4 Best Grass Types in Madison


Living in Madison, Wisc., means dealing with constant weather changes, and that makes choosing your grass type an important decision for any homeowner.

Here’s why: Unlike a garden or the house, you can’t really winterize your lawn or uncover it for the summer sun. You don’t want to be dealing with constant pest issues, a brown lawn, or planting new grass every few months.

Madison has a humid continental climate that bounces between 90 degrees and well-below freezing temperatures annually. That’s a lot of stress on plants that aren’t built for it.

So, what kind of grass is built to be a plush and healthy all-seasons lawn? Let’s take a look at the four best grass types to plant in Madison, noting for each variety its shade and drought tolerance, maintenance needs and recommended mowing height:

1. Kentucky Bluegrass

Many people consider Kentucky bluegrass to be an ideal lawn. This grass type tends to keep its blue-green color in the winter and resists heat and drought in the summer. Kentucky bluegrass is known for its dense, thick lawn, and it grows well in the northern regions from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Classification: Cool-season grass.

Spreads by: Underground stems (known as rhizomes).

Shade tolerance: Partial shade to full sun.

Drought tolerance: High but long periods of drought will lead to dormancy.

Foot traffic tolerance: High in warmer weather, lower in colder seasons.

Maintenance needs: An inch of water weekly, fertilizing 1-3 times a year.

Recommended mowing height: 1 to 3 inches.

2. Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is first to green when the snow melts making it a faster-growing lawn. It’s a great grass choice for erosion control and its darker color peaks in the cooler months. You’ll often find it mixed in with other grass varieties for its heartiness.

Classification: Cool-season grass.

Spreads by: Producing neither rhizomes nor stolons, you will need to seed or lay sod on the entire area of your lawn to grow this grass.

Shade tolerance: Moderate.

Drought tolerance: Moderate, depending on the variety.

Foot traffic tolerance: High.

Maintenance needs: Frequent watering and fertilizing every 4-6 weeks.

Recommended mowing height: 1.5-2.5 inches.

3. Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is more coarse in texture, making for a more dense turf that is considered a very versatile grass. With a medium to dark green hue and a finer leaf, tall fescue appears more bunched.

Classification: Cool-season grass.

Spreads by: Tall fescue grass grows in clumps and is spread through tillers (vertical shoots that grow from the base of the plant).

Shade tolerance: High.

Drought tolerance: Very high.

Foot traffic tolerance: High.

Maintenance needs: Best to mow weekly, requires minimal fertilization, and water as needed unless you want your lawn to go dormant.

Recommended mowing height: 3.5-4 inches.

4. Fine Fescues

Fine fescue, with a narrow and fine leaf and a medium to blue-green color, is considered a highly versatile grass type that keeps its color year-round.

Classification: Cool-season grass.

Spreads by: Stolons (above-ground stems) and rhizomes (modified stems that run underground).

Shade tolerance: High. Drought tolerance: High. Foot traffic tolerance: Moderate to low, not best for heavy foot traffic.

Maintenance needs: Mow every 2-3 weeks until growth slows in the summer, fertilize 2-4 times a year, aeration once a year.

Recommended mowing height: 3 to 3.5 inches.

The cooler-than-normal weather in Madison complicates choosing a lawn type, but any of the four best grass types above should serve you well — green nearly all year and generally easy to maintain.

Need help preparing your lawn? Visit our Madison, Wisc., lawn care page to get in touch with a professional! In addition to Madison, we provide lawn care services in other Wisconsin cities, including Milwaukee and Kenosha.

Main image credit: Richard Hurd, CC by ND 2.0

Phillip Forsgren

Phillip Forsgren

Quirky, corny, and a little too invested in research. Phillip Forsgren grew up laboring over book reports and, as a result, became a freelance writer.