Drought-tolerant Lawn

pegvenJune 30, 2009

I'm looking for people in Southern California that have used a drought-tolerant blend of grasses from Eco-Lawn, a Canadian company. So far, by my internet research it looks very good. Perhaps someone has used a different company with a different blend with good results. I'm desperate to keep our lawn, since we have grandchildren that play there. San Diego County has begun a form of water rationing, so we have to act soon.

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1. It was developed for northern, cold climes where there is summer rainfall.

2. It does not like intense dry heat and will go dormant during our summers unless watered quite a bit.

3. It doesn't mow well.

4. It is not incredibly "play tolerant".

I have yet to see a good drought-tolerant lawn in Southern California although Bermuda grass and Adelayd grass (if you're on the coast) do "survive" dryish conditions.

There are alternatives including artificial turf (yeah, I hear ya, but the new versions are WAY better than what we've seen in the past) and rubber products (e.g., rubber chips/mulch, rubber bricks, rubber mats) that are made for play areas.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 4:43PM
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Good luck. I'm prepared to say "uncle" and learn to live with kikuyu. Over time it displaces every other grass. It tolerates everything but shade and lawn weeds don't stand a chance against it. Although it's a warm-season grass, it doesn't go dormant during winter near the coast in southern California and can be allowed to go drought dormant during the summer. It's biggest drawbacks are its invasiveness and its requirement of frequent dethatching during active growth (and it's stolons are massive which makes use of a thatching rake a back-breaking ordeal).


    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 10:49AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd agree with Ryan that Kikuyu grass is amongst the most drought tolerant of subtropical grasses for coastal California conditions, north or south. It is much easier to manage for invasiveness than Bermuda grass, in my opinion, although it can spread fast into planting beds if not regularly edged. The main advantage over Bermuda grass is that it is not as deep rooting when it invades surrounding areas, and so not as hard to dig out.

In my Berkeley neighborhood, this stays green all year round in clay soils, and needs no irrigation at all at any time of year to stay green. You can't say the same for Bermuda grass here, it definitely needs some water to keep green in summer.

For other lawn substitutes in California conditions, you are probably going to have to consider alternatives like Buffalo grass(slow to establish and goes dormant in winter), or one of the Carex species such as C. pansa, C. praegacilis or C. tumulicola. Only the Carex tumulicola is fast from seed, and none are available as sod. I've used all three of these Carex species as lawn substitutes here in the SF Bay Area, and find that I can get some dieback of the C. praegacilis and C. pansa in winter if they stay too wet, and they can also be much more sensitive to fertilizer burn than a normal lawn, so you need to go light on the fertilizer, which I still don't always remember when I am trying to encourage faster growth...

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 7:01PM
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Do you find that the Carex "lawns" hold up to the wear and tear of children's play?

I recommend them and use them in my desgns as "ornamental" but only for light traffic and wear.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 1:13PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Carex tumulicola certainly stands up to as much abuse as a typical tall fescue lawn does, but the down side is that during the warmer months it is monstrously fast growing, and needs to be mowed at least every two weeks to keep it as a play surface. I also don't have a long enough time period since initial installation to know how long before the center portions of the clumps start to thin/die out. The oldest Berkeley Sedge lawn I have installed is only 5 years old The oldest Carex pansa/praegacilis lawn I have installed is only 3 years old, and has given me more problems, but certainly doesn't need regular mowing but once or twice a year. It has held up to regular traffic just fine, but I can't speak to the kid's heavy play issues, as I just don't know.

In any case, I don't find that either Bermuda Grass or Tall Fescue Blends are really drought tolerant here in the SF Bay Area, as both need at least twice to 3 times a week irrigation to look decent. The Carex lawns I have installed can get by with just once a month irrigation, and the Kikuyu lawns don't need any irrigation at all.

I'd be interested to hear people's opinions on the use of Festuca rubra as a turf grass for drought tolerance. This is another grass I have considered using, but don't know how drought tolerant/average time between irrigations it can tolerate and still look green. Anyone have experience with this one?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2009 at 1:01AM
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