5 Best Grass Types for California Lawns

beautiful California home with palm trees and landscaping

The five best lawn grass types for California are Bermudagrass, Buffalograss, St. Augustinegrass, Zoysiagrass, and tall fescue. Temperatures don’t fluctuate a lot here, but some areas are wetter and colder than others. Some grass species thrive better than others depending on your location in the Golden State.

Keep reading to find out the pros and cons of each grass type and which grasses grow best in Northern, Central, and Southern California.

Best grass types for California

1. Bermudagrass

Photo Credit: rawpixel | CC0

Bermudagrass is one of the most popular warm-season grasses used in the inland areas of California with elevated temperatures in the summer months.

This grass grows quickly and has excellent traffic, heat, and drought tolerance. Bermudagrass maintains its beautiful light green color and provides a dense ground cover that grows well from spring through early fall.

This turfgrass requires a lot of maintenance. Its fast growth habit means it needs regular mowing and fertilizing. Mowing too often, however, increases the risk of weeds and pests. It should be mowed once or twice weekly to produce healthy roots.

Bermudagrass is prone to thatch build-up, so it needs routine dethatching. It can also invade adjacent areas, like gardens and flower beds, because of its aggressive growth habit. Another disadvantage of Bermudagrass is that its green color typically fades in the shade; this turf requires full sun to produce its brilliant light green hue.

Bermudagrass at a glance: 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons and rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Low; thrives in full sun
  • Drought tolerance: High 
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High 
  • Maintenance needs: Needs frequent mowing due to fast growth rate; develops thatch easily; needs regular fertilization 
  • Mowing height: Set the mowing height between 0.5 and 1.5 inches for hybrid Bermudagrass cultivars. Mow common Bermudagrass down to 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
  • Potential for disease: Good resistance to disease, although Bermudagrass diseases (like dollar spot) are common; low resistance to insects
  • Soil pH: 6-6.5
  • Soil type: Tolerates most soil types
  • Other notes: Recovers quickly from damage and disease. 

Grass Seed Options:
– Pennington Bermudagrass Bare Spot (5 lb. bag)
Hancock Seed Co. Bermudagrass (50-lb. bag)

2. Buffalograss

Photo Credit: John Tann | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Although Bermudagrass is the most commonly used warm-season grass in California, buffalograss is an optimal lawn grass for certain regions of the Golden State that have adverse weather conditions, like the southern lowlands of the desert region in California. Researchers took the best qualities of buffalograss, like its drought resistance, and developed the variety California buffalograss, formerly called “UC Verde” buffalograss.

California buffalograss is a low-maintenance grass. This dark green covering only needs mowing every 2 to 3 weeks. Buffalograss is a great choice for those looking to conserve water and save money on chemical treatments, as this grass needs minimal to no chemical products for fungi and insects.

Buffalograss does not have many disadvantages. However, as is typical of warm-season grasses, buffalograss goes dormant and turns brown in the winter months. This grass also has a low shade tolerance, so it is not the best choice for shady properties. 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons
  • Shade tolerance: Low
  • Drought tolerance: High 
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low 
  • Maintenance needs: Low fertilizer and mowing needs. Requires weed control. 
  • Mowing height: Set the mowing height between 2 and 3 inches.
  • Potential for disease: Good tolerance against diseases and insects
  • Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Soil type: Native clay soils, not sandy soils
  • Other notes: Some common buffalograss pests include white grubs and mealybugs

Grass Seed Options:
Everwilde Farms Buffalograss Seeds (1 lb. of seeds)
Buffalograss seed (primed) (5-lb. bag)

3. St. Augustinegrass

St. Augustine grass
Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

This salt-tolerant warm-season grass is one of the best grass types for Los Angeles. While it is not a low-maintenance type of grass, it has many attractive qualities.

Unlike Bermudagrass and buffalograss, St. Augustinegrass grows well in the shade. It is the most shade-tolerant warm-season grass. As a bonus, it also grows well in full sun. Cultivars like ‘Palmetto’ and ‘Raleigh’ grow well in both full sun and shade. 

Doing best in low-traffic areas, this dense medium-green to blue-green grass grows quickly and helps suppress weeds. It has a high tolerance for heat and drought. Although it withstands high temperatures, it does not grow well in cold environments and is vulnerable to winter injury.

Maintenance includes mowing it often because it grows quickly. St. Augustinegrass also requires frequent fertilizing and regular dethatching, the latter helping mitigate insect problems. The grass typically needs to be treated for its worst pest, chinch bugs, or they can cause significant damage.

