In the transition zone, where summers are hot enough to grow warm-season grasses, yet cool-season types get ample winter chilling from fall through spring, there is a dilemma regarding which type of grass is best for your yard. The two grasses profiled below, tall fescue and buffalo grass, are especially well suited to the transition zone, although each has different growing requirements.
It is also possible to grow the cool-season or warm-season grasses, which were described on previous pages, depending on the conditions in your yard. In a garden that has a northern exposure or shade or is at a higher elevation, you may be able to use a cool-season grass, such as bluegrass, or a blend that includes bluegrass. In a yard with a southern or western exposure that gets plenty of sun, you can usually grow warm-season grasses. Talk with local garden centers to see which grasses would be right for your unique conditions.
Tall Fescue (Fesluca Arundinacea)
Technically a cool-season grass, tall fescue features unusually deep roots, so it tolerates summer heat and drought better than many other species. This tuft-forming grass gets its coarse texture from thousands of individual plants growing side by side, which also means it withstands heavy traffic.
Tall fescue is a light feeder, so you can fertilize as usual in fall and lightly or not at all in spring. Irrigating during droughts in summer will help keep it from browning too badly, but expect this grass to appear somewhat ragged in the hottest part of summer. If the summer has been very stressful, you can overseed the lawn in early fall.
Old varieties, such as 'Kentucky 31'. are extremely rangy and coarse, and are best overlooked in favor of the newer, improved varieties. Look for newer tall fescue varieties, such as 'Apache'. 'Falcon', and 'Rebel n'. Mow to a height of 4 in (10.2 cm), which helps increase the grass's tolerance to heat.
Buffalo Grass (Buchloe Dactyloides)
A native plant of the North American Great Plains, buffalo grass is a relative newcomer to home lawns. Because it tolerates climate and soil extremes, it is a natural choice for western lawns. A warm-season, sod-forming grass with excellent tolerance to cold, buffalo grass excels in dry, neutral to alkaline soil where other lawn grasses fail. It has a fine texture, needs water only until it becomes established, grows slowly, and remains short, requiring infrequent mowing. You can sometimes get by with mowing it only once or twice a season.
The species has prickly seed heads, but newer varieties produce few of these, which are easily controlled through routine mowing. In addition, unproved varieties, such as 'Prairie', creep a little after becoming mature clumps. These varieties can be grown from either sod or plugs planted from mid spring to early summer.
Buffalo grass needs only one light feeding in early summer and should be cut to a height of 2 1/2-3 in (6.3-7.6 cm).