Best Grass Types for Tacoma

Tacoma Washington skyline

The views in Tacoma are breathtaking, but if the views outside your front window fail to measure up, maybe you don’t have the best grass for your climate. Here are three grass types that work best west of the Cascades:

  • Fine-leaved fescues
  • Turf-type perennial ryegrass
  • Turf-type tall fescue

Find out which one works best for your yard conditions.

1. Fine-leaved fescues

If you have shade on your lawn, you may wonder if any grass will grow there. All you can do is experiment, and fine fescue is your best bet. Fine fescue is a group of several varieties of grass (Chewings, hard, and red fescue) that tolerate partial shade and get high marks for drought tolerance, as well. These grasses are often mixed with other cool-season grasses in lawns with partial shade.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: These are bunching grasses, which don’t spread. The one exception is creeping red fescue, which produces rhizomes.
  • Shade tolerance: High
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance needs: Low; requires less fertilizer, mowing, and water than turf-type perennial ryegrass
  • Mowing height: 1.25-1.5 inches
  • Potential for disease: Susceptible to the fungal disease red thread 

Other notes: To help prevent red thread, fertilize properly, choose a resistant variety, and apply fungicides as a last resort.

2. Turf-type perennial ryegrass

Turf-type perennial ryegrass thrives west and east of the Cascades. This grass can be planted as a single species or mixed with other cool-season species. It is often included in grass mixes due to its rapid germination rate, which can be as fast as five to seven days in optimal conditions.

Unfortunately, this is not the grass for your lawn if you have shade. Turf-type perennial ryegrass needs a full day’s worth of sun to thrive and will need irrigation if you want it to stay green during the summer season. 

It is remarkably resistant to some of the wet winter diseases that plague other cool-season species, which is a plus if you want a disease-free lawn. Finally, expect to overseed this grass often. Even though it has relatively good wear tolerance, as a bunching grass, it won’t be able to recover from high traffic stress on its own.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: This is a bunch-type grass, which means it doesn’t spread horizontally.
  • Shade tolerance: Low; needs full sun
  • Drought tolerance: Low
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate, but areas with wear will require overseeding
  • Maintenance needs: Moderate; requires fertilization to stay in top form
  • Mowing height: 1.25-1.5 inches
  • Potential for disease: Red thread is common 

Other notes: To control red thread or potential fungi, choose a variety that is resistant to this disease and fertilize properly. Fungicides also can be used.

3. Turf-type tall fescue

Best planted as a single species, turf-type tall fescue is prized by homeowners for its ability to withstand heat and drought while also being able to tolerate some shade. Its drought resistance comes from the roots that grow deep into the soil, helping it to access water during dry spells. Despite all its perks, one downside is that this species is susceptible to diseases brought on by cool, wet winters.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type. Does not spread.
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance needs: Moderate; clay soils require 1-2 fertilizer applications; sandy soils may need more fertilizer
  • Mowing height: 1.5-2 inches
  • Potential for disease: In a wet, cool winter, has a moderate to high risk of disease

Other notes: Fusarium patch and net blotch are common winter diseases in western Washington. Here are a few prevention strategies: fertilize properly (not too much, not too little), reduce soil compaction to improve drainage, and cut at the right height (taller is better). Use fungicides as a last resort. Consider an endophyte-enhanced variety for better insect protection.

Note: You may wonder why Kentucky bluegrass is not on the list. Kentucky bluegrass is not usually recommended for western Washington because it is highly susceptible to disease west of the Cascades. Some experts say you can seed it at less than 50% as part of a mix with other grass types, but others say to stay away altogether. 

How to select the best grass type for your Tacoma lawn

Now that we’ve taken a high-level view of each of these cool-season grass types, let’s now turn our attention to your own lawn. There are a few key questions you’ll need to consider before you go out and buy a bag of grass seed.

  • How much maintenance do I want to do on my lawn? Or, if you hire this out, how much more or less will the new grass cost in maintenance (mowing frequency, fertilization, watering)? 
    • Fine-leaved fescues require the lowest level of maintenance while turf-type perennial ryegrass and turf-type tall fescue require more.
  • Is your lawn full sun, partial shade, or full shade?
    • Turf-type perennial ryegrass loves full sun while fine-leaved fescues can tolerate the most shade. Turf-type tall fescue can take a moderate amount of shade. 
  • Does your lawn have a high level of wear (foot traffic) from people or pets?
    • Turf-type perennial ryegrass has the greatest wear tolerance but will need to be reseeded to maintain a full stand of grass, especially under traffic stress. Fine-leaved fescues have the lowest wear tolerance, and turf-type tall fescue falls in the middle.
  • Does your area suffer from drought?
    • Fine-leaved and turf-type tall fescues have good drought tolerance, but turf-type perennial ryegrasses don’t stand up as well in drought conditions.

If you’d rather spend the growing season taking in the mountain views or enjoying the many miles of local shoreline, let one of our Tacoma lawn care pros take care of your lawn care to-do list.

Main Photo Credit: SounderBruce | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.