St. Augustinegrass at a glance: 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate. It is the most shade-tolerant warm-season grass. 
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance needs: Needs frequent mowing due to fast growth rate; develops thatch easily; needs regular fertilization. 
  • Mowing height: Set the mowing height between 3.5 and 4 inches. 
  • Potential for disease: Moderate to high. Some common St. Augustinegrass diseases include brown patch and fairy ring.
  • Soil pH: 6 – 7.5
  • Soil type: Tolerates many soil types; prefers moderately fertile and moist (not waterlogged) soils; doesn’t tolerate soil compaction
  • Other notes: Can have problems with grassy weeds. Will likely need treatment for chinch bugs

Grass Plug Options:
Seed Ranch St Augustine Seville Grass Plugs (2 Trays)
Seed Ranch St Augustine Floratam Grass Plugs (2 Trays)

4. Zoysiagrass

Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

As one of the best grasses for San Diego, Zoysiagrass is another excellent option for the Southern California area. Zoysiagrass is salt-tolerant; however, unlike St. Augustine, Zoysiagrass is low maintenance.

This grass is a slow-growing grass, so although its mowing height is as low as 1 to 2 inches, it does not need mowing often. It does not require a lot of fertilizer or water, either; too much of these nutrients will encourage excessive thatch. Zoysiagrass adapts to multiple soil types, is cold-tolerant, and has a deep root system that helps it retain water, thrive in droughts, and withstand high temperatures. 

This grass type grows well in moderately shady areas, but the turf will thin if grown in too much shade; it thrives in partial shade. While it is a drought-resistant turfgrass, you’ll have to give it extra water during long periods of dryness. 

Zoysiagrass has good disease tolerance, but it is susceptible to some lawn diseases, like large patch disease and dollar spot. It also has some prominent pests, like white grubs and mole crickets.

Zoysiagrass at a glance: 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons and rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High, but recovers slowly from damage
  • Maintenance needs: Low nitrogen fertilization requirements, although it’s prone to thatch build-up. 
  • Mowing height: Set mowing height between 1 and 2 inches.
  • Potential for disease: Good disease tolerance overall
  • Soil pH: 6 – 6.5
  • Soil type: Well-draining, some cultivars are more tolerant of a wide range of soils than others.

Grass Plug and Seed Options:
Zenith Zenith Grass Seeds (1/8 lb. of seeds)

5. Tall fescue

tall fescue
Photo Credit: Aaron Patton / Purdue’s Turfgrass Science Program

Tall fescue works well down in the Central California area. It also grows well in Southern California if grown on very shady properties.

Tall fescue is a cool-season grass, so it has the appealing characteristic of retaining its color year-round. Although tall fescue is not as heat tolerant and drought tolerant as warm-season grasses, the dark green, coarse grass is the most heat-tolerant cool-season grass, and it requires less water than other cool-season grasses. 

Tall fescue is disease-resistant when maintained properly. It needs little fertilization and does not develop significant thatch. Tall fescue grass varieties recover quickly from wear and tear, especially those with deeper root systems; this makes it a great grass for high-traffic areas

Unlike warm-season grasses, tall fescue is injured by dry, hot summer conditions; the grass typically thins. Overseeding in the fall will mitigate this problem. 

Tall fescue at a glance: 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Produces short rhizomes but has a bunch-type growth habit
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance needs: Frequent mowing. Does not produce significant thatch. 
  • Mowing height: Set mowing height to 2 inches when grass reaches 3 inches tall.  
  • Potential for disease: Tolerant of most diseases when properly maintained. 
  • Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
  • Soil type: Adapted to a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers fertile clay soils with good drainage. 

Grass Seed Options:
Eretz Kentucky 31 K31 Tall Fescue Grass Seed (choose your size)
Pennington The Rebels Tall Fescue Grass Seed Mix (7 lb.)

Best grass types for Northern California

Northern California is included in the Pacific Northwest. Cool-season grasses are adapted to the cooler and wetter conditions in this part of the state. Tall fescue is one of the best cool-season grasses for this area. Bermudagrass also grows well in this region, but it will go dormant in the winter. 

In some cases, homeowners only use cool-season grasses, like perennial ryegrass, in the winter as a temporary ground cover for lawns with warm-season grasses that have gone dormant. Perennial ryegrass has low heat and drought tolerance. Although both perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass can be used in the upper parts of the state, both will struggle in high temperatures. These grass seeds are used alone or mixed with tall fescue. 

Bentgrass is another cool-season grass that can be used in the upper part of the Golden State. 

Best grass types for Southern California

The best grass seed for this region of the state can withstand dry, hot conditions. Drought-resistant and heat-tolerant grass types that grow well in Southern California are Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, and California buffalograss

Kikuyu grass also grows well in this region of the Golden State. However, it is a noxious weed, and its production and sale is limited by law.

