Gardening Articles :: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers :: National Gardening Association

Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

Cutting Down on Lawn Care (page 3 of 3)

by Warren Schultz


Turf grasses have a tough time in California. Warm-season grasses can withstand the heat of the summer but have other problems. Zoysia is slow to establish and browns out in the winter, and Bermuda grass survives so well that it's as invasive as a weed. Tall fescue, a cool-season grass, is good-looking and heat-hardy but requires irrigation to make it through the dry season. So researchers have been looking for unconventional alternatives.

Zoysia is a good-looking and tough option but browns out from October to March. In California, 'De Anza' and 'Victoria' are new varieties garnering lots of attention for their short dormant season. Also from California is 'El Toro'. New from Texas is 'Diamond', noted for its ability to grow in shade. The oldest improved zoysia, 'Emerald', is still available and still good.

Throughout the inland regions of Southern California and the Southwest, Bermuda grass is hard to beat. Again one of the keys to success is not to overdo the water and fertilizer. For minimal maintenance, look for seed varieties such as 'Yuma' and 'Sundevil'. Hybrids like 'Tifgreen' look great at their best but are high-maintenance types.

For cooler areas, perennial fairway wheatgrass is gaining many fans. Shorter, denser, finer in texture, and slower to grow than most wheatgrasses, it's particularly well adapted to cool, semiarid regions such as the high plains, and the deserts of eastern California and Oregon. It tolerates drought and grows vigorously with minimal fertilization.


Throughout most of the country, bent grasses are considered high maintenance. But some types, especially colonial bent grass, are well adapted to the Northwest's climate. There, they are low-maintenance turf grasses. "Bent grass has the lowest fertility requirement of any grass we grow here," says Tom Cook, turf breeder at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "Even without fertilizer, it will produce color 10 months of the year." He hasn't fed his bent grass lawn in 10 years, and he says it looks fine. Good varieties include 'Allure', 'Egmont', and 'Exeter'.

Reed Funk casts a vote for velvet bent grass, pointing out that 50 years ago it was touted as one of the most promising of all low-maintenance species for cool areas. Breeding of velvet bent grass has lagged in recent years, however.

Renewing an Old Lawn

These new grasses may save time and effort in the long run, but who has the time and energy to rip up the old sod and replace it? Fortunately, getting new grasses into the lawn doesn't require a top-to-bottom makeover. Instead, you can gradually introduce new grasses to your lawn by overseeding ? sowing seed directly over your existing lawn.

To overseed, just rake the entire lawn vigorously with a metal garden rake. Then sow the grass seed at 1-1/2 times the recommended rate. Top-dress lightly with sand, topsoil, and sifted compost, and keep the lawn well watered until the new sprouts emerge. The new, more vigorous and perhaps better-adapted grass will gain a foothold and eventually replace the older grass.

Warren Schultz's most recent book is A Man's Garden (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001; $40). He lives in Essex Junction, Vermont.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening

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