5 Best Grass Types for Boise

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skyline of downtown Boise, ID with mountains in the background

Choosing the right grass type for your Boise lawn is hardly small potatoes. With our dry climate and four distinct seasons, it can be tough to keep an emerald lawn in the Gem State. The right turfgrass makes the difference between a thinning, diseased lawn and a gorgeous green one. 

With our hot summers and dry winters, Boise is considered a semi-arid climate. Our city is located in USDA Hardiness Zones 6b to 7a, so we mainly grow cool-season grasses that can handle chilly winters and grow most vigorously in spring and fall. 

Boise’s climate is too extreme for most warm-season grasses, but buffalograss is a warm-season superstar that flourishes in the hot summer months. It’s a hardy grower that goes dormant for the winter months and greens back up in spring. 

Let’s walk through the five best grasses for your Boise lawn.

  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Tall fescue
  • Fine fescue
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Buffalograss

1. Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is often seen as the quintessential cool-season turfgrass for Boise lawns. It’s gorgeous and great for play, with fine emerald blades that are soft to the touch. Plus, it’s exceptionally cold-hardy, so it can tolerate Boise’s icy winters and frequent freezes. 

For a resilient green space that can handle the next backyard barbeque or family game of badminton, Kentucky bluegrass is your go-to grass.

Kentucky bluegrass is slower to germinate than other grasses, but once it’s established, it spreads quickly via rhizomes (underground horizontal shoots). 

The downsides to growing Kentucky bluegrass? It’s less drought- and heat-tolerant than other grasses (like tall fescue and buffalograss), and when grown in shade, it’s susceptible to powdery mildew. Grubs also gravitate to Kentucky bluegrass, which means pesticides may be necessary. And Kentucky bluegrass is prone to thatch buildup, so it may require regular dethatching. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance turfgrass, you may want to consider other options. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes (underground horizontal shoots)
  • Shade tolerance: Low
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: High
  • Recommended mowing height: 2.5-3.5 inches

2. Tall fescue

Boise isn’t exactly a lush oasis, so drought tolerance is key to a successful lawn. With the deepest root system of the cool-season grasses, tall “turf-type” fescue is an exceptionally heat-tolerant grass that resists drought and shade better than Kentucky bluegrass. It’s also less susceptible to pests, weeds, and diseases, so you can cut back on pesticides and herbicides. 

Tall fescue produces dense, deep green foliage and is prone to clumping. Compared to Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue’s leaves are coarse and tough, which may dissuade some homeowners from planting it in their yard (though new varieties have finer leaves that resemble those of Kentucky bluegrass).

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunching
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate; can tolerate partial shade
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Disease and pest resistance: High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Maintenance needs: Low to moderate; slow to recover from damage, so it may require overseeding on bare patches or areas with heavy foot traffic
  • Recommended mowing height: 2.5-4 inches

Pro Tip: Avoid “K-31” or “Kentucky-31” tall fescue, which has wide blades and forms coarse clumps.

3. Fine fescue

Want low-maintenance grass for shady areas of your lawn? Fine fescues are more than just fine — they’re terrific! With extremely narrow leaves that soak up every ray of sunlight, they grow better in shaded areas than any other cool-season turfgrass. Growing fine fescue means you can forget the fertilizer, toss the herbicide, and cut your mowing schedule. 

Fine fescues are excellent choices for shady Boise lawns with poor, dry soil, and there are plenty of varieties to choose from (or combine).

The best fine fescue varieties for Boise: 

  • Hard fescue
  • Chewings fescue
  • Sheep fescue
  • Creeping red fescue

If you’re tired of hauling out the lawn mower every weekend, you can plant hard fescue or a low-mow fine fescue mix to reduce your mowing to just once or twice a year. 

Fine fescue germinates quickly (within six to 12 days) but grows slowly and does not recover quickly from damage, so avoid planting it in areas with heavy foot traffic. It’s also one of the least heat-tolerant turfgrasses, so if your lawn is exposed to direct summer sunlight, you may want to consider another type of turfgrass.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunching (via tillers, like tall fescue) or rhizomes, depending on the variety
  • Shade tolerance: High; grows well in partial shade and cannot tolerate full sun
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low to moderate
  • Maintenance needs: Low; does not require much (if any) fertilizer or herbicide 
  • Recommended mowing height: 3-4 inches; a low-mow fine fescue mix will grow 4-6 inches tall throughout the growing season

4. Perennial ryegrass

With glossy, emerald green foliage, perennial ryegrass is certainly a showstopper. All that beauty comes at a cost — a high-maintenance one. In Boise, it’s best grown as a “nurse grass” for Kentucky bluegrass: Perennial ryegrass germinates quickly and grows densely to provide shade and prevent weed growth so Kentucky bluegrass has time and space to establish.

