Although lawns are not widely planted in many Southwestern cities, small turf areas can make sense in some home gardens. As a playing surface for children or pets, few substitutes are as satisfying. However, if you are planting a lawn only to look at, you may want to consider other options.
Remember that turfgrass will use more water than almost any other sort of planting. In fact one of the seven principles of xeriscape (low-water use) gardening is to design appropriate turf areas. This means small lawn areas that are easy to irrigate efficiently, easy to mow, and provide the maximum benefit to users. Here are a few of the points I mention when I'm talking to my clients about turfgrass:
- Keep lawn areas close to porches and patios, where they can be used often.
- Planning lawn areas near patios helps homeowners enjoy the evaporative cooling effect of turf.
- Avoid irregularly shaped lawns that are hard to mow and irrigate. This includes narrow strips and tight-radius curves.
- Circles and square or rectangular shapes tend to work best. In the photo above, a circular planting is simple to water with a centrally placed sprinkler.
- If the only time you step on your grass is to mow it, consider using other easier-to-maintain plants in that area.
- Remember that grass is easier to install than it is to remove.
When planting a lawn area I usually suggest Bermuda grass, a turfgrass well suited to most of the Southwest. Bermuda is a warm-season grass, meaning that it actively grows from spring through fall and goes dormant over the winter. Here are some tips for planting Bermuda:
- Use a hybrid Bermuda designed for turfgrass. Common Bermuda grown from seed is aggressive, weedy and hard to remove.
- Use sod, which will give you quick coverage.
- Lay sod April through August.
- Lay sod on smooth native soil.
- Roll sod with a drum roller to ensure proper soil contact.
- Never allow newly installed sod to dry out.
- Water frequently with light irrigations until established.
- After establishment, Bermuda grass requires about 1 to 1½ inches of water a week through the summer months (May - September).
- Fertilize every six weeks over the summer months with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
What are your thoughts about lawns in the Southwest? Do you have one you love, loathe, or one you want to remove and replace with other plants?