How Long Does Grass Live? Annuals And Perennials Explained


The short answer is… until it dies. (Yeah, I have grandpa jokes.) But seriously, grass is one of those everyday things that we so often take for granted. Yet, it is truly one of nature’s marvels. We certainly know of its historical importance to livestock, as well as its decorative uses. However, what do we know about its longevity?

Perennial species of grass can live indefinitely if well maintained. Without proper maintenance, perennial grasses live for 4-7 years. Annual grasses live only one growing season or one (1) year max. They propagate by producing large amounts of seeds which can become invasive on other species.

Join us as we discover just how long various types of grass can live. Prepare for a mind-blowing deep dive into the world of grass and its properties. Okay, so maybe not mind blowing, but interesting for sure. We will also talk about the concept of “aging grass” before looking at reasons why this historic plant is so tough.

Is Grass Actually Alive?

This question gets asked more than you may think. Because of the abuse that grass is able to withstand, some people that haven’t looked into the issue fully may pose it in passing.

Grasses, unless artificial replicas as found in stadiums and on sports fields, are living plants with above ground blades or leaves and extensive underground root systems. They need food, water, and sunlight to grow and survive. Grasses can and do die without the proper environment.

Some grasses in perfectly manicured lawns can even take on an artificial look and feel. It becomes more like a carpet under your bare feet than a living plant. It is no wonder that those not inclined to yardwork or outdoor activities may have doubts.

Is Soil Alive?

This question is maybe meant to address the many living organisms in the soil that grass lives in. With that in mind one might agree that it is alive. Yet, there are those that actually may ask if it is a living organism itself. So, Is Soil alive?

Soil is alive in the sense that it teams with tiny life in many forms. It is not alive in the sense of being a separate organism itself. It holds nutrients and minerals needed to support life, but is not alive on its own. Plants and animal organisms rely on it for life.

Soil is many times termed as alive by those referring to the many creatures that rely on it. Many children are told this and unless reconsidered in teen years it can lead to misunderstanding in those that never revisit the issue.

If you would like to read more about lawns and how to care for grass, see some of these articles I recommend…

What Is The Longevity Of Synthetic, Annual, and Perennial Grass?

The lifespan of grass actually depends on the specific type of grass in question. As you know, we have natural grass species and artificial/synthetic grasses.

How Long Does Artificial Or Synthetic Grass

Of course, artificial grass is not technically “alive” because it’s man-made. However, if we’re talking about longevity, you can expect a decorative synthetic lawn to last for 15 years (at least) before it needs replacement. 

Synthetic grass used for sports (which is commonly known as “artificial turf”) needs to be replaced every 8-10 years, depending on the level of wear. You can expect the longevity of artificial grasses to improve as the technology and know-how behind them improves.

Now, on to real grass.

How Long Do Organic Natural Grasses Live

In the U.S., we have two classes of grass: cool season (or Northern) grasses, and warm-season (Southern) grasses. The former includes grass species that have adapted to the cooler climes associated with the northern half of the country. Warm-season grasses are the opposite, as they thrive in the hotter environments of the south. 

Both Northern and Southern grasses can follow one of two life cycles:

  • Annual life cycle
  • Perennial life cycle

Lifespan Of Annual Grasses

Grasses that have an annual lifecycle only live for one (1) year. If you choose an annual lawn grass, prepare to replant it every year when it dies. One example is Italian Ryegrass (aka “annual ryegrass”), a popular Northern grass.

Professional Tip: Why would anyone plant annual ryegrass only to have to replace it within a year? Because they don’t plan to replace it with ryegrass. Instead of using straw to keep down perennial seeds, we would regularly plant ryegrass mixed in with the slower growing perennial grasses when seeding. The annual ryegrass would shoot up quickly, cover the seed areas with nice green grass temporarily, and hide seeds from hungry birds and strong winds.

These annual grasses tend to be more prolific in their reproduction and can spread into areas normally inhabited by perennials. Studies done in California by various universities look at the invasive nature of non native annual grasses into bushland areas. There is even links to increased wildfires due to their presence.

Common Annual Grasses

  • Annual Ryegrass
  • Annual Bluegrass
  • Crabgrass (sometimes considered a weed)
Annual Northern Grasses:

These grasses are typically planted in the late summer in preparation for the cooler seasons. They start sprouting shoots in the late fall or early winter and enter a period of dormancy during the winter.

With the arrival of spring, soil temperatures rise to an ideal range (40-45oF) which jolts the grass back to full vibrancy, seed heads in tow.

As summer approaches, the soils get too hot, which kills the grass. The seed heads drop to the ground and lie dormant until they are ready to repeat the whole process in the fall.

Annual Southern Grasses

Grass in this category are the polar opposite (pun intended). Their seeds germinate in late spring to early summer, as soil temperatures rise. Seed heads also develop during the summer as the grass grows unchecked.

Towards the end of fall, soil temperature drops, which will kill the grass. New seeds from the seed heads will then drop to the ground for springtime germination.

Because of their short lifespans, annual grasses are primarily used for hay production rather than for decorative lawns. Farmers may interchange between Northern and Southern annual grasses to give their livestock a constant supply of grazing.

Lifespan Of Perennial Grasses

Perennial grasses in the north and south have much longer lifespans than their annual cousins. Total lifespan varies from species to species but, on average, these grasses last for about 4-7 years. 

