Choosing a grass

The information provided below is intended to help understand the agronomic choices available and how best to select the right choice for your lawn’s needs.

Whether you’re interested in learning how to reduce irrigation, when and how to properly fertilize, or even what height to mow your lawn, it all starts with what grass type you have

What are the intended uses?

  • Is this a utility (road side/erosion control, etc.) – or
  • Is this grass a high or low profile home lawn – or
  • a high or low profile athletic field -or
  • is this a golf course?

How much sun (or shade) exposure will be on the grass?

Providing information regarding shade level (shady or not shady), and your geographic location will trim the list of grass types down further.

After these decisions, you will have a list of grasses left for your consideration.

From the remaining options, you can factor your aesthetic, economic, or management preferences.


The transitional climate of North Carolina is best suited to grow: 

cool seasonwarm season
kentucky bluegrasscentipedegrass
tall fescueSt. Augustinegrass
NC warm and cool season grass types
In the Garden’s Bryce Lane explains how to work with an NC SPA sod grower to help choose the grass best suited for your needs.

What is a variety and how do I know which one to choose?

Exactly what is a variety?

Once you have decided upon a grass type, there is then the selection of cultivated varieties (or cultivars) to consider. Cultivars are cultivated plant varieties that are purposefully propagated for commercial plant production.

NOTE: The term “Varieties” comes from the botanical naming convention you may have learned in biology class

Family -> Genus -> Species -> Variety

More information about variety naming conventions can be found on the USDA website.

Both asexual (cuttings or vegetative propagation) and sexual (seeded) reproductive propagation methods are cultivar propagation practices.

What is a cultivar?

A “Cultivar” is a cultivated variety specifically grown for purposes such as commercial sale.

Cultivar selection

Cultivar selection allow growers to rely on years of research and classification of growing expectations as is found in studies such as the NTEP (National Turfgrass Evaluation Program) study program.

Cultivar naming

Plant type cultivar names are regulated under the guidance of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants or (ICNCP). In essence, a cultivar (or cultivated variety) is in fact a trade designation or legal name created primarily for commercial purposes. The cultivar name is a legal designation and serves in part to protect the plant breeders rights-and ultimately the buyers expectations of performance and plant characteristics.

If you buy a bag of seed, or a roll of sod it is likely going to contain a specific grass type (say Tall Fescue), and contain a cultivar (or blend of cultivars) specifically selected by the grower (or manufacturer).

NC SPA growers select cultivars for reasons or plant characteristics such as, color, resilience, commercial popularity, reputation, cost, texture, leaf shape, size, and more.

Examples of just a few Tall Fescue Cultivars include:

  • “Rebel IV”
  • “Silverstar”
  • “Firebird”
  • “WolfPack”

Notice the clever names? This legal naming convention doubles as a marketing tool.

How do I know which variety to choose?

The North Carolina State University Turfgrass Program works in partnership with the NTEP (National Turfgrass Evaluation Program) to conduct unbiased reviews of North Carolina’s regional turfgrass cultivars. This arduous process consists of multi-year studies reviewing cultivar performance under the same maintenance regime AND while in the same location.

NTEP Researchers record growth performance characteristics and rate these 12′ by 12′ cultivar plots to better define variety performance expectations.

Located side by side, cultivar plots are mowed at the same height, watered at the same depth, and fertilized at the same rates and times. These research turf cultivars are given numbers at this stage of development in expectation of a commercial release.

The number system allows researchers to track traits specific to that plant cultivar during this research phase. However, due to the expense and time associated with the trade-marking-naming process-it is typically saved for PROVEN performers.

These results are assembled and recommended cultivars are published annually: