5 Best Grass Types for Philadelphia

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Philadelphia, PA skyline and train tracks

Growing that perfect lawn in Philly’s four seasons can be challenging. Picking the right grass for your lawn requires a good deal of research, so we’ve made that part easy. 

These five grass types, recommended by Penn State, will give you a lush, green lawn in Philadelphia and surrounding areas: 

  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Rough bluegrass
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Tall Fescue
  • Fine Fescues

Which grass is best for my Philadelphia lawn?

1. Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is a popular choice for residential lawns and commercial properties alike. Its agreeable texture and slightly dark hue give this grass a soft charm. Its dense, gorgeous strands are responsible for its inviting appearance. Note that Kentucky bluegrass is a high-maintenance grass, so be prepared to spend some time taking care of it.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes (underground stems)
  • Shade Tolerance: Low, prefers sunlight.
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance Needs: High
  • Mowing Height: 2.0 to 2.5 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Susceptible to diseases such as leaf spot, dollar spot, and necrotic ring spot

Other Notes: Kentucky bluegrass needs more fertilizer than other cool-season grasses, but be careful not to apply too much nitrogen, which can contribute to thatch buildup. You can have some leeway with the mowing height, but it is important to keep the height at or above 2.0 inches during those hot, humid months such as August.

2. Rough bluegrass

Rough bluegrass is similar to Kentucky bluegrass, but its slight differences are enough for some homeowners to choose this variety. Rough bluegrass is a lighter-green variant that can grow better than Kentucky bluegrass in lawns with more shade and moisture. But the reverse is true as well, so be wary of its slight decline during the summertime if your lawn doesn’t have enough shade or moisture.

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

Other Notes: The light green color responsible for much of rough bluegrass’s appeal is also responsible for its avoidance of mixtures with other turfgrasses. Many homeowners prefer to give rough bluegrass complete control of the territory.

3. Perennial ryegrass

Dark green and persistent, perennial ryegrass is quick to grow and easy to assimilate. Because of these qualities, you can mix it with species such as Kentucky bluegrass with solid results. Perennial ryegrass can withstand those hot Philly summers and chilly northeastern winters all the same, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it prefers the heat.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunches
  • Shade Tolerance: Low
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High
  • Maintenance Needs:  Moderate to High
  • Mowing Height: 1.5 to 2.5 inches
  • Potential for Disease: High, including brown patch, red thread, and rust

Other Notes: Perennial ryegrass is one of the easiest lawns to grow and maintain, but there are a few caveats. Give 1,000 square feet about 3 pounds of Nitrogen every growing season for the best results; otherwise, it may become thin and clump together.

4. Tall fescue

Tall fescue is persistent and durable, making it a great pick for homes with lots of kids, pets, and guests. It takes some time to establish itself, but once it’s there, you won’t be spending much time having to take care of it. Philadelphia doesn’t have a history of droughts, but tall fescue’s high drought resistance can give you peace of mind. Even better? Tall fescue performs exceptionally well in the heat of the summer.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunches, occasionally rhizomes
  • Shade Tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High
  • Maintenance Needs:  Low 
  • Mowing Height: 2.0 – 3.0 inches
  • Potential for Disease:  Low (usually just brown patch when the weather is hot and humid)

Other Notes: Tall fescue is not as susceptible to disease as other variants, but over-fertilizing it with nitrogen fertilizer can change that. Also, tall fescue grows better than rough bluegrass in well-drained soils.

5. Fine fescues

Fine fescues such as creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, hard fescue, and sheep fescue are similar to rough bluegrass, but they share Kentucky bluegrass’ trademark dark green color. Although they are well-suited for Philly’s icy, shivery seasons, fine fescues take some time to establish themselves, so be patient or choose another species

If your house has its share of little athletes, fine fescues may not be for you. They have a low foot traffic tolerance.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Depends on the variant (creeping red fescue uses rhizomes, whereas sheep fescue grows in bunches)
  • Shade Tolerance: High
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance Needs:  Low to moderate (these species do require periodic dethatching)
  • Mowing Height: 2.0 inches and higher
  • Potential for Disease: Moderate

Other Notes: Similar to Kentucky bluegrass, the summer months can stall the growth of these species. You can expect more growth as the months begin to cool.

How to select the best grass type for your lawn

Before we step foot onto your new lawn, there are still some factors you need to consider. These characteristics are unique to your property and will help you fine-tune your eventual selection. 

  • Does your yard get a lot of sun?
    • If your yard gets a lot of sun, almost any species of grass on this list will suffice. If your property attracts a lot of shade, however, consider a species such as fine fescue. 
  • How much traffic does your lawn see? For example, are you going to be walking a lot of dogs or hosting a beer garden anytime soon?
    • Many homeowners overlook foot traffic when crafting that dream lawn. Some landscapers use grasses that they have specifically bred for athletic turfs, but a home with some kids and pets will fare well with something as simple as Kentucky bluegrass. 
  • Do you get enough rain or do you need to choose drought-tolerant grass? 
    • If your annual farmer’s almanac is predicting low rainfall, grass such as tall fescue can cope better than thirstier species.
  • How much work are you willing to put into your lawn? You could mitigate this challenge by consulting a top-rated lawn care professional in Philadelphia. 
    • Maintenance needs to run the gamut from dethatching to mowing. Persist, durable grasses such as tall fescue do not need as much maintenance as pickier species, such as Kentucky bluegrass.

Need someone dedicated to all things lawn care with a knack for service? Contact a Philadelphia lawn pro today for help with installations and maintenance.

Main Photo Credit: Bernadette Chicklo | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

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