Guide to Growing Grass in the Transition Zone

The transition zone is the growing area across the middle of the U.S., one between the warm area in the south and the cool area in the north. A guide to growing grass in the transition zone will take into account that it needs to be able to withstand the heat that comes up and the cold that comes down. 

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Grasses Good to Grow in the Transition Zone

Map of the United States showing cool-season grass, warm-season grass, and transition zones.

Grasses are divided into two categories, warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. If you live in the transition zone, you will want to consider which type of grass is best for you:

  • Cool-season grass: These grasses struggle to grow during the hot summer months unless you give supplemental irrigation. The upside to this is less summer maintenance compared to warm-season grasses since you’ll get out your mower less often.

    LawnStarter has prepared a report on cool-season grasses.
  • Warm-season grass: These grasses will give you a lawn to use in the summer, say, to host lawn parties or play with the kids. But they will go dormant in the winter.

    LawnStarter has prepared a report on warm-season grasses.

North Carolina State University Extension recommends these grasses for planting in the transition zone:

Cool-Season Grasses to Grow in the Transition Zone

 Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis)Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne)Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Can it be seededYesYesYes
Shade toleranceGoodGoodGood
Heat toleranceGoodFairGood
Cold toleranceVery goodVery goodVery good
Drought resistanceVery goodGoodVery good
WearVery goodVery goodVery good
Rate to establishFastFastFast
Mowing height2.5-3.5 inches1.5-2.5 inches2.5-3.5 inches
Fertilizer2-4 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft2.5-3.5 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft2-4 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft
Mowing frequencyHighMedium highHigh

A pro’s tip: Fine fescue is an additional cool-season grass to consider with this caveat: It should be mixed with other grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue. Fine fescue can tolerate partial shade and is often used in a grass seed mix for lawns with some shade.

Warm-Season Grasses to Grow in the Transition Zone

 Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica)Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Can it be seededYes (but seeding is rarely recommended)Yes
Shade toleranceGoodVery poor
Heat toleranceVery goodExcellent
Cold toleranceGoodPoor
Drought resistanceExcellentExcellent
WearVery goodExcellent
Rate to establishVery slowFast
Mowing height0.75-2 inches0.75-2 inches
Fertilizer1-3 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft4-4.5 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft
Mowing frequencyLowMed-high

A pro’s tip: Don’t try to mix warm-season grasses with cool-season grasses. You will end up with a lawn of patches of different colors and textures. You can have success with a mixture of same-season grasses.

Comparing Warm-Season and Cool-Season Grasses 

 Warm-season grassesCool-season grasses
Growing seasonSummer Spring and Fall
Planting timeLate spring/Early summerFall
DormancyWinter. Will probably turn brown.Summer. Might turn brown. Should stay green in winter.
Temperature preference80-95 degrees F60-75 degrees F
Seasons of the yearCan withstand hot summers, but may die off in cold wintersCan withstand cold winters, but not harsh summers

Comparing warm-season and cool-season grasses, using a checkmark system:

TopicWarm-Season GrassesCool-Season Grasses
Cost for seed✔✔ Relatively inexpensive
Soil conditions✔✔ Tolerate poor soil better
Growth✔✔Produce a dense lawn quicker, within 1 to 2 years
Drought tolerance✔✔ Can handle dry soil or periods of drought
Root system✔✔ Extensive
Weed control✔✔ It is more difficult for anything to grow in cooler weather, including weeds.
Erosion✔ Better after becoming established✔ Better in the short term

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When to Plant Grass in the Transition Zone

Plant warm-season grasses in the late spring and early summer. Plant cool-season grasses in the fall. In both cases, this is the time right before peak growth.

Warm Season Growth

Cool Season Growth

Picking a Grass Type for Your Transition Zone Lawn

When choosing a strategy for growing a lawn in the transition zone, it is important to carefully evaluate your yard. LawnStarter provides these tools:

  • Check the soil pH: Look at the ABCs of preparing and sending out a soil test.
  • Determine the soil type: It matters for a healthy lawn. Knowing your soil type will assist you in preparing the soil before you plant.
  • Calculate sun exposure over the course of a normal day, especially noting full sun or levels of shade.

Perhaps the easiest way to choose a grass type for your transition zone lawn is to see which grasses grow well in your area. In addition, consider whether you mind a dormant lawn in the summer (cool-season grasses) or would rather have a dormant lawn in the winter (warm-season grasses).

You’ll also need to ensure your grass type can withstand the winter without dying. Cool-season lawns may be a better fit for winters that are on the colder side.

What Does It Cost?

A LawnStarter study found the cost of having a professional seed or reseed your lawn is between $0.10 and $0.19 per square foot. The average price for a job:

National average cost$1,085
Typical price range$680-$1,815
Extreme low-end cost$195
Extreme high-end cost$2,960

A further LawnStarter survey reviewed the cost of having sod installed as new grass:

  • Sod alone (no labor) costs $0.30 to $0.83 per square foot
  • Labor from a service will run from $0.57 to $0.93 per square foot to install the sod. 
  • In total, it costs $0.87 to $1.76 per square foot for both labor and materials.

Consider Calling In a Professional

Working on your lawn can be a meaningful and fulfilling do-it-yourself project. It takes planning, time, and effort to have an optimal lawn. But it takes so much that you should consider calling a local lawn care professional to help find and install the best grass for you.


Is Climate Change a Factor?

Climate change is believed to be creating a gradual increase in the average temperatures of the transition zone. This is leading some to prefer to use warm-season grasses in the transition zone.

What is the Fastest-Growing Grass for the Transition Zone?

Perennial ryegrass is considered to be the fastest growing of any turfgrass a homeowner might use for a new lawn. It has a very good rate of germination and a good ability to stand up to foot traffic. Seeds will start sprouting in 10 days.

What is the Best Source of Information for Selecting a Grass?

Contact your county Extension office and local landscaping companies or seed/sod suppliers to get a better idea of what grass types work the best in your local climate. Choosing the right seed for your climate and lawn’s conditions is the best way to get started on the path to a green lawn.

Is There Maintenance Specific to Transition Zone grass?

● By overseeding Bermuda with annual ryegrass, cool-season grass seed can be interspersed in a warm-season lawn to provide green color in colder winter months. You can also overseed bare spots during the growing season.

● All lawns can benefit from aeration, something to consider especially if you overseed.

● The varieties that do best in the transition zone tend to produce more thatch from stolons and rhizomes, so you will want to consider regular dethatching.
● You will want to develop a knowledge of mulch, and how to apply it around trees and flower beds.

A Call to Action

If you live in the transition zone, make it a point to review what kind of grass you want to plant. But be sure to take action: Review your situation, decide on the right grass for you, and decide if you want to install it on a DIY basis, or if you want to call in a professional.

Once it’s installed, contact a local lawn care pro to mow, edge, and keep your lawn neat and tidy.

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Additional sources:, USDA

Amanda Shiffler

Amanda Shiffler

Most comfortable with soil under her fingernails, Amanda has an enthusiasm for gardening, agriculture, and all things plant-related. With a master's degree in agriculture and more than a decade of experience gardening and tending to her lawn, she combines her plant knowledge and knack for writing to share what she knows and loves.