Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Can You Have a Lawn in the Desert?

Well...depends. Do you want a golf course-like sea of fertilizer-enhanced emerald green that causes you to shriek at the neighbor kids for walking across your lawn? Then sure- if you’re insane. The amount of water and chemistry that requires is nothing short of irresponsible. And it’s futile, really. Our springs are amazingly sunny and dry. Kentucky bluegrass just won’t happen like it does in wetter places. Bermuda grass is used a lot but it really needs a crazy amount of water.

On the other hand, a little lawn goes a long way toward cooling around your home (those pebble yards are HOT!), creating a valuable fire break and giving your little ones a comfortable place to play. For that, I am a believer in native Buffalo grass. It’s extremely drought tolerant once established, grows so low you don’t really have to mow it and it thrives in some really bad soils.

It’s a warm-season grass which means it goes dormant after the first frost but you get used to that. It also doesn’t do well in shade so you might try something else under your trees (if you have any). Probably, the hardest part is site preparation. You really do need to get rid of as much of the weeds seeds as you can before you plant. Buffalo grass doesn’t compete well when just sprouting and the moisture it needs to sprout is used better and faster by the weeds. I have found that the best way is to dig the area you want your grass just a few inches down, water to sprout the weeds seeds, chop the sprouts back in and repeat. Don’t plant till you’ve sprouted the weeds at least twice. This only takes a couple weeks and avoids herbicides. You’ll still have to monitor and pick out weeds as you see them but it won’t be any where near as bad as if you didn’t do this. I speak from experience here.

I wouldn’t plant the whole back 40 this way, of course. This is best for areas nearest your house where you don’t have gardens or for a play area for the kids. We planted a tiny break area in the back yard of the Realty office. It’s on its third year and looking good. I have just seeded the aisle between my two rows of new grape vines, too. Besides holding moisture without competing with the vines, I expect it to encourage my kitties to find facilities elsewhere.

Photo: The Realty back 40 (square feet). Just starting to green up May 4th. The tall grasses in back are last years blue grama.

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