Before you plant grass seeds in any part of Colorado, it’s important to understand the kind of soil type and land available to you. The truth is that “Rocky Mountain lawns,” such as they are, prove very finicky when it comes to supporting grass types.
However, turfgrass continues to play an important role in the residential landscape, so it’s smart to understand your land’s climate and zone.
Ornamental grasses and turfgrass that will do best in Colorado are those that are adaptable to growing conditions. Colorado state falls under the USDA hardiness zones three, four, and five.
These separate zones are a guide for you to learn more about which grass seed varieties work best for your area. A zone’s elevation and location within the state will tell you much about the soil’s make-up.
If you have rocky or sandy soils because you live higher up, for example, a turfgrass of the fine fescue variety will work well because they can still thrive in low-fertility soils. By contrast, the warm-loving zoysiagrass only works if planted in southern regions of the state, such as Pueblo and beyond.
Besides elevations of the land, which directly impact the make-up of the soil, USDA Plant Hardiness zone maps can help you understand the temperatures your grass seeds will be exposed to. Based on this, you can make an informed decision on grass seed varieties, and you can also choose which grass seeds to mix for a full, thriving lawn.
Image Source (from the interactive map)
Besides its use as lawn, grass can also be used ornamentally. Ornamental grasses can add color, movement, texture, and are a perfect way to fill in those empty spaces and bring new life to your landscape. Grasses used ornamentally:
- Are adaptable, easily growing in poorer soils better than other garden plants
- Require little or almost effort to maintain, depending on the variety chosen
- Come in a variety of heights, colors, and textures, so you can use many types to augment the beauty of your lawn
- Provide foliage and decorative interest in the fall and winter months
- Can also be used as groundcovers or as forms of erosion control
Which Grass Seed Types Thrive in Colorado?
A beautiful lawn doesn’t just “happen” — especially not in Colorado. Before you pick specific grass seed types for your location, ask yourself a few orienting questions to learn more about how much work you’re willing to put in and the surrounding conditions.
These questions will help you narrow down your choices, even if you’re going for the most popular (or common) types like Kentucky bluegrass.
- Purpose: Are you planting for visual beauty, or do you need a lawn hearty enough to withstand the foot traffic of pets and kids?
- Maintenance: Do you want to frequently maintain your lawn or simply set it and (for the most part) forget it?
- Irrigation: Is watering your lawn expensive where you’re located?
- Sunlight exposure: Is your lawn mostly shady (by trees, etc.), or is it exposed to the sun?
- Color: Do you personally care if your lawn goes dormant and brown during the winter or do you need to see a lawn that maintains its green color throughout the year?
Once you know what your priorities are, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about your grass type. Based on Colorado’s climate and its rocky and varied elevations, you have a choice between common, hearty grasses, and more Rocky Mountain-specific varieties.
1) Ornamental Grasses
Grasses like sedges, rushes, and even hardy bamboos are ornamental grasses that you can use for the rockier regions in Colorado. These are heartier and able to withstand tough elements, but they have their own moisture requirements.
Native warm-season grasses like little bluestem, sideoats grama, switchgrass, and Indian grass do well in regions of Colorado that receive a minimum of 10-15 inches of precipitation. In areas below these minimums, supplemental irrigation would need to be used.
If you’re located in the eastern part of the Midwest (known as the Corn Belt), your garden will thrive with ornamental grasses like:
- Variegated bulbous oat grass
- Foerster’s feather reed grass
- Gray’s or morning star sedge
- Japanese sedge and palm sedge
- Northern sea oats
- Velvet grass
- Blue lyme grass
- Small Japanese silver grass
- Flame grass
- Ribbon grass
- Autumn moongrass
If you’re located in an area with drier conditions, you should differentiate further between warm and cool ornamental grasses. Check your zones to see and the season type to choose the right one.
2) Cool-Season Lawn Grass Varieties
The most common cool-season grass types you’ll see in Colorado are tall fescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and the fine fescues. However, it’s important to distinguish between elevations because metropolitan areas like Denver do well with common grasses like Kentucky bluegrass. Higher elevations and desert regions, however, will require a more adaptable grass seed type.
Kentucky bluegrass may not be native to Colorado, unlike the Buffalograss or Blue grama grass, but it certainly holds up well. It displays a great tolerance for high-density foot traffic, and it is fairly drought resistant although will go dormant during extended periods of heat and drought.
Tall fescue is a fantastic grass, especially if you’re located in zone 5. They require less maintenance and are adaptable to the mountainous regions of Colorado where soil quality may be less than ideal.
On the other hand, they’re also drought resistant and shade-happy. These hearty varieties form a deep root system that can extend between three and six feet below the soil. One of its downsides, however, is that it doesn’t self-repair and spread the way bluegrass does, and you’ll have to overseed it regularly to prevent it from thinning out.
Creeping red, hard fescues, chewings, and sheep fescues are among the finest textured grass varieties. They form a consistent lawn that is soft to the touch and do well under low-fertility conditions. Rocky, infertile, or sandy soils are welcome.
They’re also well-suited for higher elevations, since the days are cooler but they will go dormant above 90 and below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that their fine texture makes them easy to thatch so you’ll need some active thatch management.
3) Warm-Season Grass Varieties
In Colorado, it’s safe to say that there are only a few true options for warm-season grass types. Buffalograss, for example, is native to Colorado, so it displays an excellent natural affinity for extreme heat, cold, and drought tolerance. However, it’s not perfect. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about Buffalograss:
- It will become dormant in the fall and remain straw-colored until mid- to late-May of the next spring.
- It shouldn’t be used at elevations higher than 6,500 feet, unless it’s facing southern or western exposure.
- It recuperates slowly from foot traffic and is easily injured.
- It can become tricky to get buffalograss seeds to establish and they need a lot of management during the early stages (especially against weeds).
You also have the option of Blue grama grass, which is drought tolerant and needs very basic maintenance. Traditionally, it’s a warm-season grass meant for Denver’s warm summer climate, but it has a natural hardiness to it that makes it a viable option for elevations up to 7,000 feet. If you’re located in zones 3, 4, and 5, and your daytime temperatures hit at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, plant Blue grama grass in areas with full sun exposure.
Grow Better Grass Seed In Colorado Today
At Nature’s Seed, our premium quality grass seed varieties, coupled with our expert guidance, can help you grow your own way. Use the interactive Seed Selector tool to find the best grass seed type for your zone, growing conditions, and aesthetic or restoration goals.
Our lawn blends are designed to withstand a range of climates, water availability, and your personal needs. Spruce up your garden beds with wildflower seeds to attract pollinators and build a better ecosystem overall. The seed you select makes a difference to the state as a whole.
Contact us today to learn more about our sustainable land restoration practices through planting aids and seed types.