Planting Warm-Season Grasses

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The arrival of March signals the start of warm weather and the onset of yard work. One daunting task that begins this time of year is planting warm-season grasses. Warm-season grasses originate from the tropics and grow well in places with hot summers and mild winters. For this reason, warm-season grasses flourish here in the coastal plain of NC. These grasses will start to green in spring and proliferate throughout the summer and fall. The first hard frost causes the plants to go dormant and turn brown for the winter. Types of warm-season grasses include bermuda, zoysia, centipede, St. Augustine, carpet, and bahia. Planting dates and recommendations vary based on grass variety. A comprehensive table of warm-season grass planting dates can be found below.

seed timing chart

Site Preparation. Lawns need to be prepared before planting to help ensure successful establishment of the new grass. Soil samples should be taken to determine soil pH and nutrient requirements. Soil should be taken at a depth of three to four inches at multiple spots in the yard and combined in a container. From these samples, place approximately one cup of soil in a soil sample box to send to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Agronomic Division Soil Testing Services, 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC, 27607. Boxes and forms can be obtained at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Center, Currituck County Center.

Planting. Some types of warm-season grasses must be planted either by sod or other vegetative means because seeds either are not available or do not result in uniform stands. Seeding is the easiest and most economical method of establishing grasses. To ensure uniform coverage, use a rotary or drop-type spreader. Apply half the seed in one direction and the other half moving at right angles to the first pass (image below). Plugging is planting plugs (pieces of sod) on 6-inch or 12-inch centers. Sodding is placing sod stripped on the lawn for an “instant” lawn. Planting information can be found on the table above and at Extension Gardener Handbook: Lawns.

lawn seeding patterns diagram

Maintenance. Newly seeded lawns require irrigation to promote germination. Lawns should be irrigated twice a day for the first two to three weeks. As the seedlings grow and root, water less often but for longer periods. Wait to mow the lawn until grasses are 50% higher than the desired height (table below). For example, bermuda is recommended to be mowed regularly at two inches; the first mow should be put off until the grass reaches three inches. After the third mow at the additional 50% height, the lawn is considered established and can be maintained at normal conditions.

seed variety table

More information on planting warm-season grasses and other lawn care issues can be found here: Extension Gardener Handbook: Lawns

If you have questions or concerns about lawn care or maintenance, or if you need assistance with soil samples email or call Adam Formella at adam_formella@ncsu.edu or 252-232-2262.