Tall fescue can also be used in Southern California, but only if your lawn is very shady. 

Best grass types for Central California

While Central California may not get as cold as the northern part of the state or as hot as the southern region, the right grass for Central California must have tolerance for some of the same weather conditions. For example, ideal grass types for this region should have good heat resistance. Zoysiagrass, tall fescue, St. Augustinegrass, and Bermudagrass thrive in Central California.

How to choose the best grass type for your California lawn

a house in California
Photo Credit: ekash | Canva Pro | License

When choosing the grass that is best for you, consider where you live in California. You should also base your decision on other factors, like your yard’s characteristics and your lifestyle. Here are some other things to consider: 

Shade tolerance

If you have a shady property, the grass you choose must not crave the sunlight too much. Let’s see what grass types can handle shade:

  • Moderate shade tolerance: St. Augustinegrass, turf-type tall fescue (moderate to high), Zoysiagrass, bentgrass
  • Low shade tolerance: Bermudagrass, buffalograss, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass

Drought tolerance

You don’t want a thirsty grass if you live in the drier or more drought-prone areas of the state. Californians are working to end drought conditions; until then, choose your grass based on its ability to thrive in the conditions in your area. Here are how some grasses stand up to drought:

  • High drought tolerance: Bermudagrass, buffalograss
  • Moderate drought tolerance: St. Augustinegrass (moderate to high), Zoysiagrass (moderate to high), turf-type tall fescue (moderate to high), Kentucky bluegrass
  • Low drought tolerance: Perennial ryegrass, bentgrass

Foot traffic

Your home may be bustling with outdoor activity. If your yard is alive with children running and playing or if you host many lawn parties, you’ll want grass that can handle heavy foot traffic. 

How do different types of grasses handle foot traffic? Let’s take a look:

  • High foot traffic: Perennial ryegrass, Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass
  • Moderate foot traffic: Turf-type tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass
  • Low foot traffic: Buffalograss, St. Augustinegrass

Maintenance level

Everyone has the same hours in the day, but not everyone uses them the same. Are you trying to avoid spending your life taking care of grass, or does lawn care relax you? Choose a type of turfgrass that allows you to work in the yard as much as you desire or as little as possible. 

Here are the maintenance levels of each grass type:

  • High-maintenance grasses: Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass
  • Moderate-maintenance grasses: Turf-type tall fescue, perennial ryegrass 
  • Low-maintenance grasses: Buffalograss, Zoysiagrass

FAQ about California grass types

What is the fastest way to establish a Zoysiagrass lawn?

The fastest way to establish Zoysiagrass as a new lawn is to plant sod over plugs because of the turfgrass’s slow growth rate.

What other plants grow well in California?

Plants native to California grow well in the Golden State. These plants are already adapted to the climate, so they typically require less maintenance. You can read about native California plants in these articles:

What is the difference between warm-season and cool-season grasses?

Warm-season turf grows best in hot, humid climates and grows primarily in the summer months. The grass thrives when air temperatures are between 75 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures fall below freezing, warm-season grasses go dormant and turn brown. These grass types are predominantly found in the southern regions of the United States, where the summers are hot and winters are mild.

Cool-season turf grows best in cool, mild conditions and grows actively in the spring and fall. These grass types prefer air temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses go dormant in freezing temperatures, too; however, they go dormant later in the season than warm-season turf. Unlike warm-season varieties, cool-season grasses may also go dormant and brown in the summer months. Cool-season turfgrass is typically grown in the northern regions of the United States.

Regions in the transition zone have climates that are conducive to growing both warm-season and cool-season grasses.

Call a pro for a beautiful and lush California lawn

Most homeowners want a lush, green lawn. Achieving doesn’t just mean choosing the grass that is right for your location and your home’s characteristics, it also means properly caring for your lawn. Maintaining a healthy lawn requires mowing at the right intervals, using the best fertilizer for your grass type, watering appropriately, and controlling weeds. 

Need help keeping up with all of these tasks? Let Lawn Love connect you with lawn care professionals in your area to help you with all of your needs. That way, you can spend your time strolling along the shore of one of the many sunny beaches in California.

Lawn Love participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Lawn Love may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.

Main Photo Credit: IPGGutenbergUKLtd | Canva Pro | License

LaShonda Tucker

LaShonda Tucker’s passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle through organic herbs, fruits, and veggies leads her to research and learn about plants and insects. She loves sharing her knowledge to help others achieve their lawn care and landscaping goals.