lawn replacement question

autodidactNovember 20, 2007

My house has the original lawn put in in 1968, probably blue grass as it sucks up the water. I'm in process of converting lots of it to flower beds and groundcovers. If I want to replace the rest with buffalo grass, do I have to remove it first, or can I just keep sprinkling the new grass seed and watering less and less? Or what's the easiest way to replace a bluegrass lawn with a more drought tolerant lawn? Thanks.

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Before I start, I'm going to ask where you live (general area, but more specific than just state, since conditions vary so much), when you get your first frost, when it warms up in the spring and how long a season you want to see green grass. Also, whether you have any pollen allergies.

The answers to those questions really drive the choice of grass more than the approach to replacing the existing lawn.

I would strongly recommend killing the existing lawn first. Especially if you're going to try to replace a cool season lawn like KBG with a warm season grass like buffalo grass.

I've been trying to replace my KBG lawn with native grasses, but I chose mostly cool season grasses because I thought the growing season for buffalo grass would be too short here and I'm also allergic to a lot of pollens. Buffalo grass from sod or plugs doesn't have the pollen problem, but seeded buffalo grass can cause allergy problems.

I've been disappointed in my results. I've got a fair amount of native grass mixed in with my KBG, but I wish I would have killed off the existing lawn first.

When you overseed with a warm season grass, it could be even worse. KBG is very drought tolerant, but it deals with drought by going dormant and coming back again with moisture. So if you water to favor the buffalo grass, you'll have patches of green in the summer where the buffalo grass is growing, mixed with patches of brown dormant (not dead) KBG. As it cools off, the buffalo grass will go dormant and the KBG will green up, so you'll again have mixed patches of brown and green, with the cool season grass green and the warm season grass brown. If you have all one type or the other, at least there's a uniform look to the lawn.

If you've got a shorter window of warm weather, you might want to consider a cool season native. I think most of the people on this board who have planted cool season natives would recommend western wheatgrass. Some other options are streambank wheatgrass and sheep fescue.

A non native cool season grass that takes little water is crested wheatgrass. Both native wheatgrasses spread by rhizomes. The fescue is a bunch grass. Most of the crested wheatgrasses are bunch grasses, but a few newer varieties (Roadcrest and Ephraim comed to minds) have some rhizomatous spreading.

Western wheatgrass stays green longer without water, but takes longer to green up if it does go dormant. Its color is darker than the other grasses I mentioned.

Somewhere on the forum, I posted a list of seed suppliers, but I can't find it at the moment.

Here are a few places where I've bought seed:
Mountain Valley seed
Southwest Seed
Round Butte Seed

The first site has great prices on streambank wheatgrass, especially if you order at least 10 lbs. The second site has good prices overall. Unfortunately, they don't have a current pricelist on the web (you have to request it) and you can't order online. But that's where I buy my western wheatgrass, sheep fescue and blue grama. The third site probably has more depth than the other two. You may need to look at forage/reclamation seed.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 1:49AM
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emagineer(z5 CO)


Your explanation is such a good one with great info on alternatives. This is a timely subject as I saw a predictive discussion a couple of days ago on lack of water in CO this winter. Very high probability we will be in a drought similar to and as long as the one 3 years ago when our resevoirs were down to a few feet.

I planted a Buffalo grass lawn with plugs 4 years ago (different home). It took forever to grow in (not to mention the amount of time planting) and had to over seed with other grasses. There are many other native grasses BP mentioned which are important to look at.

Also, different types of buffalo grass are available now, depending upon location and use. After the fact I found that Buffalo grass was not good for heavy use areas. In my case dogs running, jumping, etc. One would think the name itself means heavy use environment...easily misdirected.

Experience with grass seed suppliers has been very good in the last year. A call to them will reap excellant information relative to your requirements. They are very open to discussion when contacted personally and saved me from spending time/money heading in a wrong decision.

Has anyone had experience with Buffalo sod install? What types they actually use? Would be more expensive, but possible growth rate far better and less work establishing itself?

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 9:11AM
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Thanks. I live in Denver and do not suffer from allergies. Wow, if I have to kill off the existing lawn, I may just go with all groundcover in the front. I mean, what do I need a lawn for?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 9:46PM
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What ground cover would you use? I'd be surprised if you could find a ground cover that would do better with less water than a native lawn.

If you want to try growing buffalo grass without killing the existing lawn, you might be able to make it work. Don't water at all in the spring. If it's as dry there as it is here, the lawn will probably be dormant by early to mid June.

Mow the lawn as low as you can, preferably while it is still green, but stressed. That will stress it further. Bag or rake the clippings.

