Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Grass - for mowin', not smokin'

I can’t have an “official” lawn because the well at my house is so limited. I just mow the “meadows” till they are brown and less than four-inches tall as if that’ll do anything to stop a forest fire—NOT.

Anyway, I watch with envy as some neighbors with good-producing wells go about planting and watering their lawns. Still it’s water that was meant to trickle through crooks and crannies of the deep underground as it meanders ever so slowly, at my house, to the ocean.

Conserving water should be everyone’s approach to a garden as water is more like a finite resource these days.

There is one fascinating plant to consider as a lawn substitute in dry areas— Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). This grass naturally grows where the yearly rainfall is 17 inches or less.

A bit of background information:
The man responsible for the amazing “etching” of a Buffalo grass’ root system is John Weaver, a Professor of Plant Ecology at the University of Nebraska for 47 years. Weaver literally went into the trenches to excavate the root zones of plants. Working and recording as carefully as the most compulsive and attentive archeologist uncovering a buried civilization, he spent countless hours following and mapping roots and the patterns they made beneath his feet.

The illustration (From Roots Demystified, Change Your Gardening Habits to Help Roots Thrive, published by me.) was done in west-central Kansas and shows Buffalo grass roots in proportion to their foliage. It must be the extensive depth of the roots that allows buffalo grass to withstand long periods of drought, although 70% of the root mass is in the first six inches of the soil. The plant can be kept mowed to 5-6 inches for a continuous cover. While not as sturdy to foot wear-and-tear as our more common lawn grasses, it does fit the visual desire of a mown meadow. As with many turf grasses, irrigation in the top six inches is ideal for good-looking growth.

To maintain a green turf, Buffalo grass needs only .3 inches of water per week compared to .5 for Bermuda grass, .8 for tall fescue, 1.2 for Kentucky bluegrass and 1.5 for perennial ryegrass. Another way to look at it is that Buffalo grass can last 21-45 days without irrigation, compared with St. Augustine grass, which can need watering every five days.

This native grass has been “domesticated” as a substitute for lawns in dry areas or any place a gardener wants to conserve water. Buffalo grass is well suited to the transition zones of the country, where it’s often too hot for cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue and too cold for warm-season species like St. Augustine, Bermuda and zoysia. Use one of the more recent selections that are available, and check with your local Cooperative Extension as to its appropriateness for your area. Some examples are: 'Legacy®' and 'Prestige™.

Let me know if you’ve tried this grass and what the results were.

Please post a comment - I want to know what you think.

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NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert

1 comment:

erik kubec said...

I planted Prestige plugs the first weekend of May 2008 in Thornton (15 miles north of Denver) Colorado.

The roots system is indeed impressive. In late September, we dug up some of the turf that had developed from the plugs to plant some pine trees. The roots were already over two feet deep--maybe deeper--as this was as deep as we dug the holes.

The grass began to green slowly in late March, and by the first weekend in May, was pretty green. Now, (May 15th) it is completely green with runners aggressively beginning to grow.

Timing is critical in planting buffalo grass from plugs. May 2nd was too early, as it got cold and shocked the plugs into dormancy, which it took over a month to recover from.

Also, care must be utilized when using herbicides--even the ones rated for buffalo grass--because it is sensitive to 2-4-D when warm, and glyphosphate even in early March before there is a lot of green.

I have not watered the turf yet, and plan to not water it until it exhibits signs of stress.

I will probably mow to knock down some weeds soon, but I am still experimenting with quinclorac and 2-4-D, but using sparingly with only spot treatment.