As a state right within the transitional zone of the US, Virginia’s warm summers and cool to cold winters make it necessary to plant both warm and cool-season grasses to get through the year with a green lawn in every month.
The easiest grass to grow in Virginia will depend not only on the season but also on whether you’re located in the interior of the state or on the eastern seaboard.
What Type Of Grass Grows Best In Virginia?
The best choice of grass for a Virginia lawn will change based on the season: some warm-season grasses stand out for summertime in Virginia, and a few cool-season grasses will do best in the colder months of the year. The variables that you’ll have to consider when making a choice for the type of grass to grow in your lawn include:
- Location – Virginia’s soil profiles across the state change from sandy, and sometimes with clay, along the coast, to more clay-heavy and loamy soils in the central and western regions. The Atlantic coast gets a bit more rain than the rest of the state, and the mountainous west has a higher elevation that can get colder in the winter than the eastern parts of Virginia. These variations within the state will affect which kind of grass will thrive in any given area.
- Use – Lawns that don’t get much wear can be a grass type that is more easily damaged from wear. On the other hand, sports fields and back yards that get a lot of foot traffic will need to choose a grass that can take a lot of wear and regrow quickly to repair damage.
- Landscape – Some yards get a lot of sun, and other yards have many trees and lots of shade. Choosing grass with the right sun or shade tolerance is important to having the dense coverage that comes with the right grass in the right place.
- Germination period – If you’re eager to have your freshly seeded lawn to green up, choosing a fast-growing species will have your lawn looking greener, sooner. A slow-growing grass may need more time and patience to get it going, but once grown, will provide tight coverage that’s worth waiting for.
- Seasonality – In a climate that gets both warm and cool seasons, it’s important not to plant grass seed too late for its time of year. A spring grass that’s planted too late might not be ready for summer dormancy by the time the heat arrives, and it won’t grow back in very well in the fall. Similarly, a warm-season grass that’s planted too late in summer may succumb to frost damage or not be able to prepare for dormancy well enough to survive the winter.
Temperatures are hot and humid across Virginia in summer, so choosing the right grass for your yard’s situation helps ensure it will be able to thrive where it’s planted. The best warm-season grasses for Virginia’s climate include:
- St. Augustine
Zoysia is one of the best lawn grasses you can plant in Virginia. This grass has a complex system of rhizomes (below-ground root extensions) and stolons (above-ground root extensions) and deep roots that allow it to be planted in either sandy or clay-heavy soils.
It’s also one of the most tolerant of cool temperatures among the warm-season grasses and performs well in transitional areas where weather can fluctuate heavily at the beginning and end of summer. Its tolerance of cooler temperatures also makes zoysia a good choice for shady areas, although it thrives in full sun.
As a grass that does well in the cooler side of warm, it will green up earlier than other summer grasses, and stay around a little longer beyond the late summer. Zoysia is a slower grower than many other warm-season grasses, although this allows it to grow in tightly across the yard. It’s drought tolerant and able to direct its energy stores to a quick revival if it enters dormancy from the highest heat of summer.
Bermuda grass is another favorite for Virginia summer lawns. It’s a sun-loving grass that grows quickly, spreading across the lawn with both rhizomes and stolons. Like zoysia, these roots can work into a clay soil, or put their roots deeply into sandy ground. A dense turf grass, it’s a fast healer if damaged and can be cut very low, down to half an inch. These qualities make Bermuda a preferred turf for sports fields and yards that are enjoyed throughout the summer months.
Bermuda has good drought tolerance and likes to be in full sun. Unlike zoysia, Bermuda grass won’t grow in shaded areas, even in moderate shade. It’s a vigorous grower, however, and will spread rapidly and repair itself as necessary. This quick growth means it doesn’t grow in as tightly as zoysia, and so is slightly less weed-resistant. Nevertheless, the turf’s dense thatch buildup and surface-level root system provides a significant amount of weed suppression.
St. Augustine grass is a particularly good choice for much of Virginia’s sandy tidewater region, except in the coastal areas that are heavy with clay. St. Augustine is bred to be grown in sand-dominant soils and is a fast spreader with its above-ground stolons. It doesn’t produce seeds, so a St. Augustine lawn must be installed with sod, but its quick spread will have it established in no time.
It’s a good grass to plant for ground cover and soil stability, but it isn’t a good choice for lawns that get a lot of wear. St. Augustine will do well in the wetter coastal regions since its stolons, which sit above surface level, can dry out if it doesn’t receive enough water. This grass is less drought tolerant than some other warm-season grasses, but it’s relatively low maintenance in comparison.
Virginia’s transitional climate is warmer than states further north, but winters get cooler than states further south. It may snow in the west and central plains of the state, but it’s less likely along the Atlantic. Across the state, temperatures will reach below the 65 to 70-degree threshold of most warm-season grasses, so for greenery in fall, winter, and spring, plant a cool-season grass. Top choices include:
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Perennial Rye
Kentucky bluegrass is a hearty turfgrass that will appreciate the wet cool seasons in Virginia. It likes a lot of moisture compared to other grasses, and it’s less drought tolerant. Bluegrass doesn’t do very well in heat, but it is very tolerant of cold temperatures, an advantage in the Virginia winter where temperatures drop into freezing over a few months.
Bluegrass is the only cool-season grass with rhizomes, the below-ground root extensions that help a grass spread horizontally. This allows it to make a thick surface-level cover that will insulate the roots against the cold air temperatures.
With its spreading ability, Kentucky bluegrass is a fast grower and will fill in bare spots if it’s damaged. The dense turf allows it to take a fair amount of wear. This, coupled with its preference for open sun, makes it a good choice for fields and lawns in fall and winter.
Perennial rye is often planted with Kentucky bluegrass because they’re both excellent options in the transitional zone, but rye is more shade tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass and is able to grow under trees and next to fences. It’s a bunch grass, meaning that each bunch of root and blades grows from a seed, rather than by extensions like Kentucky bluegrass and most warm-season grasses. Rye’s deep roots grow best in loamy soil, but it’s tolerant of both sandy and clay-heavy soils as well. This makes it a good fall and winter option across the state.
Ryegrass needs less maintenance than bluegrass does, and with its deep roots, has a better drought tolerance. It’s a fast grower, and although it won’t repair itself if damaged, it can be overseeded seasonally to build even coverage.
Grass from the fescue family, including both fine and tall fescue, is a good choice for areas with sandy soil in Virginia. Fescue has deep roots that can withstand drought, but also manage the moist Virginia seasons as long as the soil drains well. Like rye, fescue is a bunch type grass that grows from seeds, but it’s a slow grower and won’t repair itself if damaged. This makes it a good ground cover for erosion control, an important concern for coastal areas that get lots of storms in the spring and fall.
While fescue is a cool-season grass, its deep roots give it a robust drought tolerance that allows it to survive longer than other cool season grasses into the warmer months. Fescue often will live until the early summer and, in the coolest areas, may stick it out through much of the warm months in shady spots that only get indirect sunlight.
When Should I Plant Grass Seed In Virginia?
Planting grass seed in your Virginia yard will have to follow the seasonal schedule of sowing cool-season grass seed in early spring and early fall, and planting warm-season grass in late spring or early summer.