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native grasses for a SF Bay Area lawn

Posted by ltleelim USDA 9b Sunset 17 (My Page) on
Wed, Sep 21, 11 at 15:43

For many months, I've been planning to relandscape our new house using all California native plants. We have a 20' x 10' area in the backyard that would make a nice lawn for our two year old. I've been researching native grasses that I could try and I'd appreciate any feedback.

Here is more info about the site, in case it matters. We are in El Cerrito, which has a climate similar to Berkeley. The backyard has a southern exposure and gets full sun. The soil drains very fast, although there are some pockets of clay. I will use a push mower to keep it at 4". The lawn will probably get only light, occasional traffic. I'm thinking about planting plugs spaced very closely.

Oh, the area also has a massive infestation of Oxalis pes-caprae. I haven't decided how to deal with that yet.

I am considering:

Festuca rubra (red fescue)
This is probably the easiest to get. Also sounds like it's the softest.

Carex pansa (sand dune sedge)
I'm guessing this might withstand traffic better than Festuca rubra.

Carex praegracilis (clustered field sedge)
Very similar to Carex pansa and they apparently get mixed up. I was unable to find any significant differences between C. pansa and C. praegracilis. If there are, I'd like to know. (Although I think I'd have a hard time making sure I wasn't buying something that was miskeyed.)

Carex tumulicola (foothill sedge)
I'm talking about the real C. tumulicola, not the miskeyed non-native Carex divulsa that is sold as "Berkeley sedge". The real C. tumulicola is apparently available, but unfortunately I've been unable to find much information about it online. Has anyone experimented with it as a lawn?

When I searched here, it seemed like bahia had the most experience with the Carex species, but I didn't see much about Festuca rubra in the Bay Area.

I guess I'm leaning towards either Festuca rubra or Carex pansa. If anyone has experience with both, which would need less water in the summer to stay green? Which would handle traffic better? When it fills in, which would make a fuller lawn?

If you have a lawn with any of these species and wouldn't mind me driving by, please email me. I'd love to take a quick look to see what it really looks like.


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RE: native grasses for a SF Bay Area lawn

  • Posted by bahia SF Bay Area (My Page) on
    Thu, Sep 22, 11 at 0:11

Festival rubra is probably the fastest to fill in, but will definitely need more frequent mowing than Carex spp's . I've found that Carex praegacilis can have winter dieback when it has to deal with wet clay and little winter sun. Carex pansa is taking a very long time to really fill in in my first application, the lawn is almost 10 months along and still has lots of gaps, I had planted it at about 5 inches on center. In my opinion, Carex divulsa has proven to be the most adaptable, fastest to fill in and most drought tolerant as well as wet feet tolerant of them all. I intend to stick with C.divulsa from now on, although I haven't tried Festuca rubra by itself. If you don't get hung up on the true "California native" pedigree, Berkeley Sedge makes a great lawn with great wear qualities and superior drought and winter performance that the others don't measure up to. If a usable lawn requiring less frequent mowing and just once a month watering is the primary criteria, I'd suggest you get over being a purist about the provenance. The various lawns of each that I've installed are all in the backyards, so not visible from the street.

You'll need to address the Oxalis issue first, unless you don't mind the mingling.


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