If you can rent a seed drill, that would be your best bet. Note that buffalo grass seeds are huge compared with most grass seeds, so I doubt if a slit seeder will work. A seed drill is more specialized and may not be easy to find.

The next best would be to water, then core aerate the lawn. This exposes more soil for the seeds to contact with broadcast seeding.

After seeding, you need to water at least daily and probably twice a day for a week or two until the seed sprouts. Unfortunately, this will probably wake the KBG from its dormancy. Gradually cut back until you're watering every other week or so. The KBG won't be able to stay green under those conditions. When the monsoons hit in the fall, the KBG will start to perk up, and as weather cools, the buffalo grass will go dormant.

If you want, you can spray roundup while the buffalo grass is dormant. It will kill the green grass (and any weeds) but leave the dormant buffalo grass alone).

The following year, don't water at all, or water only once a month to keep the buffalo grass happy. The KBG won't do so well and the buffalo grass will spread more. If you don't mind a slightly wild look, let it grow to full height (only about 4 inches) and go to seed. If you let it go to seed, that will help it spread. It also spreads by stolons (like rhizomes, but above ground).

Many people sow blue grama seed along with buffalo grass. Blue grama is more of a bunch grass, but is another warm season grass so it mixes well with buffalo grass.

Many native lawns have mixtures of warm and cool season grasses, so you could try mixing in some of the wheatgrasses and sheep fescue, but if you do that, you won't be able to use roundup to kill weeds and KBG during buffalo grass dormancy. Another disadvantage is that you'll have patches of green and brown at different times of the year. If you water every other week or so during the summer, you should be able to keep the cool season natives green, so you'd only have the patchiness in the early spring and late fall.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 1:00AM
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emagineer(z5 CO)

One thing to add regarding mixtures are the different fertilizers recommended. The native grasses tend to require ratios which are not readily avialable. I found this significant to buffalo grass and suspect it was the reason for problems in growing the varieties I was planting. It took about a month for the buffalo grass to grow high enough to reseed, which was at least 4'. Letting it reseed can also be an issue for invading other areas of the yard and it does spread beyond through the rhizomes. Edging is necessary to control this.

I too ripped out half the lawn and planted xeriscape areas around it. And my lawn changes were totally against the norm as maintaining the pristine became a constant for weed/feed, aerating and mowing. This person went off the grid for what is the normal lawn.

Looking at the older lawns around the neighborhood it surprised me that there were mixtures of many other plantings and yet they were as beautiful as the typical . Depending upon the 'look' you want (cottage, exeriscape, etc.), I say go for the possibilities for what appeals. An example is the many 'lawns' which are full wild flowers and require little care once established.

The first thing I did with my old lawn was over seed with white clover which grew readily and requires little water to establish. Decided to this from experience with farms we once owned and used clover as one of our natural/green fertilizers.

The next planting that many discouraged me from was yarrow. It came in beautifully and did not spread rampantly as most expected. Mowing was down to once every 2 weeks. It grew to 2' high with mowing and didn't have flowering or seeding. The seeding was a concern for becoming an invasive plant throughout the yard. It is a very soft lawn cover which held up well to abuse.

Although I didn't replace the lawn, bare areas were roughed up and amendment added before seeding. Grass, clover and yarrow are very happy together. Am hoping next spring they continue to enjoy their fellowship.

I've bumped up a post on lawn alternatives for you. Also, link below is for a seed company which carries many selections and good pricing. They are exceptional at sharing their knowledge and suggestions for personal requirements or interests. Just a call away.

Here is a link that might be useful: Drought tolerant seeds

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 9:32AM
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I don't know if Dad's transplanting Achillea plugs from his back lawn to his front yard counts, Emagineer.

If one intends to use herbicides of any sort (including weed and feed) it won't work. And, Id certainly hate to see Achillea millefolium turn into an Achilles heal for someone. It is an experiment by an 89 year-old guy with problem areas in his lawn but it seems to be working!

Where I see most interest in this as alternative to lawn grass is in California but Achillea is doing well in Dad's northern Idaho lawn and he is doing little to accommodate it. It spreads and squeezes out more of the grass each year. The color becomes more or less grayish green but it doesn't turn yellow during Summer.

Dad mows very closely. His front yard slopes to the West and the soil under the turf is very gravelly. The soil neither gets very wet nor stays that way with irrigation. I don't know how his experiment will turn out especially with so many trees in the yard but it looks like the Achillea will take over all sunny spots. Growing grass in those areas has been a continuing source of aggravation for him because it does so poorly.

Finally, he is very happy walking on the Achillea millefolium. For a plant that can turn into a rather weedy ornamental if left unmown (even if one enjoys the color of the blooms), it certain makes a soft, ferny low groundcover.

