'Ecology Lawn' as an alternative?

Bevo(KS (5b))August 27, 2002

I originally posted the following on the Lawns forum and a suggestion was made that I pose the question here as well to take full advantage of other perspectives. Sorry for the length of the post, just wanted to lay out the whole situation for your consideration.

Last fall we moved to a new (to us) home whose lawn is pretty rough to say the least. I've hesitated to undertake any major lawn renovation as 1)lawns have never taken a high priority with me and 2)I've been in the process of reducing the areal coverage of the lawn through creation of garden beds of various sorts and didn't really want to end up tearing up a lawn I'd spent alot of time whipping into shape. These various beds command a majority of my outdoor time and will continue to do so, but I would like to do something to improve the rather bedraggled lawn I've inherited. It is essentially a fescue and bluegrass lawn (occasionally pretty patchy which the dandelions are loving) with some encroaching bermudagrass from the neighbors that I've just about got beat. The soil trends toward a clayier loam, and high temps and droughty conditions dominate in July and August. The questions I have are: What should be my priority in helping this lawn recover to a reasonable level? Currently I'm planning to core aereate (which I've never done) and overseed this fall.

I have recently seen a lawn mix which has various names: Ecology Mix, "Fleur de Lawn", Ecoturf, etc. that contains a mix of dwarf perennial ryegrass and, depending on variety, a short fescue (Eureka) as a base with a mix of herbaceous plants in various combinations that include things like English Daisy, Roman Chamomile, Yarrow Millefolium, Sweet Alyssum, and Strawberry Clover. Could this be overseeded into my current yard or would this be difficult to accomplish? To me this would be ideal as I'm looking to have a low maintainence lawn (both in terms of mowing, fertilizing, and watering requirements) without having to start from scratch and a perfect grass only lawn just isn't for me (hey, a few dandelions and some clover never bothered me before). Anybody know of or actually have an "ecology lawn"? Please help me sort this out, hopefully I've given you enough to go on.

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I can't recomend that you use a 'Ecology' seed mix that seems to contain a bunch of exotic forms along with the grasses. Have you looked into buffalo grass? This is a low-growing, Kansas native, sod-forming grass that is perfectly adapted for the conditions you describe. It needs little or no watering (once established) and little mowing, as it only grows to about 6 inches. It is becoming widely available as seed, plugs, or sod. The link below is ton one of many possible sources; they give some clear instructions about how to get started.

Here is a link that might be useful: buffalo grass lawn

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 10:12AM
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froggy(z4/5 WI)

i agree with john...this isnt the best use of the term 'ecology'. there are so many native spp. that would do about the same thing that your 'mix' would do and are a much better use of the word 'ecology' as well as better for the real 'ecology'.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2002 at 6:30PM
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ken_mce(zone 4, NY)

As a long term project you might consider adding organic matter to the soil. This would help reduce the need to feed and water whatever you grow. There are also a variety of thymes that work well in an informal lawn and tolerate drought quite well.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2002 at 1:54PM
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Hi, I just ran across your post about the ecology mix 'fleur de lawn' last year and wondered if you went ahead and put it in?
I am planning to put it in as a small lawn in my yard (in two weeks) and just wondered if you did put it in, do you like it?

Tina from Colorado

    Bookmark   September 5, 2003 at 3:22AM
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rayallen(zone 4)

