One place to look for grasses that grow well in Florida sand is the beach, where native grasses help hold dunes in place. Many of these natives make suitable plants for a home landscape with pure sand or sandy soil. Grasses for lawns in sandy soil also need to be adapted to the specific growing conditions of your area of Florida. Considerations include the plant’s salt tolerance, flooding tolerance and drought resistance, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Grass Types for Sand
Northern or cool-weather grasses don’t grow well in Florida’s hot climate and sandy soils. Seed isn’t available for many kinds of grass that do well in Florida, so you’ll need to plant plugs or sod and water well until the grass is established. Native grasses and climate-adapted lawn grasses often aren’t as green as cool-weather grasses -- but resist the temptation to fertilize them, because this can lead to pest and disease problems. Most of Florida’s sand-loving grasses don’t need feeding.
Native Florida grasses that anchor the state’s beach dunes include saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3a through 11; gulf hairawn muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris var. filipes), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11; bitter panic grass (Panicum amarum), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 9; seashore grass (Panicum virgatum), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10; coastal bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9; marsh hay (Spartina patens), hardy in USDA 8 through 9; seashore dropseed (Sporobolus virginicus), hardy in USDA 6a through 11; and sea oats (Uniola paniculata), hardy in USDA zones 7b through 11. These grasses tolerate drought and salt spray, and need little care once established.
St. Augustine Grass in the Yard
St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10, is native to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico and is the most common lawn grass planted in Florida. It thrives in sand. A medium green to blue-green grass, it is dense and establishes quickly, but isn’t drought-tolerant. It has good shade tolerance and also takes wet soils, but is less tolerant of foot traffic than other grasses. It isn’t harmed by saltwater. Different cultivars of St. Augustine grass vary in their tolerance of environmental stress, pests and diseases.
Bahiagrass for the Lawn
Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 11, was introduced to Florida from Brazil in the early 1900s. It forms a large, deep root system, so it does well in sand, requiring little water and fertilizer. Bahiagrass doesn’t create a dense, green lawn, but its coarse texture takes foot traffic well. It doesn’t have good shade tolerance and should be planted in full sun. It has few pest and disease problems and takes occasional drought. It forms seed heads and reseeds, so it rarely looks like a neat, green lawn. Different cultivars vary in tolerances and colors.
A Yard Full of Centipedegrass
Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuoides), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10, thrives in sand, but it is susceptible to nematode and scale damage. It came to the United States in the early 1900s from Asia and is the most common lawn grass planted in Florida Panhandle yards. It's slow-growing and requires little fertilizing, but it’s not very green. It tolerates shade but not drought. Different cultivars of centipedegrass offer different tolerances and shades of green.
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection: Recommended Florida Native Beach and Dune Plants for Beachfront Properties and Dune Restoration
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Choosing a Lawngrass
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: St. Augustine Grass for Florida Lawns
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Bahia Grass for Florida Lawns
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Centipede Grass for Florida Lawns
- Dennis M. Serafinis Landscaping: Types of Grass That Grow Well in South Florida
- Seedland: Lawn Grasses: Climate Maps, Grass Type Chart & More
- Florida-Friendly Landscaping: Plant Database: Muhlenbergia Capillaris 8-11
- Florida-Friendly Landscaping: Plant Database: Spartina Spp. 8-9
- Florida-Friendly Landscaping: Plant Database: Panicum Virgatum and Cvs. 8-10
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images