What is Warm Season Grass
Warm season grasses are used in southern lawns and some transition zone lawns where the temperatures are favorable. The establishment and maintenance of warm season grasses is slightly different than cool-season grasses. They produce well in the summer and can thrive in soil that is less than ideal. The greatest benefit to warm season grasses is their ability to thrive in the intense heat of a southern summer.
Warm season grasses should be seeded between mid-April and mid-May, however, many warm season grasses fare better when started from sprigging, plugs or sod than from seed.
Bahia - Extremely heat and drought resistant, it grows best in Florida and along the entire gulf and Southern Atlantic coastlines. It is a good choice for heavy traffic areas and rarely needs to be watered. The grass is coarse and grows in bunches and the roots can be as deep as 8ft. It is also widely used in cattle pastures. It is highly disease and insect resistant and should be mowed every 5-7 days. Bahia grass has tough stems so it is important to keep your mower blades sharp and set your mower to 3" so you are definitely cutting leaves.
Bermuda - Common throughout the south, it is an aggressive, coarse grass that grows by spreading runners or "stolons" along the ground surface. It thrives in heat, requiring full sun and is drought resistant. Bermuda is green from late spring until frost when it turns brown and goes dormant. During the dormancy, many homeowners choose to overseed with a ryegrass to maintain a green lawn year round. Unlike most grasses, Bermuda must be mowed low at a height of 1-2 inches, and is the best option for heavy traffic. Infamous for creeping and taking over neighboring beds, the best time to clear the wayward plants is in the winter when dormant.
Zoysia - Grown in both the Southern and Transition zone, it is known for its fine, lush vegetation. It grows best in full sun and should be watered if drought is longer than one week. Best method for establishing a zoysia lawn is by sod, as it grows slowly. Zoysia should be mowed short, at 1-2" and a reel mower does a better job cleanly cutting the fine yet stiff blade.
Centipede - Extremely slow growing and drought tolerant, this grass is very low maintenance. Found mostly in the southeast, centipede grows well in acidic soil and it thrives in full sun but will manage with partial shade. Centipede grass grows by spreading stolons or runners above ground, while the rhizomes or roots creep below the soil. This grass is fairly shallow rooted, which can lead to problems with nutrient uptake. Mow your centipede lawn high at about 3" and only water if a drought lasts longer than one week. Centipede grass generally performs well without the need for fertilizers, and take care not to over-fertilize. Nematodes, microscopic worms that infect the roots, are a common problem with centipede grasses and their presence can be confirmed by a soil test.
St. Augustine - Your best choice for sandy soil and salty air, St. Augustine is commonly found in the gulf states and Southern California. It grows fast and spreads using runners or stolons. A blue green color that lasts into the fall, it should be watered if drought is longer than a week. Set your mower blade to 2-3" for this grass and consider fertilizing with extra iron since sandy soils are often deficient. Two common problems with this grass are a virus called St. Augustine Decline (SAD) and chinchbugs. SAD causes yellow spots on the leaf blade and may require planting plugs of resistant varieties, but fertilizing with iron should help maintain the color even while fighting this virus.
Read about the best drought resistant warm season grasses here