4 Best Grass Types for Washington, D.C.

Silhouette of Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol at sunset

Which grass is best for your Washington, D.C., lawn? The final candidates have been selected: 

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

Here are a few reasons why these are the best grass types for your lawn:

  1. Cool-season grasses work well in this northern area of the transition zone.
  2. These grasses have a variety of different needs, so there’s sure to be one that fits your lawn well (sun, shade, drought tolerance, etc.).

Even though you live in the transition zone, cool-season grasses are usually the best fit for Washington, D.C., lawns. Cool-season grasses tolerate cold winter weather and have growth periods during spring and fall. Since they prefer the cooler shoulder seasons, they will go dormant (brown) in the summer.

1. Tall fescue

Tall fescue is one of the most recommended turfgrasses in Maryland and Virginia. Even the South Lawn of the White House was, at one time, a tall fescue lawn. 

Tall fescue grass has a high drought tolerance due to its extensive root system and requires a low to moderate level of maintenance.  

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Most are bunching-type grasses; some have rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: High, due to an extensive root system
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: Requires 2-4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year
  • Recommended mowing height: 2-3 inches or taller in summer
  • Soil pH: Grows best in soils with a pH between 5.5 – 7.0

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.)

2. Fine fescue

If you have a shady lawn, fine fescue may be the grass for you. Fine fescues have a high level of shade tolerance and are often combined with Kentucky bluegrass in a sun/shade grass seed mix. Other advantages are that fine fescues are highly drought tolerant and have a very low fertilization requirement.

If your lawn receives a lot of foot traffic, you may want to consider another grass. Fine fescues do not hold up well under high levels of wear. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Creeping red fescue has short rhizomes; all other varieties are bunching-type grasses.
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: High
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Low
  • Maintenance needs: Requires 1-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Fine fescues need well-drained soil.
  • Recommended mowing height: 1.5-2.5 inches or taller 
  • Soil pH: Grows best in soils with a pH between 5.5 – 7.5

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. Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is a popular cool-season grass that is found throughout Maryland and Virginia. It‘s often sold in a mix or blend and, under ideal conditions, produces a dark green stand of grass. Kentucky bluegrass is a high-maintenance lawn that requires regular fertilization and watering to keep diseases at bay.

There are many varieties of Kentucky bluegrass to choose from, and remember that a mix or blend of grasses almost always yields the best results in a cool-season lawn.   

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Low
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate to high*
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High    
  • Maintenance needs: * Kentucky bluegrass will go dormant without regular watering, but its rhizomes help it to recover once watering resumes. With Kentucky bluegrass, you must fertilize at 3-4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year to help prevent diseases such as red thread, rust, and dollar spot. A final note: Kentucky bluegrass will develop thatch over time, so plan to remove excess thatch every few years.
  • Recommended mowing height: 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Soil pH: Grows best in soils with a pH between 6.0 – 7.0

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.)

4. Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is worth mentioning but is somewhat of a special case. Perennial ryegrass declined in popularity in the 1990s due to outbreaks of gray leaf spot. In recent years, breeders have developed disease-resistant varieties and this grass has come back into favor. 

Perennial ryegrass is often only used in very small percentages in certain cool-season grass mixes. For example, the University of Maryland’s Turfgrass Technical Update recommends not mixing perennial ryegrass with turf-type tall fescue and only recommends a 0-15% inclusion in mixes with Kentucky bluegrass in cases where erosion is a concern.

Even so, other experts recommend leaving perennial ryegrass out of your grass mix entirely. If you do choose to use this grass, select a variety that is disease-resistant for the best chance of success. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Perennial ryegrass is a bunching grass — no stolons or rhizomes.
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: Low
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: Low. On its own, perennial ryegrass will not form thatch.
  • Recommended mowing height: 1-2.5 inches
  • Soil pH: Grows best in soils with a pH between 6.0 – 7.0

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

How to select the best grass type for your lawn

Before you cast your vote for best grass type for your Washington, D.C., lawn, you’ll need to answer a few questions about your yard: 

  • What kind of sun/shade does your lawn receive?
    • Of these four grasses, tall fescue, fine fescue, and perennial ryegrass tolerate light shade. Kentucky bluegrass prefers full sun.
  • Is your area subject to drought or watering restrictions?
    • Tall fescue, fine fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass have a moderate to high drought tolerance. Perennial ryegrass has a low drought tolerance.
  • What level of maintenance do you want to do (or pay someone else to do)?
    • Kentucky bluegrass is the only high-maintenance grass on this list.
  • How much foot traffic does your lawn receive?
    • Tall fescue and perennial ryegrass can tolerate the most wear; fine fescue can tolerate the least.

Now that you’ve learned about several D.C.-friendly grass types, all that is left to do is to cast your vote. Which one will you choose?

Here’s our shameless stump speech: If you’d prefer to leave your capital lawn care to an expert, look to one of our local Washington, D.C., lawn care professionals to mow, edge, blow, and make your lawn worthy of anyone’s vote.

Main Photo Credit: Pixabay | Pexels | (CC0)

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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.