, a shade-tolerant species or variety may be better than a full-sun type; the reverse is true for wide open yards without much shade.
- Germination period – Some grass types take longer to germinate than others. Certain ones will grow in a couple of weeks, while others may need up to a month or two to fully grow in.
- Seasonality – In the parts of the state that are warmest, grass seed can be sown virtually at any point in the year, while northern climates are constrained by more noticeable seasonal changes, requiring different grass types for different times of the year.
Seasonal Grass Types
There are both warm and cool-season grasses, and depending on your location in Florida, a cool-season grass may or may not need to be an option for cool-season coverage. Middle Florida will only have a couple of months of dormancy for their warm-season grass types, while southern Florida may have no dormancy at all. The northernmost parts of Florida will have a few months of cold weather and can grow cool-season grasses in the fall and winter.
Seasonal conditions affect growth patterns of seeds as well as the grass. In the warmest areas, lawns can be overseeded at any time, but in the northern parts of the state, seeding needs to follow a seasonal schedule to be sure the right grasses are growing during the right times. A warm-season grass that’s planted too late can be damaged by frost before it’s ready to go dormant, and then have a harder time reviving when spring arrives.
Warm-season grasses thrive when days are long and bright with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. The most popular among these include:
- St Augustine
- Centipede grass
Although St Augustine grass doesn’t produce seeds (it’s the only one of the group that doesn’t) and can only be installed with sod or plugs, it’s an important grass in the Florida landscape that might be the best choice for your lawn. This aggressive warm-season grass is drought resistant, loves open sun, but is sensitive to herbicides.
St Augustine reproduces and spreads by stolons: above-ground root extensions that can be damaged more easily than other grasses that have dense root systems, so this isn’t one that holds up well to high traffic. To protect its stolons, this grass likes to grow a little taller than most other warm-season grasses.
Cold weather is a problem for St Augustine, and it will go dormant when temperatures reach into the 60s. However, this is a grass that will stay green year round in the further southern climates of Florida.
Bahia grass is another type that likes full sun and is one of the lower maintenance warm-season grasses. It’s the most drought tolerant, and unlike St. Augustine, it can take a lot of wear. Both types of grass, however, like sandy soils (which are very common in Florida, both north and south), and these have some of the deepest roots of all grasses, which allows them to reach deep into the ground for moisture and survive longer without water than other warm-season turf grasses.
A Bahia lawn has a shorter growing season than St Augustine, and in northern Florida, it should be planted in early to mid-spring. Since it will go dormant in temperatures below 70, it shouldn’t be planted too late in the spring or summer season or it may be damaged before it’s able to properly prepare to enter its low energy dormancy in fall.
Bermuda grass is one of the most loved warm-season grasses due to its ability to be mowed low, take lots of foot traffic, and tolerate some drought conditions. Bermuda and Bahia are similar in that they have both stolons, above-ground root extensions, and rhizomes, below-ground root extensions, that together develop a dense turf that is both drought and wear resistant.
Bermuda has soft, fine blades and is loved as a grass to play in. It’s found on golf courses and other sports fields, as well as in residential yards. Like other warm-season grasses, Bermuda loves full sun, and compared to other types, it isn’t very shade tolerant at all.
Centipede grass is one of the more shade tolerant types and will thrive in areas under trees and along fences where Bermuda or St. Augustine might not do so well. It’s low maintenance but is a sensitive grass that expands by stolons. This limits its use as ground cover for heavily worn areas, but the durability of this grass makes it a good choice for shadier areas that don’t get much traffic.
Zoysia is a top choice for a Florida lawn. The grass is a little less drought tolerant than others, but it is more versatile than others in its shade tolerance. This is a slower-growing grass, but its hearty turf contains both rhizomes and stolons, and compared to other grasses, it recovers from damage quickly. Like Bermuda, it’s both soft and tolerant of wear.
A Zoysia lawn also has some more flexibility in terms of weather. While St. Augustine and Bermuda don’t do very well in lower temperatures, Zoysia can avoid dormancy in some northern areas of Florida when its blades are kept longer and its thatch is built up.
Will Any Cool-Season Grasses Grow In Florida?
In the northern half of the state, where temperatures can reach freezing in the winter, cool-season grasses can be planted as a cover for fall and winter. Fescue and Kentucky bluegrass will both do well in the cooler parts of Florida.
