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Desert Gardening: Turf Tips

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Lowe’s Desert Southwest gardening expert talks about caring for turf in home gardens.

A well-planned lawn area

By Scott Calhoun

It is safe to say that I’m a landscape designer more known for removing turf and lawns than planting them. That said, there are situations where a lawn is a necessary luxury. Lawns pass the dog test. Research shows (verified by my schnoodle, Macy) that dogs prefer fetching, sniffing and rolling on real grass. So if you have dogs or kids and don’t have easy access to a public turf area (that you don’t have to water or mow!), a little lawn is forgivable. Below are some tips on how to plan for an easy-care, low-water turf area.

sunken lawn area for rainwater retention

Keep it small and close to outdoor living areas
The small part almost goes without saying, but a mini-lawn uses less water and requires less mowing, fertilizer, etc. As for where to put it, I really like to have a lawn abut a patio. This way you can walk barefoot from the patio to the lawn, and the evaporative effect from the grass cools the patio somewhat. You also can make the lawn area lower, as the photos show.

circular lawn area

Regular shapes are the easiest to irrigate and mow. Consider the circular lawn pictured. In this compact design the homeowner can water with one sprinkler, and mow that lawn without negotiating any corners. Simple circles, squares, and rectangles also are easier to water than irregular, amoeba-like shapes.

Bermuda grass escaping containment

Far and away the most common variety of turf grown in the desert Southwest is the warm-season Bermuda grass, typically laid as sod. Growing only from late spring through early fall, it is amazingly tough and creeps out of containment if you aren’t vigilant. For this reason I like to use steel edging to help contain turf in a tidy shape. The photo shows what happens when Bermuda starts spreading. You can dig it up, smooth it with newspaper, roast it with plastic sheeting, or spray it with a herbicide, but Bermuda is hard to kill.

Because Bermuda is dormant (brown) all winter, the common practice is to overseed it with a cool-season grass such as winter rye. Typically this is done in fall by cutting the near-dormant Bermuda very short and then spreading rye seed and fertilizer. Although this results in a lush winter lawn, done year after year it stresses out the Bermuda and degrades the quality of the summer lawn. It is one of those decisions you have to make.

See more Desert Gardening Articles.