YIKES! STOP! Did you say Yarrow millefolium? I assume that means common white yarrow, Achillea millefolium. This wildflower species is probably the toughest, most impossible to remove of them all. This is why it is rarely included in seed mixes. I have planted it, and here's what happens. It has nice deep green ferny foliage, and grayish white flowers. Very pretty, and a great groundcover, AS LONG AS YOU NEVER WANT TO REMOVE IT. In three years, it is solid, crowding out any other flowers or grasses, in my experience. I know one large planting where a poor man who planted a very esoteric mix of wildflowers which included white yarrow, and is still pouring on the round-up since it is now solid, and cannot be removed! It's not very short, either...can mound up to around 14 inches or more. Yarrow is great if you have a gritty, horrible area you simply want to cover and forget, and it doesn't SPREAD rapidly, but if you seed it in a mix, thus distributing it all around, it rules. Forever.
That's some "ecology mix" if it has white yarrow in it. Bellis perennis (Eng. daisy) and several others you mention are benign, pretty little flowers that look nice in "lawn"...but yarrow, I'm afraid you'll really regret. The whole idea of a "flowering lawn" doesn't make great sense to me. Remember, your growing season will not be shortened. It might look okay for a month or so in spring,(that's when they take the photos) but what's going to happen to the tall weeds and grasses that will be arriving by July? Of course, if that's what you want, great. But it isn't going to look like a "lawn" unless someone weeds it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2003 at 12:18AM
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Thanks for the info. I didn't know that yarrow was that invasive. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum did a three year trial with Fleur de lawn as well as others. Out of scale of 1 to 3 (one being unacceptable) 3 being good as a lawn, the quality was rated 2.6. I am going to try it in a small area (10x10) and see if I like it. Here in Colorado regular grass is very high maintenence and never looks good unless you put tons of water on it so I need something that is low maintence and can withstand drought (which is how I lost my original lawn in the first place). Did your friend water frequently? I am wondering if you don't water the yarrow much if it still becomes invasive. This particular mix needs very little water (only in severe drought). I'll plant my little plot and let you know how it works out - If it does become too bad I may just pave the darned thing! Thanks, Tina

    Bookmark   September 16, 2003 at 10:44PM
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fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)

So, I've been looking longingly at seed mixes like Fleur de lawn, but have restrained myself due to the yarrow that seems to be in every version of "low-grow" lawn/flower mixes. Has anyone ever found a lawn-type mix that DOESN'T have yarrow in it?

I have this long curvy grass path separating two narrow beds along the side of my house, that I need to remove and replant. Not looking forward to this job, but the current "path" is makes the flower bed next to the house a moat in heavy rain, since the grade is bad. The soil level is already at the top of the foundation and adding soil would put me above the siding, so I need to remove some and angle down away from the house. I really like that grassy path...but since I'm getting rid of my lawn everywhere else in the yard, something in me rebels at replanting the same old fescue/bluegrass seed after this project.

Here is a link that might be useful: Grassy little path

    Bookmark   October 8, 2003 at 11:54AM
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I wouldn't say that I "hate" grass, but I find that it is overused, simply because most people assume is what a yard is supposed to have. I've experimented with a few grass substitutes and have found a few low growing plants that look better than grass in a monoculture planting. However, nothing holds up to foot traffic as well as turf.

If buffalo grass doesn't have problems with winterkill in your area, by all means use it!

If you are working with smaller areas, the following grass alternatives have been successful:
'Treneague' Chamomile - compact and flowerless
Dianthus 'Tiny Rubies' - covered in pink flowers in May. may be undesirable for this reason.
Thymus pseudolanuginosus (or other low growing species) - word of caution, they are susceptible to winter root rot in heavy soils
There are numerous sedum species that also do well in dry soils.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2003 at 11:18AM
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thatbiologygirl(NW IN)

From my experience with yarrow, it doesn't matter how much or how little you water it, it's just as invasive. By all means, don't plant the stuff if you have any choice at all! It forms a thick nasty mat of tangles that look very ugly. Quite frankly, I wouldn't plant yarrow if my life depended on it. Go with buffalo grass if you can or try putting together a seeding mix of your own. You can collect native plant seeds in enough quantities if you not seeding a large area. Its not difficult to find native plants growing in lots slated to be developed, so of course by removing the seeds you're really saving them. My fiance, a restoration ecologist, started his very first prairie in a small plot in his back yard. Initially, he used a "native plant mix" from the soil and water conservation service which actually contained yarrow in it and has been fighting with it ever since. Another thing to think about; when you plant an invasive, you aren't the only one who's stuck with it. It can seed into other peoples gardens and even natural areas if you live close enough.

