For many gardeners, mowing the lawn is among the least desirable gardening chores. If only there was a slow-growing, low-maintenance, attractive lawn grass that needed less mowing, then we would have more time for "real" gardening.
Good news! From the land of native grasses comes the latest low-mow turf option. Turtle turf is a cultivar of the prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macarantha), native to the northern Great Plains. Hardy to USDA zone 3, Turtle turf is found in prairies, open woods - even alpine areas throughout the western US and Canada - extending north to Ontario and as far south as Missouri and Delaware. This cool-season, bunching grass prefers sandy soil in full to part sun, and grows only 12 to 24 inches tall.
The selling points of Turtle turf is its slow growth and low maintenance requirements. It needs 50 percent less water than bluegrass, requires little fertilizer, and produces 1/3 less grass clippings than fescue and bluegrass. Plus, it only needs to be mowed every 3 to 4 weeks.
Turtle turf is a tough grass, with a texture somewhere between ryegrass and fine fescue. Although it's unclear whether it has the durability of creeping grasses such as tall fescue, it's worth a try in low traffic areas. Seed it in spring or fall when soils are cool. Since it is a bunch-type grass, there may be spaces between bunches where you can seed more Turtle turf or even violets or other low-growing wildflowers.
Seed is available at home and garden centers. For more information, visit the Turtle Turf Website.
Article published on June 23, 2008.