by High Country Gardens
Growing a Drought Tolerant LawnDuring our geologic past about 20,000,000 years ago, the weather became more arid and the North American grasslands originated as forest vegetation retreated to the north and south. In the Great Plains, the grasslands in the Midwest were comprised of tall grasses, while the Southwest had short grass prairies also comprised of shrubs and forbs. The vegetation that developed during and after the Ice Age of the Pleistocene was much the same as what the American Indians observed and later by European immigrants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The book New Mexico Vegetation, Past, Present and Future by William Dick-Peddie describes the dominant grasses in the short grass prairies as:
- Bouteloua (Grama Grass)
- Sporobolus (Dropseed)
- Stipa (Silky Thread Grass), now known as Nassella tenuissima.
- Linum perenne Appar (Blue Flax)
- Ratibida columnifera "Mexican Hat" (Prairie Coneflower)
- Liatris punctata (Gayfeather)
- Nassella tenuissima (Silky Thread Grass)
- Sporobolus wrightii windbreaker (Los Lunas Form of Giant Sacaton Grass)
Following is a guide to their differences:
- Grama grass grows equally well in all soils from sandy to clay.
- Buffalo grass does well in loam and clay soils but is not recommended for very sandy soils.
- Grama grass can tolerate high elevations.
- Buffalo grass is not suitable for high mountain areas (over 6500 feet) with short cool summers
- Grama is easily established from seed.
- Buffalo grass is most successfully established by using plugs. Seeding buffalo grass can be a hit or miss proposition. It germinates very unevenly and will require a lot of work to repeatedly re-seed bare areas where the seeds didn't germinate.
WateringNative grass lawns, whether planted from plugs or seed, do require supplemental water to get established. Frequency of watering will depend on the type of soil, amount of rainfall and daytime weather conditions. However, once established, native grass lawns are remarkably drought tolerant. During times of natural drought and watering restrictions, native grasses will be much more likely to survive and look good than lawns of cool season grasses such as Kentucky Blue grass.
Detailed instructions on planting native grassesGoing native is water thrifty, requires lower maintenance, and is more environmentally appropriate for climates with limited rainfall. Beautiful examples of native grass lawns are all over. Visit a botanical garden in your area, go on a garden tour, or ask an experienced gardener where you can see examples. You'll be pleased with the appearance and hopefully you'll consider going native for your lawn.
Text by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.
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