Year-round lawn, no overseeding? Wish me luck!

btbemeJanuary 14, 2007

Rather than beg for anwsers all the time, I thought I might post about an experiment I am undertaking with my lawn - anyone else try this?

I lived in AZ for 9 years, then moved to SoCal for another 9 years. While there, I fell in love with the "permanent" grass that SoCal grows - no overseeding, no dormancy, minimal thatching, etc. By far my favorite lawn was Marathon, a strain of grass developed specifically for the warmer areas of SoCal.

Marathon has three varieties, with Marathon 3 being the shortest and finest, and Marathon 1 being the tallest, toughest, and fastest growing. Most lawns were Marathon 2, a great balance between the small and the durable.

We grew Marathon 2 in our yard outside of Fontana. The summers often climbed to 90+ degrees for three months, with several days over 100 degrees. Winters would occasionally frost. Marathon 2 grew well in that climate, only needing some additional water in the summer, and developing a few thin spots in winter shady areas.

When I moved to Chandler, I decided that my extensive lawn in the back yard was simply too large to have to mess with overseeding, dethatching, etc - all the joy of having a Bermuda summer lawn and a winter Rye lawn. So, my grand experiment has begun- can I successfully grow Marathon 1 in my yard year-round?

In late October I prepped the ground by roto-tilling about 3-4 inches deep - the soil was fairly loose, and not compacted caliche like I expected. I did add some sand as I went along, to help keep the soil slightly more loose. After tilling, I watered down the soil until it self-settled, then let it dry for a week. I then spread some polymer crystals (the type that absorb water and become a gel) at the rate of 15lbs per 1000 sq ft. and rototilled that 3-4 inches deep. A 2-3 inch deep layer of mulch/topsoil/manure mix went on next, then the seed (nobody has Marathon sod in AZ, and seed is not easy to find, either).

So far, so good. The nursery that sold me the seed said I was nuts, as "Marathon will not grow in Phoenix". They said that the summer heat lasts too long and the winters are too cold - Marathon is rated for "occasional" heat of 110 degrees and cold of 28 degrees. I decided that the weather extremes in Chandler are not that far out of line from where I grew this grass in SoCal, and that anything I could do to keep it deep-rooted and moist in the summer would be the trick. That is why I buried the polymer crystals - to keep the subsoil moist even in the hottest weather. I even experimented with this concept by filling a large kettle with the same soil/polymer/topsoil layering 9 inches deep, watering it until wet, and leaving it in the sun to bake for a few days. After 3 days of direct and reflected sun (85-90 degree days), the crystals still held water and the subsoil was quite damp. If fact, I baked the kettle at 250 degrees for 5 hours before most of the moisture was gone. I figure that, with a good soaking 2-3 days a week, I should maintain good moisture even in the hottest weather - especially since a kettle warms on all sides, and I will have a 3-4 inch layer of green grass to help keep the soil temps under control.

It is now mid-January, and I have an incredibly thick green lawn. I have had to mow it five times since seeding in early November, taking off 1-2 inches and leaving 3 inches behind each time. The cold nights do not seem to have hurt at all, and the Marathon 1 is growing well (but a bit thin) in the shaded areas of the yard. Having the polymer crystals buried deep keeps the lawn from feeling mushy, and water drainage seems good. In the beginning, while the seed was germinating and the sprouts were young, I watered 2-3 times a day for 3-4 minutes - enough to keep the surface damp, and allow some extra moisture to start to soak the subsoil. I switched to 3 days a week, 2x a day, for 5-7 minutes for a month, and am now at 1 day a week, 2x a day, 4-5 minutes a station during the coldest periods. I have VERY good moisture down as far as I care to dig - 24 inches or so - and I see root structures growing 6-8 inches deep already.

So far, I am more than satisfied with the results. The lawn looks better than my summer lawns in SoCal ever did. I am confident that the summer heat can be overcome with keeping the subsoil moist and keeping 4 inches of grass to shade the soil. Total cost was $75 for rototiller rental, $90 for polymer crystals, $350 for mulch and topsoil, and $150 for Marathon 1 grass seed, to put in just under 4000 sq ft of lawn. Since my front lawn (1400 sq ft) cost $250 to have dethatched and overseeded this fall, I figure I am money ahead after the first year - and I should not have to worry about overseeding, etc ever again. What a concept - green grass year-round, with no hassles!

Now, for the summer heat experiment. I am looking forward to the summer's challenge - if this works, the front lawn will get Roundup in September and I will do this in front as well. I will compare water usage against last year to see if the Marathon is too water-dependent to be economical - though my best bet is that it will actually use LESS water per sq ft than the traditional rye/bermuda front lawn rotation.

