5 Best Grass Types in Chicago

Downtown Chicago skyline with trees in the foreground

With long winters and a number of cloudy days, Chicago can be hard on your yard. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a thick, green lawn for your next deep-dish picnic. You’ll just have to choose a grass type that can handle the climate. Five cool-season grasses will thrive throughout Chicagoland. 

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

Cool-season grasses can withstand the Windy City’s freezing winters and wide seasonal temperature swings. These grass types grow actively in spring and fall and can go dormant if not watered enough in the summer. 

1. Kentucky bluegrass

Emerald to blue-green in color, Kentucky bluegrass is the most popular grass in northern Illinois. This durable turf tolerates the cold with few problems. You’ll also find Kentucky bluegrass recovers well if damaged. This grass type is perfect for anyone who spends a lot of time on their lawn. 

However, this grass type is a bit high maintenance. Kentucky bluegrass needs to be frequently watered, mowed, and fertilized. Kentucky bluegrass also prefers full sun, so you’ll want to choose a different grass type if you live in a shade-covered area of Chicago. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade Tolerance: Moderate; prefers direct sunlight
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate; its dead patches regrow quickly, but Kentucky bluegrass likes irrigation
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High 
  • Maintenance Needs: High  
  • Mowing Height: 2.5-3 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Moderate

Other Notes: Kentucky bluegrass is slow to establish with seed. Fortunately, Kentucky bluegrass sod is widely available. 

Grass Seed Options:
Jonathan Green (11970) Blue Panther Kentucky Bluegrass Grass Seed (3 lbs.)
SeedRanch Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass Seed (5 lbs.)
– Jacklin Seed – Biltmore Blue Blend – 100% Kentucky Bluegrass (5 lbs.)

2. Fine fescue

If you have a shady yard and don’t care much for yard work, fine fescue might be your pick. This grass thrives in limited sun and is known for its low-maintenance needs. 

Fine fescues have thin grass blades, giving them a soft appearance and feel. There are a few varieties, which range from medium to blue-green in color. 

The downside? Fine fescue only has a moderate tolerance to foot traffic. If your pet likes rolling around in the yard, you might end up with a number of dead spots. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade Tolerance: High 
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance Needs: Low
  • Mowing Height: 1-3 inches
  • Potential for Disease: High; fine fescues are vulnerable to snow mold and other diseases

Other Notes: Fine fescues are often found in seed mixes with Kentucky bluegrass to create a more shade-tolerant blend. 

Grass Seed Options:
Outsidepride Legacy Fine Fescue Grass Seed (5 lbs.)
Eretz Creeping Red Fine Fescue Seed (choose your size)
Outsidepride Creeping Red Fine Fescue Grass Seed (25 lbs.)
Outsidepride Hard Fine Fescue Grass Seed (10 lbs.)

3. Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is a hardy turf. This dark green grass is highly disease resistant

Perennial ryegrass establishes itself very quickly, so it’s ideal for anyone looking to plant a new lawn. This also makes it durable: perfect for heavy traffic lawns. 

Similar to Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass is going to take a little maintenance. This grass type likes high-nutrient soils and plenty of watering. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade Tolerance: Low 
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate 
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High
  • Maintenance Needs: Moderate 
  • Mowing Height: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Low 

Other Notes: You’ll often find perennial ryegrass as part of a mixture, sometimes combined with Kentucky bluegrass. 

Grass Seed Options:
Outsidepride Perennial Ryegrass Seed (5 lbs.)
Eretz ProTurf Perennial Ryegrass Fine Lawn Seed (choose your size)

4. Tall fescue

Tall fescue is a low-maintenance grass with a strong tolerance for heat and dry soil. Its best selling point is its ability to thrive with fewer nutrients and watering. This turf is ideal for anyone with sandier soil. 

Tall fescue prefers full sun, but has some tolerance for shade. This grass type is medium to dark green in color and has a coarse texture. 

Tall fescue has a limited ability to repair itself. It also can require occasional overseeding as it’s more likely to develop bald patches. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade Tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High
  • Maintenance Needs: Low
  • Mowing Height: 3.5-4 inches 
  • Potential for Disease: Low 

Other Notes: There are several types of tall fescue. Plant one of the newer “turf-type tall fescues” which have been bred for lawns.  

Grass Seed Options:
Triple-Play Tall Fescue Grass Seed Blend (5000 sq ft)
Eretz Kentucky 31 K31 Tall Fescue Grass Seed (choose your size)
Pennington The Rebels Tall Fescue Grass Seed Mix (7 lb.)

5. Rough bluegrass

Chicago gets more than its share of gloom and rain. If you have a particularly wet and shady yard, you might consider rough bluegrass

This yellowish-green grass has soft leaf blades which are glossy underneath. It’s called “rough” bluegrass because this can create an uneven appearance unless it’s all lying perfectly flat. Some people even mistake this for a grass disease. 

Rough bluegrass has a low tolerance to drought, disease, and foot traffic. You’ll probably only want to plant this if you need highly specialized grass to thrive in moist, cool conditions.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons
  • Shade Tolerance: High
  • Drought Tolerance: Low
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance Needs: Moderate
  • Mowing Height: 1-2.5 inches
  • Potential for Disease: High; rough bluegrass is vulnerable to most common grass insects and diseases. 

Other Notes: Rough bluegrass is winter-hardy and great for staying green during the colder months. However, it has a weedy appearance when blended with other grass types. 

How to choose the best grass type for your Chicago lawn

All five of these grasses can thrive in Chicago. That said, you’ll want to consider several key factors in picking the best turf for your lawn.  

How much do you like doing yard work?

If you don’t have time to spread fertilizer and water every weekend, you may want a low-maintenance turf like tall fescue. 

How much sunlight lands on your lawn?

Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass prefer sunnier spaces. Rough bluegrass and fine fescue thrive in the shade. 

What’s your soil like?

Homes with dry, sandier soil might opt for tall fescue. If you have soggy, clay-heavy soil, rough bluegrass might suit you better. 

How often do people or animals walk on your lawn? 

If your yard is a frequent dog park, playground, or barbecue spot, you may want a Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass which better tolerate foot (and pet) traffic.

Armed with these answers, you should be able to choose the best turf for your personal paradise. 

When should I plant grass seed in Chicago?

For best results, plant your grass between mid-August and early September. Because you’ll most likely plant cool-season grasses, the shoots will start life without the damaging heat of summer. 

You can also try planting grass in early spring. This is not recommended, because the hot summer months can be harsh on the tender young plants. However, if you completely missed the fall planting season and want a lush lawn this year, we recommend seeding in April. 

Are you looking for an extra set of hands to take care of your lawn? A Chicago lawn care pro can take the hassle out of yard work with regular mowing and landscape design, installation, or maintenance. 

Main Photo Credit: Alan Light | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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Cory Ferrer

Cory Ferrer is a Lawn Love growth writer with a background in communication, creative writing, and education. He spends his free time exploring Denver, riding his mountain bike, and browsing used bookstores.