Perennial ryegrass is not cold-hardy and requires fertilizer, frequent watering, and mowing. However, it’s a winner for sunny areas of your lawn where kids and pets play. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunching
  • Shade tolerance: Low; prefers full sun, though it can tolerate light shade
  • Drought tolerance: Low
  • Disease and pest resistance: Moderate; susceptible to dollar spot and rust
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: High
  • Recommended mowing height: 1.5-2.5 inches

5. Buffalograss

Buffalograss may be a warm-season grass, but it’s a strong grower that can handle our icy winters and resist drought like a pro. If you don’t mind your grass going dormant (turning brown) in winter, buffalograss is a lovely, low-maintenance option that’ll reduce your water use and cut down on mowing.

Looking for an eco-friendly lawn option? Plant buffalograss instead of Kentucky bluegrass to cut your outdoor water usage by 50% to 75%. If you want to reduce your lawn mower emissions, you can grow buffalograss as low-mow grass. It’ll form a tall, dense sod that you’ll only have to mow once each year. (If you want a tidier lawn, you can still mow it weekly like any other turfgrass). 

Buffalograss has light blue-green blades and a soft, fine texture that’ll make your toes (and your puppy’s paws) happy. As temperatures drop in early to mid-October, leaves will turn tan or lavender as the grass goes dormant. In spring, buffalograss will green back up. 

Buffalograss is highly disease-resistant and stands up to most foot traffic, though it isn’t quite as resilient as Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue. 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes and stolons
  • Shade tolerance: Very low; grows best in full sun
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance needs: Very low
  • Recommended mowing height: 2-3 inches, or not at all

A note about wheatgrass

Some sources claim that wheatgrass is a good choice for Boise lawns. It’s not.

For wildflower meadows and prairies, growing wheatgrass is a quick way to prevent erosion, but for you as a homeowner, the cons outweigh the pros. Wheatgrass forms a thin stand; goes dormant in summer; grows too tall to be planted around pathway; and can’t tolerate much mowing. If you’re looking for grass that prevents erosion, choose fine fescue instead

How to choose the best grass for your Boise lawn

  • How much maintenance do you plan to do or hire out? 
    • Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass require the most mowing, watering, and fertilizing
    • Fine fescue, tall fescue, and buffalograss are lower-maintenance.
  • How much sunlight does your lawn get?
    • Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and buffalograss need full to partial sun to thrive.
    •  Tall fescue can tolerate some shade, but fine fescue is the best grass for shady lawns.
  • Is your lawn prone to heat and drought?
    • Buffalograss and tall fescue can stand up to heat and drought.
    • Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass require frequent watering and TLC during dry periods.
  • How much foot traffic does your lawn get (kids, pets, parties, games, etc.)?
    • Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass stand up to heavy foot traffic, while fine fescue is less durable and cannot tolerate frequent foot traffic.
  • How do you want your grass to look and feel? 
    • Tall fescue is coarser than other cool-season grasses, while Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are softer to the touch and offer a more traditional lawn look.
  • How fast do you want your grass to grow?
    • Perennial ryegrass is one of the fastest-growing grass types, while Kentucky bluegrass is slightly slow to establish.
    • Fine fescue germinates quickly but is slow to fill your lawn.

When to seed your lawn

The best time to spread your grass seed depends on whether it’s a cool-season or warm-season variety. 

Plant cool-season grass (Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, or perennial ryegrass) in late summer (Aug. 15 to Sept. 15) to give it time to establish before cold weather sets in. Plant your grass at least 45 days before the first frost. 

Plant warm-season grass (buffalograss) in early summer to optimize summer growth.

Seed your lawn yourself or call in a pro

Ready to turn your Treasure Valley lawn into the talk of the town? Start by testing your soil and making the necessary soil amendments, so your fresh seeds have a healthy home to grow. Then, seed your lawn as a weekend DIY project and give your germinating seeds plenty of water.

Idaho may be the nation’s top potato producer, but our city offers a lot more than spuds. If you’d rather spend your weekend skiing the Bogus Basin, cheering on the Hawks, or admiring street art in Freak Alley, call a local lawn care pro to do the lawn preparation and seeding for you. They’ll transform your lawn into a real gem.

Main Photo Credit: Robbymilo | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

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