Native lawn update

bpgreen(5UT)March 18, 2009

The lawn is starting to wake up now that the snow is all gone (for now, anyway). I was walking around the lawn and could see that there are large areas that are now entirely native grasses and all of the spots that died when I quite watering last year have native grass growing in them. That's also true of all the spots that just became more sparse without actually dying. I can also see native grass interspersed with the KBG/fescue mix through the rest of the lawn.

The true test will come as I water for the natives (which means when I almost completely stop). That's when I'll see how well the natives have established. The front lawn should be in good shape since the grasses I used there are both rhizomatous. In the back, I used sheep fescue and creeping red fescue. The creeping red fescue is rhizomatous, but it's not very drought tolerant. Compared with KBG it is, but compared with sheep fescue, streambank wheatgrass and western wheatgrass, it's a water hog.

While I was walking around the lawn and checking it out, a new neighbor came by and started chatting. When I told him what I was looking at, he sounded like he might be interested. The water was turned off at his place when he closed, so a big portion of his lawn died. We both have metered water and he really perked up when I told him that I've already been paying about the same as I would if I had the flat rate water and anticipate seeing my water bill drop as I water to favor the native grasses. I also told him that if he really wants to save water, he could go with buffalo grass and blue grama, but only if he wants a lawn that is only green 4 or 5 months a year. I've seen green patches of blue grama at the end of the summer (maybe an inch of rain from mid June through the end of August).

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digit(ID/WA)

I just want to share one small experience with my conventional lawn. The snow has just melted off all of it as of today! I can only see snow in 2 places in my yard right now - neither pile is on the grass. Much of the lawn has started to grow altho' there's some real soggy/soggy parts that I'd better not even walk on.

But, that's not the experience. Rather it is that both of the last two Winters have been real humdingers for snow accumulation. Last Spring, my lawn had some serious Winter-kill problems. Not this year! (Happy New Spring! :o)

The only difference this Winter from last is that I was able to mow one final time about the 1st of November. I remember thinking that never have I mowed that late in the year. In fact, I've always been willing to allow the grass to go into Winter quite tall.

I didn't set the mower down where it was very close but I mowed a what had to be the very last moment during a dry spell. It must have been what made the difference. And you, BPGreen, sort of gave me the opportunity to say so.

Keep up the native grass reporting, sir. I'm sure that it is of great benefit for all of us to see.

digitS'

    Bookmark   March 20, 2009 at 2:23PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

I'm starting to get really encouraged by the looks of the lawn now. As the soil has warmed up more of the dormant seeded grass has been germinating and I can see wheatgrass throughout the front lawn, even in areas where the KBG is growing well. What I hope that means is that when summer hits and the KBG goes dormant, there will be enough of the wheatgrass (whether western, streambank or both) that it will still look green with monthly watering. And with monthly watering, the KBG will probably eventually die and the others fill in. Where the wheatgrass is really dominant, there is a definite color difference, but I don't think people who aren't looking for it will notice it. It's definitely within the range of color that would be considered acceptable for a lawn (maybe not by the folks who hand pick the KBG cultivars to get the darkest green they can find, but . . . ).

My biggest problem right now is that I've been managing weeds mostly through cultural practices (mowing high, watering infrequently, encouraging a deep lawn). Since I had so many bare and sparse spots, I've got a bumper crop of weeds. I was initially reluctant to use the weed hound because the weeds were growing right where the new grass is, but I'm seeing enough of the new stuff that I'm starting to go after the weeds.

The back and side yards are a little harder to gauge results.

The side had almost no die-off (neighbor waters so much that only a few spots are too dry). Unfortunately, those areas are fairly small, so when there's enough moisture for seeds to germinate, there's also enough for the surrounding KBG to fill in.

The back gets a lot more shade (more trees, fence, shade from houses) so there wasn't as much damage there either. Also, the sheep and creeping red fescue are much darker green, so they blend in better (much finer blades, but they can still be hard to find). Still, I know I've got at least some growing, especially in spots that have done the worst in the past. I hope it's growing mixed in with the KBG, too, or I'll have large dead areas in late summer. If so, I'll just overseed again this fall and winter.

I'll post pictures after the first mow (maybe next weekend).

    Bookmark   April 7, 2009 at 1:07AM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

We tried planting some buffalo grass plugs last year in a patch where the old lawn was dead, and I don't think a single one of them made it through the winter. They weren't cheap either!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 1:40PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

I wouldn't count them out. Buffalo grass is a warm season grass, so it will look dead in Colorado until sometime around mid May (maybe later depending on elevation). It probably turned brown last year around early October, right?

