Sowing Native Grasses: How To Plant Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis)
By David Salman
You don't need an expert when planting Blue Grama Grass. Native species like Blue Grama Grass provide property owners with a resilient, fine-textured grass that withstands drought, provides ornamental seed heads in late summer and habitat for numerous beneficial insects, songbirds and small animals.
Here are easy step-by-step instructions for preparing and sowing Blue Grama grass seed.
Make Sure to Match Blue Grama Grass Seed with Your Region's Rainfall and Climate
- Blue Grama grass is a warm season grass (greens up and grows when the weather is warm).
- Blue Grama is best used in regions where the average annual precipitation doesn't exceed 25" annually, making it a good choice for the western half of the US. (Western half of OK, KS, NE, SD. All of ND and all states west to the Pacific ocean.
- The exception to this general rule of thumb is the western side of OR and WA (the coastal side of the Cascades) where the rainfall amounts increase dramatically from the much drier eastern parts of those two states.
- This species grows well in a wide range of soil types, from sandy to loam to heavy clay.
- It grows well over a wide range of elevations up to about 7,500 ft. in the southern parts of the West to about 6,000 ft. in the northern tier Western states.
- Cold, short season areas of the Intermountain West with only 3 to 4 months of non-freezing weather are NOT a good match regardless of elevation.
A Few Tips for Planting Blue Grama Grass Seed
- Timing is the key to success. Being a warm-season grass means that you need to wait until mid- to late spring for the day and night temperatures to warm up.
- In spring, wait until the night temperatures are consistently 50° F or warmer and the day temperatures are reaching even higher.
- The season for sowing Blue Grama grass extends through summer into late summer/early fall (August/September) depending on your elevation. At higher, cooler elevations, the sowing date moves back earlier into August. As a general rule of thumb, Blue Grama grass needs to be established 6 to 8 weeks before the start of freezing night temperatures.
Preparing the Soil For Seeding Blue Grama Grass
- Clear the area of weeds and any remnants of former lawns.
- Most native grasses adapt well to poor soils making soil enrichment unnecessary.
- Loosen soil to a depth of 3-4 inches using a rototiller. Rake the area with a bow rack to break up dirt clods and create a good seedbed.
- For areas that have been overgrown with weeds for a long period of time, it's highly beneficial to make the extra effort to kill the weeds before you sown the Grama seed. Rototill to a depth of 3-4 inches. Then water the site to encourage weeds to germinate. Rototill again to kill the young weeds. Re-water the site to get a second germination flush. Rototill one last time and rake the area with a bow rake to break up dirt clods and create a good seedbed. Then you're ready to sow.
Preparing the Seed and Sowing Blue Grama Grass Seed
- For a Blue Grama lawn use 3-4 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft. If your sowing less than 1,000 sq. ft weigh out the amount needed using the above rate. For example, a 100 sq. ft. mini-lawn needs 1/3 of a pound of seed.
- Mix weighed seed with slightly moist sand in a ratio of 2 parts sand to 1 part seed so sowing is even.
- Add Plant Success Granular mycorrhizal root inoculant to improve seed germination and get young seedlings off to a faster, more vigorous start.
- Gently rake the soil surface with the back of the bow rake to create a smooth, even seedbed.
- Broadcast the seed/sand mixture by hand.
- Use a lawn roller or small piece of plywood to press the seed firmly into the soil.
- Mulch with a thin 1/4" layer of clean wheat or barley straw to retain moisture. NEVER use field hay as this will contaminate the area with many noxious weed seeds.
Watering Blue Grama Grass Seed and Germination
- Set up a sprinkler(s) that provides coverage of the area, so that you can turn on the water without having to drag a hose and walk across the soggy soil of the newly seeded patch. After sowing, water the area thoroughly such that the soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches.
- For the first week to 10 days, be prepared to water twice daily for 10 to 15 minutes, morning and evening to keep the top 1 inch of the soil damp.
- Continue twice-daily watering until the grass germinates.
- Once the grass germinates, over a period of a couple of weeks, cut back to once daily then every other day. Watch the young seedlings carefully and don't let them wither. But don't overwater and drown them. Watch patches of seedlings in low spots and reduce watering frequency if they seem to die off.
- Depending on how hot it is, watering can be tapered off to once every 3 to 7 days. Check the soil moisture after you water with a hand trowel, to see how wet it is and how deep the moisture goes. Warm night temperatures and moist soil help germination, usually within 7 to 10 days. If the seeds have not germinated within 15 days, re-sow.
Weed Control For Blue Grama Grass Lawns
Weed control is essential to establishing your newly sown blue grama grass. Hopefully, by pre-germinating weed seeds (see "Preparing the Soil"), the amount of weeding needed will be greatly reduced. But some weeding is always needed.
- Don't weed when the soil is moist from daily or every other day irrigation. This will compact the soil and kill tender young seedlings.
- Unless the area is quickly overrun with broadleaf weed seedlings, it's best to wait about 4 to 6 weeks after sowing to begin weeding. When watering has been reduced to weekly intervals and the soil is firm between waterings, it's safe to walk over your new lawn/meadow. At this point, mowing the grass to a height of about 1 ½ to 2 inches will help it to thicken up and weaken weed competition so that the grass can crowd out the weeds. Repeat every couple of weeks or as needed.
- For small patches of Blue Grama, hand weeding can be done in place of mowing. Use a board or small piece of plywood to kneel on to avoid crushing the young grass seedlings with your knees.
Integrating Wildflowers into Blue Grama Grass
It can be challenging to seed wildflowers at the same time your sowing warm season native grasses like Blue Grama.
- Weeding your grass planting can be very difficult unless you have an experienced eye to distinguish between weeds and desirable wildflowers.
- But if you choose to do so, be sure to select wildflowers that germinate in hot weather and don't require winter cold to condition the flower seeds to germinate.
- If a wider range of wildflower types is desired, you can leave long rectangular bands or irregularly shaped areas in the grama grass unsown with grass seed. This allows you to go back in the fall to sow wildflower mixes that require winterizing ("cold stratification").
- Alternately, you can transplant potted wildflowers into the established grama grass, choosing flower species that are good re-seeders to act as mother plants that will scatter seed naturally and fill into the grama grass over time.
Water Established Blue Grama Grass
- Once established (4 to 5 months after sowing and beyond), this native grass is very resilient to dry conditions. To keep it green and actively growing, some extra water may be needed during the hottest part of the summer when there has been little or no rain.
- When watering established grama grass during dry spells, irrigate long enough to put down 1/3 to 1/2" of water. Any less and the water won't penetrate deeply enough into the root zone to be of use. Blue grama is very deep-rooted.
- Use several coffee tins or other flat-bottomed containers scattered across the area to capture sprinkler water. Time your irrigation, then measure the water in the containers with a ruler. Then you'll know how long to run the sprinklers to put down adequate amounts of water.
- Un-irrigated Grama grass may brown out in extended periods of hot, dry weather but quickly green up again after a few good rains.
Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.
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