Blue grama: turf grass for lazy people
Everyone wants a lawn that is weed-free, pest-free, and basically maintenance-free. I think I found it. It's a native, short prairie grass called "blue grama." Currently, you can only get it in seed, but a sod form is being developed.
Blue grama is a drought-tolerant bunch grass that grows from Alberta, Canada, down through the Great Plains to Mexico, and west over the Rockies. It ranges in size anywhere from 10 to 20 inches tall. If kept mowed, or used for grazing, blue grama will form a sod.
It propagates itself in two ways. It produces seeds that get dispersed by the wind, animals and insects. Seeds don't travel far by wind, so it will not overtake your yard. It also produces new shoots from the base of the plant. Blue grama is easy to grow from seed, as it doesn't require special conditions for the seed to sprout. It grows in almost any soil type, except wet, poorly drained soil. Research on the internet shows the seeds are finicky and require the right soil moisture and temperature to germinate. However, I threw them on unimproved soil, barely watered them, and they sprouted just fine - during one of the worst droughts on record. The mild winter could also account for successful seed germination.
You can use a broad-leaf herbicide labeled for buffalo grass on weeds, but wait till the weeds are growing before applying. Since the grass doesn't require much water or fertilizer, you could keep up with the weeds by hand-pulling. That's what we did.
My experiment with a native grass lawn began in October 2008. We had a new house with a bare front lawn. The soil was a mixture of landscape dirt, sand, caliche, and one strip where I had turned some cotton trash from one of the local cotton mills into the sand. I hand-threw out the seeds and watered enough to keep them on the ground. I did not put any dirt over them. Within a couple of weeks I could see the shoots.
In late spring I put out more seed. Again, watering was minimal. I did put out some nitrogen pellets in early June, which helped it thicken up before the real heat of the summer hit.
Despite the 100 degree days, the grass grew. Total watering during this time totaled maybe five times. We mowed it a few times, which helped it form a sod. It put out seed heads in late summer, giving the lawn a wispy look. It's not perfect yet, but with these past few days of rain it has noticeably greened up.
Blue grama can handle grazing, but like any native grass, it can't take being chewed to the nubbins. The same goes for mowing. Keep the mower set high. It performs best if kept at 1.5-3 inches tall. However, leaving it unmowed will give your area a prairie feel to it, and the wispy seedheads provide a nice touch in late August. Add some wildflower seeds or bulbs for more interest.
Blue grama also works in perennial flower beds, used like you would use any other ornamental grass. You can also use it to prevent soil erosion on hard to mow spots.
Blue grama seed is easy to find on the internet. I bought mine from Native American Seed (seedsource.com) out of Junction and Warner Brothers Seed (wbseedco.com) in Oklahoma. Both collect seed from native grass prairies in Texas.
firstname.lastname@example.org El Camino Real Master Naturalists: grovesite.com/tmn/ecrmn