For those who are interested, I will post updates as this experiment rolls along.

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sguanzon(z9 AZ)

I'm very interested in your experiment please keep posting updates!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 5:20PM
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Hi btbeme -- I'm a reporter for The Arizona Republic here in Phoenix and I'm working on a story about some new research into just what you're describing -- making a summer lawn last into the winter or finding some other water-saving alternative. I'd be very interested in talking to you about your experience. If you'd be willing to talk, drop me a note at I hope to hear from you. --Shaun McKinnon

    Bookmark   March 13, 2007 at 3:12PM
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So far, so good!

After hearing dire warnings from the nursery about the likely winterkill my lawn would suffer, I have to say that the cold February weather (down to 19 degrees) and, so far, the hot summer weather (to 112 degrees for many days) have had little effect on my experimental lawn. The grass is growing very well, holding up well under the heat, and requires 2-3 inches cutting every week. It is thick and beautiful, and stands 4 inches deep (I have had it as deep as 5" but that tripped the kids when running).

Watering: It gets 15 minutes 2x a day, 3 days a week right now, and is doing very well. Spots that get extra heat (window reflections or concrete borders) do get a little stressed but a little extra water is all they need to green back up. My water/sewage bill is about $25 a month higher than winter, so I figure that 4000 sq ft of lawn is costing $30-35 a month to water. In my opinion, that is a small price to pay for lush greeness.

Heat: So far, so good. Low water areas do get stressed. Having the soil amendment makes it prone to drying faster, but it appears that having the polymer crystals in 4-5 inches deep pulls the roots down enough that daily waterings are not necessary. In fact, I have had to replace two sprinkler heads recently and dug down to find damp to wet soil 12" deep with roots 10-12" deep. I do hit the lawn with 15 minutes of water immediately after cutting it to help releve the stress, and it does get an occasional extra watering when the kids play in the sprinklers.

Cold: No damage. In fact, I had fertilized just before the cold and wound up cutting twice a week for a month to keep it under control.

Fertilizer: 15-15-15 seems to work for now - applied in Feb, and top-dressed with 8-0-8 in a few smaller areas in early June. Marathon responds well to nitrogen and basically goes ballistic in growth for a month afterward. Marathon will slow way down in growth and yellow out a bit in overly wet conditions or in poorly prepped soil. I do plan to hit it with iron later this fall once the heat pulls back a bit.

What I have learned so far is that Marathon appreciates adequate water, responds to fertilization well, grows very thick and fast in moderate temps, lasts through the cold, tolerates the heat very well with proper watering, and appreciates some extra work in prepping and amending the soil.

Keep in mind that there are 3 strains of Marathon - I am using the hardiest and tallest Marathon, though I plan to seed my front yard with Marathon 2 in the winter. Based on the summer heat results, that may be stretching it a bit, as the 2 is more sensitive to heat, but we shall see how it goes.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 6:32PM
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If possible, do have have any pictures? I think it would be great to compare how green it stays compared to the usual bermuda grass lawns around here.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 11:26AM
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stephanotis_1(8b AZ)

We will be planting a huge area of lawn in our backyard. and I am definitely interested in your updates on Marathon. Also, where did you purchase your seed from? Ditto on posting photos; I would love to see what it looks like!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 12:46AM
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What happened to btbeme? Would love to see his/her responses to the last two posts.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 2:58PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

This was a very interesting post; I do wish btbeme had come back to keep the info current. chnbr, did you get the seed? I wonder, too, if bt ever contacted the reporter.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 6:06PM
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If you're going to water that much you can grow almost any heat tolerant grass as long as disease/pest pressure doesn't take it down.

The seed isn't magic, it's just an extremely highly watered heat tolerant grass.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2012 at 8:23PM
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Ripping out my lawn was the best thing I ever did. No more of this craziness spending time fertility, mowing and reseeding. Who would want your kids playing in grass that has so many chemicals in it anyways. You don't have to put the typical desert stuff to replace the lawn. You can put in nice shrubs, ground cover, trees , veggies. Get creative AZ.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 10:09AM
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I am glad that this poster experimented though to show there are alternatives. Thanks for the contribution. I would like to know any updates too.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 10:11AM
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Have seen no recent posting to your green lawn experiment. How were the final results?


    Bookmark   November 3, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Well, seeing as the last post was in 2007, I think we've probably lost that member.

You might be interested in this thread, however:

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 3:26PM
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