That's why I opted for western and streambank wheatgrass. I didn't want a lawn that had such a long dormant period. I've got a little blu grama in the hellstrip, but that tends to heat up fast because of the street and sidewalk (but it probably cools quicker in the fall).

    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 6:27PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Here is a picture of a section of my lawn that shows pretty much all of the different grasses (and non grasses) in it.

The light green extremely fine bladed stuff in the middle is native grass, mostly streambank wheatgrass, I think (it's about as fine bladed as fine fescue). There's also some strawberry clover (similar to Dutch white, but better adapted to alkaline soil) in the middle of the wheatgrass (also some off to the right a bit). The clumpy darker green wide bladed stuff in the foreground is some K31 fescue that I got in a seed mix before I knew better. The more uniform dark green grass in the background is KBG. There's actually some wheatgrass mixed in with the KBG in the background, but I can only see it if I look really closely. I'm hoping there's enough that when I water to favor the native grass, it will fill in as the KBG dies. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the nuclear approach.

The really wide bladed stuff would be dandelions. I'm putting up with them for now, because they sprouted in the bare spots, which is also where I have the most native grass. I can't seem to pull the dandelions without also pulling some grass, and I'd rather keep the grass and give ti a chance to spread. I may wait a while and get some spray for the weeds (by the time the grass is established enough that I won't mind going after the weeds, the ground will be too dry and hard for the weedhound).

The areas near the bottom of the picture between the K31 clumps that look sparse actually have more grass than the picture would lead you to believe. It's just that the taller native grass is what germinated last fall and the stuff in the foreground is from my dormant seeding so it's really small.

Here is a picture of a section of my lawn that shows pretty much all of the different grasses (and non grasses) in it.

The light green extremely fine bladed stuff in the middle is native grass, mostly streambank wheatgrass, I think (it's about as fine bladed as fine fescue). There's also some strawberry clover (similar to Dutch white, but better adapted to alkaline soil) in the middle of the wheatgrass (also some off to the right a bit). The clumpy darker green wide bladed stuff in the foreground is some K31 fescue that I got in a seed mix before I knew better. The more uniform dark green grass in the background is KBG. There's actually some wheatgrass mixed in with the KBG in the background, but I can only see it if I look really closely. I'm hoping there's enough that when I water to favor the native grass, it will fill in as the KBG dies. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the nuclear approach.

The really wide bladed stuff would be dandelions. I'm putting up with them for now, because they sprouted in the bare spots, which is also where I have the most native grass. I can't seem to pull the dandelions without also pulling some grass, and I'd rather keep the grass and give ti a chance to spread. I may wait a while and get some spray for the weeds (by the time the grass is established enough that I won't mind going after the weeds, the ground will be too dry and hard for the weedhound).

The areas near the bottom of the picture between the K31 clumps that look sparse actually have more grass than the picture would lead you to believe. It's just that the taller native grass is what germinated last fall and the stuff in the foreground is from my dormant seeding so it's really small.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 1:17AM
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david52_gw

bp, your photo-link isn't working?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 9:38AM
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bpgreen(5UT)

It's working for me. I posted it first from another (non GW) forum that has a button that uploads and adds the code all at once. Maybe it uses a login to the photo site and it works for me because I'm logged in to the other forum site.

I'll try it at photobucket.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 1:32PM
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digit(ID/WA)

There it is. Looks good, BP!

I was curious about these species and tried to do a google search for images and came up empty.

Altho' I've played a role in some cattle poking - that wasn't on range and these grasses are unknown to me. I even worked for a time on a bluegrass seed farm as a youngster but . . . that's what you are trying to get away from.

One thing about the weeds, in the bluegrass - we would mow the weeds the first year and spray the 2nd. I don't know if practices have changed but don't think so.

digitS'

    Bookmark   April 12, 2009 at 6:01PM
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david52_gw

On the south side of my house, which warms up the fastest, the KBG blend I'd planted years ago has largely died off from winter dryness, leaving a about half clumps, half dirt. Beginning last year, I noticed the really fine wheat grass was growing rather well in the 'tween clump dirt areas - but only in the very early spring, when the rest of the lawn was just greening up - like now. Then it sort of disappeared. But to be honest, I wasn't paying all that much attention. It's sure there now.

For that matter, following this weekend's rain/snow combo, the wheat grass has just come bursting alive all over the place, ahead of the KBG. Seems the conditions are just right.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 9:18AM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

Does the wheatgrass have advantages over a fescue mix?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 11:54AM
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bpgreen(5UT)

"Does the wheatgrass have advantages over a fescue mix?"

