5 Best Grasses for High-Traffic Areas: Durable Grass for Your Yard

Small white dog joyously running across a lawn

Growing grass that’s durable and healthy shouldn’t be difficult. If your lawn is patchy, brown, and dying due to heavy use from kids or pets, it might be time to shop around for new grass seeds.

How can you find a type of grass that can withstand high levels of activity? 

Read on to learn more about the best grass types for lawns with heavy foot traffic, in addition to how to identify lawn damage and prevent and repair damaged lawns.

Best high-traffic grass types

1. Tall fescue

Tall fescue has coarse, sturdy blades and deep roots, making it a great option for high-traffic lawns. Tall fescue is not only durable against high levels of foot traffic, but it is also adaptable to changing temperatures and water availability. It is one of the most drought-resistant turfgrass varieties. 

As a cool-season grass type, tall fescue would fare best in northern climates. In the summer, tall fescue can benefit from overseeding with warm-season grass seeds. It has a wide blade and ranges in color from medium to dark green. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to high
  • Maintenance needs: Low; can grow in soil with low nutrients 
  • Mowing height: Keep between 1.5-3 inches; mow weekly
  • Potential for disease: Low; high tolerance against insects and disease
  • Other notes: Stays green throughout the summer; you won’t have to worry about thatch 

2. Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is so durable that it is a popular grass type for golf courses in northern climates. This is another grass with tough blades and a strong root system. In addition to being able to withstand heavy foot traffic, perennial ryegrass is also fast-growing and drought-resistant. This is a great low-maintenance grass type for active, busy families. 

Pro Tip: Use perennial ryegrass alongside Kentucky bluegrass or other grass seeds to thicken your lawn and repair dead patches. 

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type
  • Shade tolerance: Low
  • Drought tolerance: High; drought will lead to dormancy, but it quickly revives when watered
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: Low
  • Mowing height: Keep between 1-2 inches
  • Potential for disease: Low; disease- and insect-resistant; heat and humidity can lead to grey leaf spot disease

Other notes: Will not produce as much thatch as other cool-season grass types

3. Kentucky bluegrass

Another cool-season grass type, Kentucky bluegrass, is an extremely popular option if you are looking to plant grass seeds that produce durable, beautiful grass. While it has a more shallow root system when compared to tall fescue, the grass grows into a thick, dense turf, protecting it from heavy foot traffic. 

While it’s not as drought-resistant as tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass can withstand plenty of foot traffic from active pets and kids. It’s a bit more high-maintenance, but caring for your Kentucky bluegrass will result in a green lawn year-round. 

Kentucky bluegrass is what most people picture when they imagine the perfect turfgrass. It has a soft, smooth texture and ranges in color from blue-green to emerald.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate; requires a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight
  • Drought tolerance: Moderate; goes dormant during extended droughts
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: High; low nutrients can cause delayed growth and stripe rust
  • Mowing height: Keep between 2-3 inches
  • Potential for disease: Moderate to high

Other notes: Schedule to dethatch at least every other year

4. Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass is loved for its durability — this grass type is commonly used for golf courses and sports fields. This grass type’s durability comes from its deep roots and quick growth rate. Bermudagrass is a warm-season grass, so it would fare best in southern climates. During cold weather, bermudagrass goes dormant and will dull in color. 

In addition to being durable, Bermudagrass is also very drought-tolerant. It ranges in color from blue-green to gray-green to dark green.

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Stolons and rhizomes
  • Shade tolerance: Low; bermudagrass prefers full sun
  • Drought tolerance: High; will go dormant during an extended drought
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High; more sensitive when the temperature is low
  • Maintenance needs: Moderate to high; needs to be fertilized monthly during the summer, and hybrid varieties may need more maintenance
  • Mowing height: Requires weekly mowing; should be kept between 1.5-2.5 inches
  • Potential for disease: Few pest problems; weeds have a greater potential to invade during the winter

Other notes: Bermudagrass does not produce allergenic pollen; can be invasive in backyard gardens; look out for thatch buildup

5. Zoysiagrass

Zoysiagrass is another durable warm-season grass. Zoysiagrass gets its durability from its thick, dense growth pattern. It can thrive in a variety of soil types, but is more high maintenance than other grasses. It is also more susceptible to diseases. 

