4 Best Grass Types for Orlando

Looking out across the bridge leading to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom with the various buildings in the background

If your lawn looks more like a wild safari rather than the happiest place on earth, we’ll explore four grass types that help Orlando homeowners create their very own magic kingdoms.

  • Bahiagrass
  • Bermudagrass
  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Zoysiagrass

Here are a couple reasons why these grass types are best for your Orlando lawn:

  1. These grasses work in different local soil types, so you can choose the one that suits your lawn.
  2. These warm-season grasses work well in hot, subtropical climates like Orlando.

Which grass is best for my Orlando lawn?

1. Bahiagrass

Bahiagrass is a popular solution for homeowners who have open acreage or large spaces where they need low-maintenance grass. It is extremely drought-tolerant, requires infrequent mowing, and is resistant to most insects and diseases.

Sounds like a dream, right? Well, not for everyone. Bahiagrass is considered an aggressive weed in home lawns with other grass types. If you have close neighbors, seek professional advice before planting bahia as it easily and aggressively spreads to other lawns through its underground stems (rhizomes).

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Low — prefers full sun
  • Drought tolerance: High 
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance needs: Low — mow every week or two
  • Mowing height: 3-4 inches 
  • Potential for disease: Low

Other notes: Use a sharp mower blade and plan to sharpen it often. This grass doesn’t like saltwater and will go dormant during extended droughts. It grows best in acidic soil and will tolerate sandy or infertile soil relatively well. Bahia is not prone to insect problems but can get mole crickets. If you plan to fertilize, use 1-3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Be sure to follow Orange County’s fertilizer ordinances.

2. Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass is a full-sun, dense turfgrass that is popular in warm climates. It withstands high levels of traffic (flag football, anyone?) and is very drought-tolerant. 

With strengths come weaknesses. Bermudagrass has poor shade tolerance and will develop thatch quickly due to its aggressive rhizomes (underground stems). This means that if you have ornamental beds next to the grass, you’ll need to put metal or concrete borders at least 2 inches into the ground to prevent the bermuda from tunneling and invading.

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons and rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Low
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: Depends on the cultivar you plant. Hybrid cultivars are commonly used on golf courses and require more care. Improved cultivars are more common on residential lawns and require a moderate level of maintenance.
  • Mowing height: 1-2 inches
  • Potential for disease: Moderate — depends on the cultivar

Other notes: Bermuda has good salt tolerance but goes into dormancy if temperatures get too cold. Do your research and choose the cultivar that is best for your lawn. Each cultivar has different levels of disease resistance, cold tolerance, maintenance, etc. Plan to fertilize at 4-6 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year.

3. St. Augustinegrass

St. Augustinegrass is the most popular grass for home lawns in Florida. It has a wide leaf blade that forms a dense turf and tolerates most soil types. Some homeowners seek out this grass because of its shade tolerance. Remember that all warm-season grasses love sun, but some cultivars of St. Augustine tolerate some shade better than other warm-season grasses.

If you love the look of St. Augustine, don’t go down to the nearest home improvement store and expect to pick up a bag of seed: St. Augustine is only sold as sprigs, sod, or plugs.  

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate but depends on the cultivar 
  • Drought tolerance: Low
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance needs: High
  • Mowing height: 2-4 inches, depending on the cultivar
  • Potential for disease: High

Other notes: St. Augustine will develop a thick thatch layer if watered and fertilized regularly. Its most common pest is the chinch bug, which can cause extensive damage. Several diseases, including take-all root rot, gray leaf spot, and large patch are common to this grass. Do your research and select the right cultivar for your lawn before you buy. Fertilize with 2-5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year.

4. Zoysiagrass

Zoysiagrass is popular with homeowners who want a dense turf that has a moderate level of maintenance. Some cultivars have good shade tolerance, and there are several cultivars that are commercially available.

Zoysiagrass doesn’t tolerate saltwater irrigation but will tolerate some salt spray. Zoysia is notoriously slow to establish (some cultivars more than others), and develops thatch, especially if it is heavily fertilized. Zoysia is most often established by sod, sprigs, or plugs. Few cultivars are available as seed, and the seed is labor-intensive and slow to establish.

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons and rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Good, but varies by cultivar
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to high — depends on the cultivar
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Good
  • Maintenance needs: Moderate
  • Mowing height: 2-2.5 inches for medium- or coarse-textured cultivars
  • Potential for disease: Moderate

Other notes: Make sure your mower blade is sharp. Fertilize with 2-4 lbs. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Plan to aerate or dethatch once per year or every other year. Will need mowing once per week during peak summer growth and needs weekly watering during a drought to avoid going dormant (brown). Scout for large patch and hunting billbugs, as these are common in a Zoysia lawn.

Follow Orlando’s fertilizer restrictions

If you plan to fertilize your lush, new lawn, follow Orlando’s fertilizer ordinances. At the time of this writing, homeowners are restricted from using nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizers from June 1 to Sept. 30. There are a few exceptions: For example, if you take a training course, you can apply as needed, and you may add phosphorus if your soil test shows your lawn is deficient. You can read more on Orange County’s website

How to select the best grass type for your lawn

Here are a few pointers to help you select the best grass for your lawn. The Orange County Extension office is available for expert, local advice as well.

  • Is your lawn exposed to full sun, or do you have areas with partial shade?
    • Bermuda is the most popular full-sun grass for home lawns, but bahia is another full-sun grass that works better on a low-maintenance, large acreage lot.
  • What level of maintenance do you plan to do (or pay to have someone else do)?
    • Bahia requires very low maintenance. Bermuda and St. Augustine are typically high-maintenance grasses.
  • Is your area subject to drought?
    • Again, bahia is very unlikely to die in a drought. Bermuda has good drought tolerance, as well. Avoid St. Augustine because it requires regular watering to stay healthy.
  • Is your lawn heavily used by people or pets, or does it function more as a groundcover?
    • Bermuda shines here, as it has a high tolerance for wear and tear. Zoysia can tolerate moderate traffic. Bahia and St. Augustine work well for lawns that won’t get a lot of foot traffic.

If you prefer to let a professional landscaper work their magic on your yard, contact one of our Orlando lawn care professionals today.

Main Photo Credit: Oliver Echeverría | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

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