Thumb through any recent gardening or landscaping publication and chances are there is an article about how to plant and grow a native grass lawn as a substitute for conventional turf grass. Depending on where you live, the recommended species will differ.
The two primary species of the short grass prairie are Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis). Native to the Colorado Springs area, these grasses are drought-tolerant once established. A native grass lawn will not look or feel like a traditional lawn, but with the right growing conditions and expectations, they may be viable, lower-maintenance lawn alternatives to conventional Kentucky Bluegrass.
Buffalograss is a warm-season grass that will be “green” from May through October and is an attractive tan to straw color the rest of the year. It is a sod former that spreads by above-ground stems (stolons). New turf grass varieties can form a dense sod, but to thrive, buffalo grass requires heavy, clay-type soils and full sun.
Easily recognized by the seed heads that look like eyelashes, blue grama grass is the state grass of Colorado. Another warm-season grass, it is green and actively growing during the warm summer months. Blue grama is a bunch grass with short, creeping roots (rhizomes), which can form an open sod that does not tolerate heavy foot traffic. It is better suited to sandy soils in full sun.
Native grasses are adapted to local growing conditions, but establishing a native-grass lawn takes careful preparation and management, especially the first year. Existing grass and any weeds should be eliminated and compacted soils should be tilled. Depending on the condition of the existing soil, adding some organic material like compost may be advantageous. Irrigation is critical during establishment, and may require as much, or even more, water as is required to establish Kentucky Bluegrass. Weed control is essential.
Buffalograss, and to a lesser extent blue grama grass, is available as sod, possibly the easiest way to get a native lawn started. Plugs, small clumps of grass with just a bit of soil attached, are available from a number of sources. Planted closely together, plugs will fill in to provide coverage. Seed is readily available for a number of varieties and cultivars of buffalo and blue grama grass.
Colorado Springs Utilities has information about many alternative grass species on its Web site and at the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Check out the pros and cons to decide if a native-grass lawn is the right option for your yard.
To learn more
Carey Harrington will be teaching a class, “Converting a Lawn from Bluegrass to Buffalograss.” Harrington will explain the entire process, including the factors to consider in deciding to switch, the initial preparation, ongoing maintenance and turf quality. Learn more details at www .csu.org.
When: 7:15 p.m. Tuesday (April 13) and 10:15 a.m. Saturday (April 17)
Where: Conservation and Environmental Center and Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, 2855 Mesa Road
Education Coordinator Cathie Schroeder works for Colorado Springs Utilities at the Conservation and Environmental Center and Xeriscape Demonstration Garden.