Zoysiagrass can vary in color and texture but typically ranges from light to medium green. This grass type grows quickly in warm weather, providing a thick and durable lawn for the spring and summer seasons. 

  • Classification: Warm-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes and stolons
  • Shade tolerance: Moderate; prefers full sun, and will thin in large shaded areas 
  • Drought tolerance: Low; will quickly go dormant in a drought and generally requires more irrigation than other warm-season grasses
  • Foot traffic tolerance: High
  • Maintenance needs: High; needs to be fertilized frequently with small amounts of fertilizer
  • Mowing height: Keep between 2-2.5 inches; mow weekly
  • Potential for disease: High; vulnerable to insects. Large patch disease may activate when the soil is between 65 and 75 degrees. 

Other notes: Needs to be aerated every one or two years to take care of thatch buildup. 

Note if You Live in the Transition Zone: If you live in the Transition Zone you have an extra challenge: You have to deal with brutal summers and freezing winters. Opt for a cool-season grass type with high heat tolerance, such as tall fescue. Or, you can plant a warm-season grass type that can survive cold temperatures, like Zoysiagrass.

illustration showing the cool and warm season grasses on the US map, along with the transitional zone

How can you tell if foot traffic is hurting your lawn?

If your grass is patchy, brown, and dying, consider the kind of grass you have planted. If the grass type is supposed to be resistant to heavy foot traffic, check that you don’t have thatch buildup, and schedule either to dethatch or aerate your lawn.

If your lawn is sensitive to foot traffic, consider planting grass seeds from a more durable type.

Lawns that get high amounts of foot traffic also can be more vulnerable to diseases if not properly maintained. Lawn diseases, especially fungus, appear as yellow, tan, or brown spots of various sizes on the lawn. Dormancy due to weather conditions or infrequent watering can also cause similar symptoms. 

You’ll likely be able to tell the difference between foot traffic damage and lawn diseases because most diseases will appear like a perfect ring, while traffic damage will look like sporadic regions of dying or dead grass.

Impacts of heavy foot traffic on your lawn

High levels of foot traffic lead to a multitude of issues including: 

  • Compacted soil
  • Blade damage
  • Root damage
  • Flattened grass
  • Sparse or thinning grass
  • Yellowing grass
  • Increase in weeds

How to repair damaged grass

  • Assess the damage. Determine whether this is a long-term or quick fix. Do you have one patch you’re concerned about, or is your lawn covered in patches of dead grass?
  • Identify frequented areas. Brainstorm to see if your kids can play soccer in another area of the lawn, or train your dog to play in the spot near the woods. 
  • Overseed bare spots. Do this when soil temperatures are around 60 to 80 degrees, typically in late spring or early fall. 
  • Give it a break. Give your grass time to repair or your new grass seeds time to establish. This can take about a month.
  • Water frequently. Plan a time in your calendar to water the lawn a few times a week or so, depending on the grass type. Having a hydrated lawn prevents it from becoming fragile and vulnerable to damage and disease.

Tips to prevent lawn damage

  • Make sure your lawn is getting the proper amount of sunlight and water for your grass type.
  • Fertilize regularly to keep your grass growing and prevent weeds.
  • Aerate annually to reduce soil compaction.
  • Mow regularly. For durable grass, mow to the highest recommended height. Mowing your grass too short is one of the most common lawn care mistakes. Scalping your lawn will lead to increased weeds, sun damage, and weakens the grass roots. 
  • Allow new grass seeds time to establish a dense root system before allowing kids or pets to play on it.
  • Rotate the areas where outdoor activities are being held so that one area isn’t more frequently used than the rest of the yard. 
  • Keep off the grass when it’s wet and more prone to damage.

Need a hand managing your lawn care? Reach out to a Lawn Love pro to assist with all of your landscaping design and maintenance needs.

Main Photo Credit: Joe Caione | Unsplash

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.