With the multiple grass varieties available to the Southern California homeowner, many wonder which grass actually performs best in the climates that Southern California presents. Southern California experiences periods of excessive drought and heat, so selecting a grass that can not only tolerate these conditions, but thrive in them is important.
Brown is the New Green
If you live in Southern California and want a natural turfgrass in your lawn, you are faced with two distinct choices: 1) do you want a lawn with 30 percent less water requirements that looks good eight or 10 months of the year and goes dormant, or 2) do you want a lawn that needs significantly more water and remains green year-round?
For many Southern California residents, brown is the new green—meaning a lot of homeowners prefer a warm season lawn that goes dormant as opposed to a cool season lawn that stays green all year long. The cool season grasses that remain green year-round may look better than a brown, warm season lawn, but they require a significant amount of water—especially in the summer. With Southern California’s periods of drought and water restrictions, this can become problematic. Periods of dormancy become preferred over costly water bills. Another huge factor that comes into play with warm season lawns is that they don’t require any mowing during periods of dormancy. This makes them even more environmentally friendly because of the reduced emissions.
With this being said, it is important to understand the differences between warm and cool season turfgrass varieties. If you find yourself with expectations in the first category mentioned above, you may be more environmentally friendly and need a warm season grass like St. Augustine or bermuda grass, which uses 30 percent less water and goes dormant, or off-color during the winter months. If you find yourself in the latter category, you may need a cool season turfgrass variety like tall fescue or a bluegrass blend.
Southern California’s Climate
As previously mentioned, Southern California’s climate can really impact the type of grass you choose to install. Although Southern California presents optimal climates in the transition zone with mild winters, periods of drought can last for weeks at a time. The grass you choose to install is going to need to be drought resistant and drought tolerant. Drought tolerance is the ability to survive a drought whereas drought resistance, in comparison, is the ability to look good during drought.
Regardless, your natural lawn is a living product, so it’s going to need a lot of water for the first 30 days of establishment after installation has taken place. After these 30 days are up, your grass will need to withstand longer periods of time without water.
Southern California also comes with high temperatures and a lot of sun exposure that may damage your grass.Lastly, as a coastal region, Southern California has salty air and saline soils that your grass will need to thrive in.
Generally speaking, warm season grasses like St. Augustine and bermuda grass perform well with these challenges. Where shade is an issue, St. Augustines are your best option. On the other hand, if your lawn endures a lot of wear, bermuda grasses are more preferable. If you are really set on a cool season grass despite the environmental and costly challenges, the most popular option is a 90 percent fescue and 10 percent bluegrass blend.
The Best St. Augustine Grass for Southern California
CitraBlue® St. Augustine is a new variety of St. Augustine developed by the University of Florida’s Turfgrass Breeding Program. CitraBlue features a deep blue-green color with blades that measure 5–7 mm in width, which are slightly smaller in width compared to most St. Augustine grass blades. This grass is a great selection for Southern California homeowners due its drought tolerance and ability to adapt to warm climates. Other pros of CitraBlue include its reduced nitrogen requirements, exceptional shade tolerance that outperforms other St. Augustines, reduced mowing requirements and unmatched disease resistance.
The Best Bermuda Grass for Southern California
Celebration® Bermudagrass’s ability to survive and thrive in dry, hot climates is unrivaled. As an Australian bred bermudagrass, Celebration excels in such environments that Southern California endures. Even more, Celebration’s top-rated drought tolerance allows for it to go through extended periods of time without water, which makes it great for less frequent irrigation schedules and reduced water bills. Celebration’s deep blue-green color differs from other bermudagrass color and comes with high curb appeal. Found on sports fields and golf courses around the globe, Celebration has an unmatched ability to withstand heavy traffic and recover quickly due to its aggressive growing habits. This makes it a great choice for home lawns that endure a lot of foot traffic and wear.
Latitude 36® Bermudagrass is one of the prettiest options you can choose from for your Southern California home lawn if you are really looking for high curb appeal. Its fine texture makes for a beautiful sight that really stands out in neighborhoods. Take a look at some of the images below to get a visual representation of this grass’s gorgeous color and texture. Like Celebration, Latitude 36 has a great recovery ability that repairs itself from damage caused by heat or traffic fairly quickly. As a bermuda grass, Latitude 36 does well in heat and thrives in the southern two-thirds of the United States.
NorthBridge® Bermudagrass features a fine texture, improved cold tolerance, early spring green-up and the ability to stand up to cold temperatures during the cooler months in Southern California. Its tensile strength and aggressive rooting make it one of the most durable choices for homeowners with children and pets who enjoy the outdoors. This easy-to-maintain grass is becoming more and more popular for not only home application, but also commercial and sports because of its unique set of sought-after features.
Cool Season Grass Options
If you’re a homeowner who is really set on a cool season grass that stays green all year long, don’t worry—there are multiple options to choose from. The most popular of options that can be found throughout many Southern California home lawns is a 90 percent fescue and 10 percent bluegrass seeded blend. When looking for a cool season variety, you will usually find blends of fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass. Occasionally, you will spot a blend of bluegrass and ryegrass seed, or seed sold as 100 percent fescue. A lot of these blends are best suited for the West and work together to provide a year-round, dark green color. Both bluegrass and tall fescue are widely offered as sod in place of seed as well. If you aren’t sure if you should install or plant grass seed, read When to Use Sod, Plugs or Seed for more information. Click below to browse through some of our bluegrass and tall fescue varieties as well as a few top-performing cool season grass seed products.
Although cool season grass varieties stay green 12 months of the year, they require a lot more water—this is not always ideal with Southern California’s periods of drought or water restrictions. A warm season grass will require 30 percent less water, but will go off-color, or dormant, during the winter months.
Now that you have a better idea of some of the top-performing, best looking grasses for the Southern California climate, you can make an educated decision on warm season or cool season grasses for your lawn. If this article really interests you, be sure to check out a similar piece written for turfgrass industry professionals here.