There are 100,000 achillea seeds/ounce, seeding rate is 1 pound/acre, and Albright Seed Company sells the seed for $24/pound.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 12:55PM
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I guess I was looking at 2 different threads on alternative lawns. Probably should have put my post on the other.



    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 1:02PM
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When I get around to doing this, I'll probably start mid-october. I am going to mow the existing KBG / Brome / assorted Fescue blend at the normal length, spray it, and let it go, dead and brown, into winter.

Then in late April, I'll broadcast seed and rake it in a bit. Then crush down the brown, dead grass to make the seeds think they're planted.

I will also try to start all kinds of plugs in the greenhouse.

A question. Sod is fairly easy to do, spread sand, then top soil, seed it, and let it grow a year or so. Would it be advantageous to then cut up the sod in strips, and plant those?

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 1:03PM
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emagineer(z5 CO)

Digit...I bumped the other thread up for Auto to read. Hopefully this didn't confuse the subject. And, am trying this again as my post yesterday didn't show up.

It is good to hear what your dad has done with Achillea. Mine came in well and is as soft as you described. Am hoping it is as friendly next spring and returns to spread more. What I didn't do was mow close, will do this next year since it grew best where the grass was not as thick. Had not considered the grass shade factor. I did have some seed find it's way between the bricks of my walkway/patio. Used the line trimmer on it to keep all short and was actually a welcomed addition mixed with creeping thyme.

The link below is for Stock Seed Farms where I bought my seeds. White Yarrow will grow to 2 ft if not mowed, mowed it is grows to less than 2" in a couple of weeks but will not flower. They are located in Nebraska and think I recall the owners were part of the University research at one time. There is also a ton of info on the site about drought, wild flowers and grasses, mowing, fertilizer, etc. Also check their FAQs which has answers to many of the questions we have been batting around.

Not to intrude on prices, but their's is 15 a pound. Ooops, guess I did intrude. Plus, this girl liked their small fabric "flour" bag the seeds came in.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 7:07AM
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Autodidact may object to a hijacking but this has been an ongoing learning experience for Emagineer, Dad, and myself.

I guess that seed cost isn't going to be an over-riding concern for establishing a lawn but the difference between KBG at 1 pound/1000 square feet and Achillea at 1 pound/40,000 square feet is significant.

Dad has a nice KBG lawn in the back where the grade is more level. In the front, maybe he needs a retaining wall, and it's hot! Plantain and knapweed grow out there! Can't hardly believe that even mowed so close, the knapweed can still get started. And, he doesn't like to use herbicides but that wouldn't really help the grass - it would remain sparse.

I have planted mixed pastel Achillea, Cerise Queen Achillea, Pearl Achillea, even Cloth of Gold Achillea as ornamentals in his backyard over the years. They have come and gone. It isn't the gold but must be one of the others which has steadily crept throughout the sunny part of the lawn. They spread by rhizomes or is it stolons (as well as self-seed readily)? It's very nearly invasive - okay, it is invasive. However, I doubt if it could survive any type of herbicide treatment.

Since these plants like the sun so much, I wonder if the grass would out compete Achillea in the shade. That may result in a very patchy lawn. I'm not sure if that would matter on the West side of his house. He has 3 trees out there (which also suck moisture away from the grass) but the shade mostly falls on the house.

Maybe I should buy him a pound of seed for his 90th birthday. Or, dig up about 1000 square foot of Achillea in the backyard and move it to the front. But heck, if I stall long enuf, Dad will probably move half of it out there himself . . .


    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 1:08PM
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Hi, thought I'd jump in here - we tore our bluegrass out using a sod cutter, it did a 500 sq ft area in less than an hour, definitely worth the rental price! We replaced it with a drought tolerant bluegrass called Reveille from Graff's Turf Farms - I grilled them to death on it as it sounded to good to be true but it isn't. People saw it a month after we put it in and said it looked like a healthy, established lawn that had been there for years. We watered three times a week right after we put the sod down but by the end of summer we were doing maybe once a week (in 2 10-minute cycles) and it still looked great. It's also slow growing so it doesn't invade like bluegrass and kept a fairly clean edge the whole summer. We are extremely happy with it. Just thought I'd throw this in there. If anyone wants more info or photos I'd be glad to share.

On a related note, we ripped out our entire front lawn and xeriscaped the whole area and I love it - lots of color and flowers and almost no maintenance, definitely an option!!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 5:31PM
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I'm not sure if you'll still be following this thread but if you are i'm looking at getting 600sq ft of Reveille on the back yard here in Erie CO and I'm wondering how much water you put on it last summer now that its established.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 10:30PM
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