Waterwise Lawn Grasses and Grass Alternatives
There are wonderful low-water alternatives to thirsty turf lawns. Only one or two of them look like typical lawns, however. But once they are established, you’ll begin to appreciate the seasonal change and interesting textures these “lawns” provide. Not sure you want to go whole hog? Just replace either your front or back lawn at first. Or only an isolated area. Once you gain your confidence, you may want to re-do your entire lawn.
Buffalo grass – You can plant buffalo grass from seed or plugs. The above-ground runners fill in like Bermuda grass. The texture is also similarly fine, but looser. Buffalo grass does not need mowing, but can be to keep tidy. The color is gray-green from March through late fall, when it turns tan. It will take heavy traffic, is very drought-tolerant and needs full sun.
Best planted in warm seasons (May - September)
Blue grama grass – A prairie grass, Bouteloua gracilis can be treated as a turf grass and will take mowing. Blue grama is very low-water and, if unmowed, can be used to create a beautiful, dry meadow. Blades will reach up to twelve inches tall, with flowers reaching 18-inches. Blue grama is a clumping grass which takes some time to fill in as a lawn. Give it full sun.
Carex panza – California meadow sedge forms a mat of green six- to eight-inches high, and will take some foot traffic. It can be mowed (at the highest setting) occasionally to keep it tidy. It is established by planting plugs, and needs only occasional feeding. Don’t overwater. Give California meadow sedge full sun or light shade.
Waterwise Lawn Alternatives
Dymondia – This wonderful South African groundcover is quite amazing. Extremely low-growing and tough, dymondia will take full sun or light shade. The dark green leaves curl at the edges showing white undersides, giving the plant a gray-green effect. Tiny yellow flowers appear in summer. Give it moderate water to establish, after which it’s waterwise. It can take occasional, light traffic, but you’ll never need to mow.
Yarrow – The fine, ferny, gray-green foliage of yarrow (Achillea) will spread and fill in a large sunny area if small plants are placed twelve inches on center. Yarrow will form a mat four inches tall, and depending on the variety, will send up beautiful flowering stems as tall as two feet. After flowers are spend, you can mow it (at the highest setting) to tidy it up. Yarrow is one of the best waterwise perennials.
Armeria – The small tufts of thrift can look a bit grass-like. However, this waterwise full sun perennial—there are different named varieties—sports charming globe-shaped rose, pink, red or white flowers on two- to ten-inch stems that attract butterflies. An entire lawn of thrift in full flower is a beautiful sight. Don’t overwater. The clumps will spread slowly.