Warm in the summer and mild in the winter, South Carolina’s climate keeps lawn owners on their feet to keep conditions green across all seasons. While the seasons change evenly across the state, the soil type is different on the coast from that of the innermost territory.
As you go inland from the coast, the soil gets less sandy and loamier, with more clay present in the ground. Many grasses will grow well in the moist conditions the state offers throughout the year, including fescue and zoysia, among certain other cool and warm-season grasses.
What Grass Seed Grows Best In South Carolina?
South Carolina’s climate is great for warm season grasses in late fall and summer, and cool season grasses in early spring, fall, and over winter, meaning the options for grass to grow will change throughout the year. Aside from the season, other variables you should consider when making the right choice for your lawn include:
- Location – With hot summers and cold winters that will reach into freezing temperatures for a couple of months, the biggest variation in location within the state will be between the coastal area, with sandy soil and wetter summers, and the interior of the state, which has loamy soil and slightly dryer summers.
- Use – The purpose of your lawn will influence what type of grass would be right. If your lawn gets lots of wear, some grass types will be tougher against it than others. A grass that’s more easily damaged might be right for a lawn that is for display and occasional light use.
- Landscape – Trees, fences, and buildings all cast shadows in your yard, while open yards and fields will be drenched in sunlight. Some grasses tolerate shade, while others can’t stand it. The landscape in your yard will guide you on what type of grass, or what mix, would be best.
- Germination period – Some grass grows more slowly than others, and if you’re in a rush to regrow your lawn, it’s important to know how fast the species you’re choosing from will grow after it’s planted.
- Seasonality – The difference between warm and cool-season grasses is a very important one: seasonal differences like the amount of light, soil temperatures, and dryness condition certain grasses to tolerate certain kinds of weather, so it’s important to choose, and plant, cool-season grass for the cooler months, and warm-season grass for the warm months.
While South Carolina has hot summers, temperatures hover just above, or briefly reach into, freezing during the winter. The best cool-season grasses for the state include:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Perennial Ryegrass
Kentucky bluegrass is a great choice for South Carolina yards in the spring and fall. This grass has it all when it comes to a hearty cool-season Carolina lawn: it has a high cold tolerance for when temperatures dip down, and it loves a lot of water, which it will get plenty of in the wet transitional seasons. It’s a dense turfgrass and is very soft, making it good for active use by your family and friends.
Kentucky bluegrass is the only cool-season grass with rhizomes, or underground root extensions, that allow it to spread across the yard. This is what builds the grass’ dense turf quality, and it will spread to fill in any areas that may get damaged from wear. This grass likes full sun, but it will go dormant quickly once summer heat starts to settle in.
South Carolina’s well-draining sandy soils also provide a comfortable growing environment for perennial ryegrass in the cool seasons. Ryegrass is often planted with Kentucky bluegrass because rye grows more quickly and is more shade tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass. Unlike Bluegrass, rye is a bunching grass that only grows from a seed, but regular overseeding will ensure even coverage of a rye lawn.
Perennial ryegrass doesn’t do well in the heat or drought of summer, but it is able to last longer without water than bluegrass. A rye lawn can take some wear, but it needs to be reseeded to fill in any damaged areas. Its quick growth, however, helps provide the coverage necessary to keep weeds from taking advantage of open space.
Grasses from the fescue family, like tall fescue and fine fescue, are well-adapted to sandy soil like that of the coastal region of South Carolina. Fescue grass has deep roots, and like rye, is a bunching grass that tolerates shade and cool temperatures. More similarly to Bermuda, however, fescues aren’t very fast growers. Fescue grass likes to be kept longer on average so its blades will shade itself and protect the grass from drying out too much.
Fescue can tolerate more heat than either perennial rye or Kentucky bluegrass due to its comparatively long roots (which can reach groundwater well below the surface), and can stay green into the first parts of summer. With the right amount of water and without excessive heat, fescue may be an option for warm-season areas that get shade throughout the season.
On the South-Eastern Atlantic coast, South Carolina’s summers are warm and wet. Luckily, most warm-weather grass needs a lot of water to deal with high temperatures, and the best among choices among them include:
- St. Augustine
St. Augustine is one of the best grasses you can grow on a seashore or in inland sandy soils. It’s one of the fastest spreading grasses, reaching across a yard with above-ground root extensions, or stolons (which is the only way to propagate this grass; it doesn’t produce viable seeds and can only be planted as sod).
It’s one of the thirstiest grasses around as well, which will make it a good choice for the wet South Carolina climate. The high water needs of the grass, while tolerating lots of precipitation, means it’s not very drought tolerant, and the above-ground stolons can get stressed by heat and dry out if the lawn isn’t hydrated well enough.
When this sun-loving grass receives enough water, however, it will stay green throughout the summer. The grass’ surface-level extensions mean it’s a more delicate type of grass and isn’t tolerant of too much wear or foot traffic. If damaged, however, it will quickly regrow to fill itself in. The grass’ aggressive spread makes it a great ground cover to prevent soil loss from rain and storms.
Bermuda grass, unlike St Augustine, is very drought tolerant, but it will appreciate the moist and sunny Carolina climate. The grass gets its drought tolerance from a dense root system of both stolons and rhizomes (below-ground root extensions). The dense turf it builds up also makes it able to withstand a good amount of wear and use. If it does get damaged, this fast spreader will quickly grow back to fill itself in.
Bermuda will grow well across the state, but it does better in the clay soil of the interior state than St. Augustine would. The grass’ deep and dense root system will be able to work its way through the more solid ground and utilize the higher moisture content of the clay-based topsoil. As a tough turf grass, Bermuda is a prime choice for a lawn that you can actively enjoy in the warmer months of the year.
Zoysia is another dense turf grass that is able to take a lot of wear over the summer. It’s more shade tolerant than St. Augustine or Bermuda and is a good seed to mix in with those other grass types. Zoysia grass grows more slowly than the others, but, like Bermuda, it has an intricate system of both rhizomes and stolons that create a thick ground cover and can work its way into clay-based soil.
A Zoysia lawn’s roots also give it good drought tolerance, allowing it to store water to tap into when conditions get hot and dry. Being more shade tolerant, Zoysia can deal with lower temperatures than Bermuda or St. Augustine, which allows the grass to revive in late spring and stay alive longer into the fall.
When Should I Plant Grass Seed In South Carolina?
Since South Carolina’s climate is mostly in the transitional zone, cool seasons reach into the 50’s and 40’s, temperatures too low for warm season grasses to survive. Grass planting is, then, constrained by seasons: cool-season grasses should be planted at the beginning of spring and the beginning of fall, and warm-season grasses should be planted towards the end of spring and in early summer.
Whether overseeding or growing the lawn in freshly tilled soil, keeping the soil moist throughout the germination period is essential to the good growth of the grass. While the South Carolina climate is rather wet, hydroseeding or buying seeds with coatings on them helps ensure the seeds retain their moisture.
Coating and hydromulch products also usually contain fertilizer, while the solid coating and growing medium not only keep in moisture but protect from pests. Even for fast-growing grass types, you should hold off on mowing until the grass has grown taller than the normal cutting height for the species.