Fescue is a cool-season grass that, unlike the warm-season grasses, doesn’t spread around the yard by its roots, but only by seed. It grows in individual bunches from each seed and will sprout deep roots. It does best in sandy soils, like those found across most of Florida, and is one of the most drought tolerant grasses. This also makes it somewhat tolerant of heat, and it will stay green into the early summer.
If used to plant in shady areas, fescue is a good compliment to sun-loving warm-season grasses. For parts of the parts of Florida that get a cool fall and winter, fescue is a great option to sow in early fall as your summer grass starts to enter dormancy.
Unlike fescue, Kentucky bluegrass is a spreader, reaching out to fill open space with rhizome extensions. Bluegrass is a good option for winter cover in the parts of Florida that receive cold weather. It has a tolerance for shade but will also thrive in the open sun, making it a flexible choice for cool-season lawns.
The Frost Line In Florida
The “frost line” in Florida is considered to be along highway 60, which crosses the state right about in the center. Above the line, winters bring frost and reach down to 30 degrees, while below the line, it rarely freezes or frosts enough to prevent grass from staying green year-round.
In the middling areas of the state, grass might be able to avoid dormancy if its length is kept a little higher and you leave its thatch in place to insulate the lawn. In the warmest areas, grass might still enter dormancy from heat, but this can also be avoided with proper watering.
Planting Grass Seed In Florida
Once you’ve chosen the right type of grass for your lawn, finding the right seed is the next step. Some growers will identify a variety of grass for its drought tolerance, texture, or another feature that it was bred for. Others will choose a blend of grass species for the most robust lawn in all conditions.
In warmer parts of Florida, seed can be planted almost any time of the year since there is no frost or cool-season dormancy to worry about. In these areas, grass shouldn’t be planted in the middle or end of summer, when the sun is strongest and temperatures are highest.
This can cause mature grass to go dormant, and if it doesn’t, it will still be stressed and in a lower energy, slow-growth mode. Grass seed shouldn’t be planted under such stressful conditions.
In areas that receive chilly falls and winters, a seasonal planting schedule should be kept to. Cool-season grasses can be planted in early spring and early fall, while warm-season grasses might be able to be grown from mid-spring into the summer. In Florida, it’s sometimes easier to go by the weather than by the month.
Germinating Grass Seeds In Florida
Germinating seeds in Florida is similar to anywhere else: they must be kept moist until they’ve sprouted and grown into a mowable height. This usually means a few weeks for any seed, although some seeds take longer to grow in than others. As mentioned, northern Florida has to keep to spring and summer growing seasons, while southern Florida has longer, if not year-round, windows for planting grass seed.
There are, however, some ways to speed up the germination process a little, or at least make sure the grass grows in at its own healthy pace. This may include using coated seeds or hydroseeding the lawn.
Some grass germinates and grows faster than others:
- Bahia – 14-28 days (2-4 weeks)
- Bermuda – 10-30 days (1.5 weeks to 1 month)
- Centipede -14-21 days (2-3 weeks)
- Zoysia 14-21 days (2-3 weeks)
- Fescue – 7-14 (1-2 weeks)
- Kentucky bluegrass – 14-30 (2 weeks to 1 month)
Coated Or Uncoated Seed?
Whether a seed is coated or uncoated might make a difference in the number of seeds that reach germination. Coatings add a sponge-like absorption that holds moisture in, helping the seed avoid drying out between waterings.
Bare seeds lose some moisture from exposure to air and light, which is why keeping the soil moist (but not wet) constantly throughout the germination is so important. If they dry out, the germination process will stop and won’t be able to be restarted.
Coatings may also include some fungicides, fertilizers, or other additives that help the seeds grow in the strongest that they can. Coated seeds are especially useful in dry areas, and in hot, sandy Florida soils that may drain quickly, these coatings might make a significant impact in the success rate of your sprouting seeds.
Hydroseeding, or hydromulching, is another option to provide seeds with moisture-retaining support throughout the germination process. Hydromulch is a mixture of grass seed, fertilizer, mulch, and a solidifying agent like paper pulp or a biodegradable synthetic binder.
Like a sponge, it absorbs and holds moisture between waterings for an even and consistent delivery to the growing seeds. Not only does hydroseeding support seed growth, it can speed it up by a couple of days on average because it delivers concentrated nutrients in a moist, protected environment.