Chicago Grass & Lawn Guide – Ideas, Maintenance, & Tips

Chicago’s unique climate leads to some important considerations when growing and maintaining your lawn.

We dive into the best seeds to plant along with maintenance tips, lawn ideas, and even grass alternatives, such as artificial grass.

Here’s what you need to know.

Best Grass Seed For Chicago

The type of grass seed that you choose will set the foundation for your lawn, so it’s important you get it right.

The best grass seeds to use in Chicago and surrounding midwestern regions are cool season grasses due to their ability to withstand cold winters.

Popular cool season grasses include kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue, and fine fescue.

Kentucky bluegrass does the best in the cold, making it a great pick for the Windy City’s cold winters. Its main downside is its high maintenance requirements.

Perennial ryegrass is known for its fast germination. It also does very well in Chicago’s cold winters, but not quite as well as the Kentucky bluegrass. It requires a moderate amount of maintenance. So less than the Kentucky bluegrass but more than others.

Tall & fine fescues are known for their low maintenance requirements. They’re suitable for cold conditions, but not as much as some of their cool season counterparts like the Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.

The best grass seed for your lawn in Chicago is a hybrid mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. This lets you take advantage of Kentucky bluegrass’ hardiness and perennial ryegrass’ quick germination.

Grass Alternatives for Chicago Lawns

For the creative and maintenance-averse, you’ve got some alternative options to grass:

  • Plant alternatives – There are some plants other than grass that can give you a natural, unique look with less maintenance including moss, vines and corsican mint.
  • Hardscape – With hardscaping, you landscape over everything with rock, brick, or concrete. This option can look very nice, and eliminate maintenance requirements.
  • Synthetic grass – Artificial grass turf is another alternative to grass in Chicago. It can have a great year-round look with very little maintenance. (By the way, if this option sparked your interest, we can install it for you).

All three of these grass substitutes serve to reduce maintenance, create a custom aesthetic, and combat the difficult grow climate of the Greater Chicago Area.

When to Plant Grass Seed in Chicago

Late summer / early fall is the best time to plant grass seed in Chicago, ideally mid-to-end of August. During this time, the climate is just right for growing grass. Not too hot, not too cold. This also gives it enough time to get established before winter. It’s the best time to seed bare areas, reseed, overseed, and lay sod.

How Often To Water Your Chicago Lawn

Lawn care experts agree that grass requires between 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. This is about 2-3 hours of running the sprinkler each week. Less drought-tolerant grass seeds like the Kentucky bluegrass typically need closer to 1.5 inches, whereas the fine and tall fescue will need an inch or less each week. Keep in mind that less will also be needed if it’s been raining.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning encourages homeowners to err on the side of less water to comply with local regulations and conserve water. They advise that Chicago lawns require no more than one inch, or two hours of watering per week; regardless of the type of grass seed.

So to be safe, we suggest watering your grass for right at 2 hours each week. If it’s been raining, then water less or not at all. This makes sure your grass is getting enough water without being wasteful.

When to Aerate Your Chicago Lawn

The best time to aerate your grass lawn in Chicago is fall or early spring. This is when cool season grasses grow the most vigorously due to the cool weather. Aerating your Chicago lawn during this time allows you to take advantage of this grass-friendly weather, maximizing nutrient uptake, enhancing soil oxygenation, and preparing your lawn for a lush growth in spring.

When & How Often to Fertilize Your Chicago Lawn

It’s suggested to fertilize your lawn between two to four times per year, with the ideal frequency depending on how dense your lawn is. The denser, the more it is suggested you fertilize.

As with the best time to plant grass seed, the most important time of year to fertilize your lawn is late summer / early fall. This time makes sure it’s not too hot in the middle of summer, but there’s still plenty of time for the fertilizer to take effect before winter. So if you’re only going to fertilize once a year, this is the time to do it.

But if you want optimal fertilization, you should do it 2-4 times per year. Here’s what the University of Illinois suggests:

  • Low-to-moderate density lawns – Two times: Once in spring and once in late summer/early fall.
  • Moderate-to-high density lawns – Three times: Once in spring, once in late summer/early fall, and once after your last mow of the season.
  • High density lawns – Four times: Spring, early summer, late summer/early fall, and after your last mow of the season.

So if you have a low-density lawn or don’t want to invest too much time or money into your yard, then fertilize once during late summer/early fall. If you have a dense lawn and/or want to ensure optimal health of your lawn, then four times starting in spring and ending late season.

Artificial Grass in Chicago

We touched briefly upon artificial grass as a great alternative solution for Chicago lawns, but we need to cover it a bit more. That’s because we’re Chicago’s leading provider of artificial grass installation. We may be a bit biased, but we can’t rave enough about just how effective of a solution it is for combatting Chicago’s cold winters and eliminating virtually all maintenance requirements.

Artificial grass is popular in Chicago because it keeps its perfect aesthetic year-round and requires very little maintenance. It eliminates the need to aerate, fertilize, mow, and water altogether.

It’s clean (no more mud or grass stains), and lifelike (looks just like real grass).

It can be applied to your whole lawn, or just specific areas that have trouble growing grass. It can also be used for outdoor pet areas, putting greens, bocce courts, and playgrounds. The sky’s the limit.

Making the Most of Your Chicago Lawn

Chicago has a special set of requirements for a well-maintained lawn. Follow the guide we’ve presented, and you’ll be set up for success.

As a brief recap, here were the main points:

For grass lawns, the most important requirement is that you’re using a cool season variety; with the best option being a mix of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. To care for it, be sure to fertilize it at least 2-4 times per year at the right times, and aerate it once a year during the fall or early spring.

For grass alternatives in your lawn, you can use an alternative plant like moss, utilize landscaping or “hardscaping”, or even mimic real grass with synthetic turf.

If you’re interested in going the synthetic turf route for your Chicago home, give us a shout. As Chicago’s artificial grass leaders for 25 years and counting, we can help. Let’s discuss how we can give your lawn year-round beauty with minimal maintenance.