Warm-Season or Cool-Season Grass: Which Is the Right Choice for Your Lawn?

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated March 22, 2022
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Highlights

  • Your region's climate plays a major part in which type of grass you should opt for.

  • Select warm-season grasses in hot regions with little rain.

  • Cool-season grasses work better in milder regions where you want a green lawn year-round.

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There are so many grass species out there that selecting the right type for your garden can be a daunting prospect. An important aspect that's often overlooked is making sure you opt for grass that's right for the local climate. Evaluating whether warm- or cool-season grass is the right choice helps avoid the frustration of a baked-looking backyard, and it instantly narrows down the list of potential options. Read on to understand more about their pros and cons and whether warm- or cool-season grasses are suitable for your garden.

What’s the Difference Between Warm- and Cool-Season Grasses?

As the names suggest, the biggest difference between these grasses is when they grow. Warm-season varieties typically grow from June to early September. Cool-season varieties grow most in spring and fall when the weather is fresher. 

Warm-season grasses are adapted to survive in hotter, drier climates. They grow best in temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit but go dormant (and brown) when temperatures drop. Cool-season grasses usually stay green for most of the year—even when temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's best to seed cool-season grasses in the fall after the heat of the summer has lifted, although there are variations depending on species and local climates. For successful germination, warm-season grasses need to be seeded when there's no risk of frost, so late spring or summer is best.

Warm-Season Grass Pros and Cons

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If you have the climate for warm-season grass, there are benefits and drawbacks to be aware of. It’s worth noting, however, that these are general observations, and there are exceptions and variations for individual species.

Pros

  • According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, drought-tolerant warm-season grasses need on average 30% less water than cool-season grasses, making them ideal for dry climates and water conservation efforts.

  • They’re less bothered by pests.

  • They’re more tolerant of poor soil conditions, have better nutrient uptake ability, and have less intense fertilization requirements.

  • If you like a neat lawn, warm-season grasses (like Bermuda grass) do better when mown shorter than many cool-season species.

  • They make better wildlife habitats because they're taller, clump-forming, and stiff-stemmed throughout the winter.

  • Established grasses work well on slopes needing additional erosion control.

Cons

  • If soil temperatures drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, your lawn will be brown rather than lush green for around four or five months of the year while it's dormant.

  • They’re trickier and slower to establish than cool-season grasses.

  • If you have freezing winters, the grass could die off completely.

  • They require more weed control management.

Cool-Season Grass Pros and Cons

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The benefits and drawbacks below apply to most cool-season grasses, but always check the individual species as there are exceptions.

Pros

  • There are more cool-season grass options to choose from.

  • You’re more likely to get a lush lawn throughout the entire year.

  • They establish with less effort and cost. 

  • They’re not killed by extreme winter weather.

  • The short-term erosion control benefits are better because they establish more quickly, 

Cons

  • They don’t cope with extreme summer droughts and high heat as well as warm-season grasses.

  • They have higher irrigation requirements.

  • They’re not as tolerant of poor soil conditions. 

  • They have higher nutrient demands.

  • They don’t provide good quality nesting and protective wildlife habitats because they mat down faster than mature warm-season species.

  • They’re more susceptible to pests.

  • The long-term soil erosion benefits aren't as good.

Warm-season grasses vs. cool-season grasses

Warm-Season Grasses vs. Cool-Season Grasses

Both warm-season and cool-season grasses have their pros and cons, depending on your needs. Let’s compare their appearance, price, ease of establishment, and maintenance requirements to see how they fare against each other.

Appearance

Stiff-stemmed warm-season species usually grow taller and more erect than cool-season varieties. This can be privacy screening or view-blocking, depending on your landscape requirements. 

Most cool-season grasses stay green throughout the year but need enough water during periods of drought. In contrast, warm-season varieties go dormant and turn brown in cold temperatures.

Best appearance: Cool-season grasses

Price

Generally, cool-season grasses are less expensive and more readily available than warm-season grasses.

Most cost-effective: Cool-season grasses

Ease of Establishment

Warm-season grasses are slower to germinate, take up to a couple of years to establish fully, and you'll need to manage the weeds more carefully to ensure success. However, in periods of drought, there are higher rates of seeding mortality in cool-season grasses if you don't keep a consistent watering schedule.

Easier to establish: Cool-season grasses

Ease of Maintenance

In suitable climates, warm-season grasses usually live longer than cool-season species and require less maintenance or fertilization. Keeping cool-season grasses looking healthy often needs more frequent division to prevent the centers from dying out. You may also need to aerate and reseed the lawn to repair patches that have dried out in hot, dry weather.

Easier to maintain: Warm-season grasses

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