Several in my opinion. I'm assuming you're referring to turf type tall fescue.

First, it doesn't require nearly as much water as fescue. Fescue can use less water than KBG if conditions are right, but it does so by developing deep root systems. If there is a hardpan layer that prevents the roots from growing deep, fescue can require as much as or more water than KBG. If conditions are good for the fescue, it will require about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water a week. The wheatgrasses will require about an inch a month. It takes them a long time to go dormant, and they can stay dormant for months without any problem.

Tall fescue spreads only via tillers (right next to the existing plant) so it won't fill in bare spots. Actually, there are some newer varieties of tall fescue that will spread slowly via rhizomes, but most are bunch grasses. Both of the wheatgrasses I used are rhizomatous and will spread fairly quickly.

The wheatgrasses also require much less fertilizer than fescue. In fact, they can suffer if fertilized too much.

They also grow much more slowly. Until the rest of the fescue and KBG dies, I'll still need to mow every week or so during growing season, but as the wheatgrass takes over, I'll be able to cut back to once a month (maybe less).

There has been a fair amount of interest in crested wheatgrass for lawns, but I don't like it as much as the streambank and western wheatgrass. Most varieties are bunch grasses, but there are some newer ones that are weakly rhizomatous (Ephraim and Roadcrest are two that I can think of).

Sheep fescue can stay green with even less water than the wheatgrasses and grows even more slowly. It also has fertilizer requirements on a par with the wheatgrasses. It's a bunch grass, but it will tiller aggressively if it's mowed (but I don't know whether it spreads enough to fill bare spots). Creeping red fescue needs less water than KBG or tall fescue and spreads via rhizomes. It uses a lot more water than the wheatgrasses or sheep fescue.

I've got a mix of creeping red and sheep fescue in the back, so by the end of this summer, I'll have a better handle on how the respective grasses do.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 3:35PM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

Thanks so much for all the information. That's very helpful.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 6:25PM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Your lawn looks terrific, bp! :)

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 7:55PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Thanks. I see more weeds in it than I like, but for now I'm leaving them to give the new grass a chance.

I'll take another picture sometime in June or so, after the KBG and fescue starts to suffer. I watered from mid June through late July last year, and then turned the sprinklers off for all of August and the wheatgrass didn't even seem to get stressed, so I expect that it can go at least into June (if not through June) with no water, while the other grass will suffer with no water. I'll probably need to water at least once in July to keep the wheatgrass green, but I want to delay until it starts to look a little stressed. If that's in late June, that's still later than I'd normally have started my sprinklers.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 11:05PM
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david52_gw

After a while, weeds, in particular, dandelion, start to diminish in importance, what with viewing things in the overall scheme of things. Thistle, I still worry about.

This past winter, the blessed deer, in their effervescent knowledge and abundance, decided to hoof it across the '52 estates, when escaping from the irate guy with the loud noise making things, on the south side of the pond dam, instead of the top of the pond dam, where it is level and not a 45 angle, as is the south side. Plus the gophers who listen to "Margaritaville" on their iPods and crave the sun, the herd of raccoons tromping up from the draw and cat tail swamp, and one prairie dog, all working together to pull the dam down.

So there are clumps of wheat grass now holding up a sliding cascade of dust. I need to water this carefully.

And Glory Hallelujah, Mrs. '52 has turned the page on grass preference, going from KBG to western wheat grass. I'd better get busy.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 10:43PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

Are you going to nuke the lawn before seeding it with western wheatgrass? Or are you just going to quit watering and let the western wheatgrass creep in and take over from the pond area?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2009 at 9:11PM
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david52_gw

Bp, the dam was originally seeded in wheat grass, some 9 years ago. it's all over the top, spreading into the pasture next door, and so on. Thats not the issue, it's the deer tramping on the 45º slope, whose little dancing hooves find any bit of bare ground to cascade the dust, burying much of the existing flora.

For the rest of the lawn, I'm going to coin a new phrase here, 'mega-plugs'. Dig up some chunks of 4" square wheat grass over on the parts of the dam environment where it's well established, and haul it over to the places where it's bare, dig a shovel-full of dirt out, and stick it in.

My sod web-worms are the organic equivalent of roundup -:-).

    Bookmark   April 20, 2009 at 9:31PM
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bpgreen(5UT)

I'm considering a similar mega-plug approach, except I'm thinking of using a bulb planter to create a big plug (and a big hole for the plug and to use as to replace the soil I took with the plug). I'll wait to see whether it's needed, since there's wheatgrass sprinkled throughout the lawn, even where the KBG is fairly thick.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 7:36AM
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