Hope this helps!

Jessica ~that biology girl~

    Bookmark   November 11, 2003 at 5:07PM
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We planted 4000sf "Fluer de Lawn" and 1000sf of "Fragrant Herbal" from the Hobbs & Hopkins company in our backyard four years ago and it remains beautiful to this day. This stuff is great because it doesn't need the fertilizer, the frequent mowing and the tons of water the previous grass seed lawn required. With this eco-lawn, my husband mows it twice a year and that is all it takes to keep it green and healthy.

Remember that this stuff wont stand up to the wear and tear of a grass lawn, but if you are using it for a ground cover and not a football field it will work well.

Other people have complained about the aggressiveness of yarrow. We haven't experienced the yarrow being invasive and i think some people have a problem with it because they dont give it a twice annual mowing. When yarrow blooms, it is at least two feet tall! Dont let this stuff grow way out of control and you should be quite happy with the results.

I have recomended this stuff to friends who have used it and they have all had equally good results.

I hope this post helps and i hope more people start turning to environmentally friendly lawns!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2004 at 4:34PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

i would do a short grass native prairie instead of the exotic/possibly invasive fluer de lawn. but so many people have an aversion to what they think is a "weedy look" - gosh i hate that term... if they cant get past that praire stereotype, then i guess the exotic invasive non-mowed, non watered, non-fertilized lawn is the better than kbg lawn...from an eco-friendly standpoint.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 1:33PM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

Prairie is french for meadow. Ooo la la. Sorry, I don't know where that came from. :)

The Fluer de Lawn seems a bit gimicky. My old yard back in IL would revert to clover and english daisies on it's own if I didn't mow it. That combo doesn't do much for erosion control and it just looks as weedy as anything else when not in bloom. Not to knock your lawn that's just my observation of those two plants growing wild. That kind of mix will become a tangle of field bindweed if tried in the midwest. Eliminating fertilizers is definitely a good thing for water resources and I hope we don't turn you off with our more in-depth thoughts on the subject.

Prairie might be the next step if you want to reduce erosion and provide long-term habitat. True prairie grasses have deep roots that keep out weeds and improve water infiltration. The annuals and shallow-rooted perennials that come with wildflower mixes do not. A prairie is a long-term installation, like planting a tree. Many prairie plants are known to live for more than a century. Studies have shown that a prairie restoration costs less than a turf lawn in the long run, which is why many corporations in the midwest have gone that route for their business parks. Not only that but it looks awesome. I used to drive around some large installations near Chicago as part of my job and they were so much more intersting than turf. There were always employees out on the trails walking around. You would never see that at a traditional business park, unless it was the UPS guy dropping off a package.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 3:43PM
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Looking for someone who has a flowering fleur de lawn in the Portland, Oregon metro area, for a news story. THANKS! Please contact LBalick@koin.com

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 10:06PM
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sakmeht(Zone 6)

I've been thinking about adding yarrow to our grass/clover lawn, but might reconsider after reading this thread. I like yarrow from a medicinal perspective as it's a great plant for bringing down fever. I've seen it growing up near Cascade, Idaho in an RV park and it looks great. Of course they stay on top of mowing, too. We have lawn purists surrounding us and if I didn't stay on top of mowing my clover I'd never hear the end of it. Maybe I'll try growing yarrow in a container! lol

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 12:40PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

I think that people have to remember that different plants are going to behave very differently in different climates. Indiana and New York are extremely wet and temperate compared to the western states of Colorado and Idaho. A. millefolium is a very well loved plant in arid places like Los Angeles, where I live. It is incredibly drought tolerant, (though I have to give it water) and will spread without much care. The mowings will keep it looking neat especially if you don't water it so that it stays small and close to the ground. As it gets more water it grows more loosely and can begin to look unkempt.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 12:15AM
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