With proper lawn care and soil management, you can easily extend the life of perennial grass to 10 years or even indefinitely. This longevity is one of the main reasons this grass is used for lawns, as you won’t have to replant every year…unless something goes horribly wrong.

Northern perennial grasses

These actually have four mini-cycles, one for each season. In spring, these grasses undergo radical growth spurts, and they are at their greenest. As summer approaches, and temperatures rise, the grass stops growing and loses a bit of its spring luster.

However, the grass bounces back in the fall, during a period known as “fall recovery”. Full greenness returns during this period, and the grass starts growing again. 

Then, come wintertime, the grass enters a dormancy period where it changes to a brown color. As spring approaches again, the grass will start regaining its green color.

Some examples of northern perennial grasses are:

  • Ryegrass
  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Fescue
Southern perennial grass

These grass species work on a different schedule. Their growth surges peak during the summertime, rather than the spring. However, very high temperatures (95oF or higher) will stop the growth rate.

If the grass is not watered at this point, it may even enter a summer dormancy period.

Southern perennials may also enter a fall recovery period, before finally entering winter dormancy.

Some examples of southern perennial grasses are:

  • St. Augustine
  • Zoysia

Does Grass Die Of Old Age?

If left unattended, grass will eventually die out. Even perennial grasses eventually die out from the seasonal strain and incursion of other plants.

That said, aging in plants is quite different than in animals, whose cells become less and less efficient over time. The growth and health of plants are almost entirely dependent on their immediate environment. 

Can Grass Live Forever?

This means that, with the right conditions, a body of grass can keep growing forever.

Some wild prairies and pastures have existed for millennia without any human intervention. Heck, you probably have a neighbor who has had the same evergreen lawn for decades without planting new grass.

Individual blades of grass, on the other hand, can survive for about 40-50 days. However, these blades can go on to serve as mulching for new shoots.

Does A Lawn Get Old?

This is actually a more nuanced question than if first seems. There are new and older plants in a lawn at all times. Though the cells of plants don’t deteriorate like the cells of animals do, they can be greatly affected by environment.

The age of a lawn in years is not nearly as important as the age and quality of the soil it grows in. We know that soil isn’t really measured by years of existence, but by its quality for growing plants. This also directly affects the lifespan of grasses that rely on it.

Grass that may look old and tired only does so because of poor soil that leads to deterioration and disease in the plant.

So, does a lawn get old? Perennial grasses may have a countable number of years they have been alive, but when they die out it has less to do with the lawn being old and more to do with the quality of the maintenance and therefore soil.

Why Is Grass So Resilient?

While plants are undeniably tough survivors, grass may be on an entirely different level. It is seemingly invincible, surviving livestock, tumbling kids, hardened professional athletes, and so much more.

The key to its survival prowess lies in one main attribute: regeneration.

Grass can re-generate in several ways. The first is through the physical healing of the grass blades themselves. When grass is mowed or grazed, the blades are damaged or plucked entirely.

However, as long as the roots are in place and the soil conditions are right, the blades will grow back.

Grass can also regenerate itself at the end of its lifecycles. As we have already discussed, some grass species can drop seed heads into the ground when they die. The seeds can lie dormant in the ground for entire seasons until conditions are right for germination.

Another reproductive strategy used by many species is vegetative reproduction. This is when shoots or clippings from one grass plant fall to the ground and take root for themselves.

Of course, regeneration is not grass’s only survival “tool”. Grass has also evolved to withstand extended periods without water. Popular Northern grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass can live for up to six weeks without a drop of water, while Zoysia grass in the south can last far longer.

When Should I Replace My Lawn?

Since perennial grasses can outlast manmade structures, landscaping attempts, and even people themselves, is there any situation that would required a complete reset of a lawn? When should a home owner or business owner consider completely replacing a lawn?

Replacing an entire lawn should be a rare occurrence and should not happen in the lifespan of most owners. You should only replace your lawn if you are trying to cure underlying problems such as drainage issues, poor soil, uneven ground, and mold or fungus infestations.

That being said, if after numerous attempts your lawn remains patchy and ‘dead’ looking with many empty patches or large sections of weeds, it may be time to start fresh. There is no specific time that this would be required.

This depends on the individual environment that affects your grass and other plants. There can also be other solutions that could fix the problem

Final Touches On How Long Does Grass Live…

As you can see, the answer to this question is a bit more complex than it may first have seemed. There are many types of grasses that are made stronger or weaker by their environments.

Environmental factors can drastically change the lifespan of most all grass species and is the deciding factor in whether perennials last for a few years or FOREVER.

The takeaway set of numbers for this question boils down to this:

  • Annuals last 1 year and produce many seeds that bring them back year after year.
  • Perennials without any care can regenerate on their own and return at nearly full strength for 4-7 years.
  • Perennials with proper care can theoretically go on living indefinitely.

To read more see some of my other articles…

Other References

https://forages.oregonstate.edu/regrowth/how-does-grass-grow/life-cycles-grass#:~:text=Forage%20grasses%20which%20perenniate%20for,mismanaged%20will%20be%20short%20lived.

https://getlawnstar.com/blog/life-cycle-of-your-grass/#:~:text=Annual%20grasses%20go%20through%20one,state%20once%20warmer%20days%20arrive.

Mathew Booe

Mathew has worked in landscaping professionally for over 10 years. He is a grandpa and frequently interviews other experienced landscapers and lawn care experts who are also grandpas for these articles.

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