When choosing a type of grass for a California lawn, your location within the state is going to be the main factor in making the decision California is a very long state, stretching over multiple climate types. Grass that grows well in northern California won’t do well in the southern portion’s warm winters, but warm-season grasses will be as good choices for hot summers in the north as for the year-round warmth of the south.
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What Kind Of Grass Seed Grows Easiest In California?
When you’re trying to decide on a grass to plant, certain factors will help you know which is best for your specific situation. Since California varies widely in its climates, identifying your local conditions will help you know which grass will grow well and which won’t.
Your choice of grass type will depend on the:
- Location – Depending on where you’re located within the state, different soil types and weather patterns will affect the ability of one or another grass to grow.
- Use – Some grasses hold up better than other types to foot traffic. If you, your children, or your dogs are active in your yard, a hearty turf grass is important to keep from damaging the lawn. On the other hand, if you don’t use your lawn very much, you have a wider choice of grass types to choose from.
- Landscape – Yards with few or no trees will get a lot more sun than a lawn that gets lots of shade. Some grasses love open sun, while others do best in shaded areas. Still others have some tolerance for shade in areas that sometimes get sun and sometimes don’t.
- Germination period – How fast you need the grass to take hold might affect your decision on what to plant. Some grass takes longer to establish, while others grow in in a few weeks. Some seeds come with coating, while others can be planted with a hydromulch; both support the germination process by helping seeds retain moisture.
- Seasonality – If you have cool falls, winters, and springs, your planting schedule will be constrained by the changing temperatures. In areas with daytime temperatures in the 60’s or above year-round, sowing seeds doesn’t need to be as timed as rigidly.
If you live in northern California, where fall and winter are cold, a warm-season grass will be an option for greenery in late spring and summer. In parts of Southern California, warm-season grass may be able to be grown year-round, or with a very short period of dormancy in the winter months. The top warm-season grasses suited for one of California’s climates include:
- St. Augustine
Bermuda grass is one of the best grasses for California. This sun-loving grass can be planted in all three types of soil (loam, clay, and sand), making it adaptable across the state from the sandy coast, to the clay interior, and northwards to temperate environments with more loamy soils. The dense root system that both reaches deep into the soil and builds a dense network of rhizomes (below-ground root extensions) and stolons (above-ground root extensions) that gives it many of its advantages as a warm-season grass.
A Bermuda lawn is drought tolerant because its many roots store moisture over a while, which also makes this a dense, wear resistant turfgrass. Not only can it take a lot of wear from foot traffic, Bermuda’s spreading habits help it repair itself quickly when spots are damaged or torn up. The sturdiness of the grass also makes it relatively resistant to pests and disease.
Zoysia is another contender for your warm-season California law. Unlike Bermuda, Zoysia will grow in shaded areas of the yard and can make a good compliment to Bermuda lawns. A Zoysia lawn is more tolerant of cooler temperatures than other warm-season grass and is a great option for the transitional area of California, where cold snaps and low temperatures are more likely to occur than further south.
Like Bermuda, Zoysia has both rhizomes and stolons and develops a thick turf, giving it resistance in drought conditions and tolerance to wear that’s superior to some other type of grass.
A Zoysia lawn is a slow grower and takes a while to establish itself. This also means it’s slow to repair itself, although this grass does spread and will fill in damaged areas to heal. Zoysia isn’t well-suited to clay soil, but it grows well in areas with sand or loam.
St. Augustine grass is a great option for California lawns. While this one doesn’t grow from seed, sod installations will have this grass reaching across your lawn to fill in all the space it can. Another sun-loving warm-season grass, St. Augustine is much less wear-tolerant than Bermuda and Zoysia. This one is best for yards that don’t get walked on much.
Their roots aren’t particularly deep, and they spread by above-ground stolons. These surface-level root extensions can get ripped from the yard and damaged rather easily, but this fast-growing grass will quickly fill back in any damaged areas.
Since St. Augustine has a more fragile root system that other grasses, it’s also less drought tolerant. The grass makes up for that, however, by its lower fertilizer needs and its adaptation to soil with sand. This makes it a good choice for coastal areas of California, where soils are sandy and days are warm. In the hottest parts of California, St. Augustine will easily grow year-round.
In northern California and in the transitional region in the middle of the state, cool-season grasses can be planted when temperatures are in the 70s and below. These include:
- Perennial Ryegrass
- Kentucky Bluegrass
Grass from the fescue family is a great choice for cool-season California, but also for warm areas in the state that get lots of shade. Fescue’s deep root system gives it a particularly high drought tolerance among cool-season grasses, and it survives much longer into summer than other ones do. Fescue is well-suited to sandy soil, which makes it a good option for coastal California in the cooler months.
Fescue is a bunching grass, meaning it grows one root bunch from a seed, and doesn’t spread the way grasses with rhizomes and stolons do.
In wetter areas of California, fescue is more vulnerable to disease since it likes to have longer blades, which creates the potential for mold or pests taking hold in wet conditions. Fescue, even though it’s a cool-season grass, does best when it gets watered just once or twice a week.
Perennial Ryegrass is a true cool-season grass that doesn’t tolerate much heat at all. It’s great for the northern parts of California where temperatures can reach freezing in the winter. Rye is a good choice for shady lawns, and like fescue, it’s a bunch grass that grows in small groups.
Since it grows from seed, it doesn’t fill in or repair itself as well as spreading grasses do. As a shade-tolerant cool-season grass, rye can be vulnerable to pests and disease if not mowed regularly. However, it’s a fast grower and will germinate quickly once planted.
Kentucky bluegrass is a hearty choice for the cooler months, having a higher tolerance for cold than perennial rye. That being said, it also has a lower drought tolerance than other grasses, needing up to 50% more water than perennial rye, and twice as much as fescue.
Although it has a higher water need, Kentucky bluegrass has a dense root system in comparison to other cool-season grasses. It’s the only one that has rhizomes, which means it’s able to spread to fill in bare patches and repair itself when damaged.
Kentucky bluegrass is often mixed with perennial rye due to its slow growth and lower tolerance to heat. Bluegrass also will enter dormancy faster than the others when temperatures rise and may need extra water to keep it going during a heat wave in cool seasons. Although it is more cold-resistant than other grasses, Kentucky bluegrass likes full sun and will tolerate only partial shade.
When Should I Plant Grass Seed In California?
Since the state of California has such a range of climates, your location is going to determine when you are able to plant seeds. Northern California residents will have to follow the seasonal schedule and choose the appropriate grass for the weather: cool season grasses should be planted in early spring or early fall, while warm season grasses should be planted in late spring or early summer.
For residents in the transitional zone, the seasons may be more or less intense, and planting grass that likes those middling climates will do best. In the most southern and interior California, warm-season grasses can be planted or overseeded almost any time of the year as long as they receive enough water throughout germination.