Turf grasses have a place in xeriscapes for recreational space, for pets, or just for their aesthetic appeal. However, because turf grass uses more water and maintenance than any other part of the xeriscape, it is recommended only for limited areas that serve a specific purpose. Lawns created primarily for appearance could be replaced by attractive alternatives, which also reduce erosion, prevent the sun’s glare, and cool the local environment.
Best Turf Locations
Since grass needs more water than other plants, proper location of turf is important. Place turf areas in the oasis zone near the house, where watering and maintenance are more convenient. To water and mow more efficiently, design grassy areas in rounded shapes. Long narrow strips of grass are difficult to irrigate without wasting water.
Avoid planting grass on slopes, where it is difficult to mow and where water and fertilizer run off. (Buffalo grass could work on a slope, if left to grow naturally.) Use groundcovers, shrubs and perennials instead to stabilize hard-to-maintain slopes.
Appropriate Turf Selection
Grass with deeper roots is more drought tolerant. Poor irrigation and mowing practices can prevent a lawn from reaching its potential root depth. It is better to water less frequently and more deeply to promote deeper rooting. Even drought tolerant grasses turn brown when they are not watered. They will turn green again, when they receive water. The grass you choose for your xeriscape turf areas will depend on the amount of sunlight and your seasonal temperatures. Some do not do as well in areas with frost and cold winters.
Four commonly recommended grasses for xeriscapes, listed from most to least drought tolerant, are Buffalo, Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine.
Buffalograss with roots 5-7 feet deep is the most drought tolerant. It is a native prairie grass and will grow to a height of 6-12 inches without mowing. It needs little irrigation, fertilization and pesticides. Buffalograss requires at least six hours of sun per day. It does not do well in shady areas or in sandy soils. It prefers heavier soil like well drained clay or loam. When dormant, due to winter cold or low water in the summer, it turns yellow.
Bermudagrass has roots as deep as 5 feet. It is a commonly used drought-tolerant grass and requires full sun. Though used as a turf grass, Bermudagrass is also considered an invasive weed. The rhizomes can invade other areas of the garden. Bermudagrass takes wear well. It turns brown during cooler months.
St. Augusting grass has roots from 8-18 inches deep. It does well in shade, but when grown in full sun it needs the most water of these four grass types. It is native to sandy beach ridges and does well in southern climates with mild winters.
Xeriscape Turf Alternatives
Before committing a large area of your landscape to traditional grass, consider these alternatives. There are many different xeriscape choices that are both attractive and lower-maintenance.
If you just want the area to have a cool green look, other ground cover plants that use less water may be more appropriate.
Beds of bark, stone or gravel mulch can be used as paths, at the edges of driveways, and in areas that provide service access.
Areas beneath children’s play structures can be covered with sand, bark mulch, or even recycled rubber “bark” to create a ground surface to minimize injuries.
Also, decks and patios increase outdoor living space and add value to a home, while reducing lawn size. For hardscape areas, such as patios and walkways, use paving materials that allow water to pass through.
Artificial turf could also be good alternative for xeriscapes. It reduces the amount of mud tracked into a house and can be used where grass will not grow. The initial cost is higher, but maintenance is minimal. No watering, weeding, fertilizing or mowing is required. You still need to remove debris that falls on it and periodically spray the turf to clean it.
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