In the last issue we focused on “Survival Tactics” for Fescue lawns, which is the most commonly used lawn variety in Northern California, there fore it was important to discuss ways to protect it during water restrictions. If you have not read last month’s editorial, please go to www. HomeImprovementMagazine.com. In February and March I wrote about what makes a great landscape, and in April I talked about keeping beautiful landscapes beautiful. This month I want to introduce two new lawns, and by the time we are finished making the comparisons between them and Fescue, you will have a good understanding as to why I believe these will be the lawns of the future.
The reason behind this “Survival Tactics” editorial series is to give you, the reader, “working knowledge” of how to care for your landscape in times of water restrictions. Currently most water districts are asking for a 20% to 25% voluntary reduction in water use, only the City of Folsom has a man dated 2day restriction. Therefore, since lawns require the most water in our landscape to maintain their green, it would be to our advantage to learn of new lawns that could do well with less water, and even survive drought. Buffalo grass and Native Bentgrass have been developed from their “parents” (e.g. Fescue in the early days was very coarse and flat) to be more aestetically pleasing without losing their drought tolerant characteristics. In talking to the sales reps and seed producers of these lawns, they’re tell ing me that their call volume from park developers, architects, planners etc. who are now looking at these lawns, have increased dramatically. People in the green movement love the specifications on these lawns, so you know that it is only a matter of a few years, especially if rainfall totals continue to be less than aver age, before legislation will be passed requiring all new lawns to use these types.
So let’s compare the difference, starting with Fescue lawns. In the summer months most of us water daily to keep the lawn green and growing, you can reduce that if you have good coverage, little to no thatch build up, have aerated your lawn, and have filtered light or shade. With Buffalo grass and Bentgrass, twice a week watering once established is sufficient. That is a huge savings in water use, especially if you have a large lawn area. Imagine the savings on metered water, it would cut the bill in half and reduce the pressure on our water supply. These lawns just on this point alone are winners. So if I were reading this, I would ask how are these lawns able to survive with so little water? In the last edition we dealt with the very basic difference of plants vs. lawns, with respect to survival. We said that lawns have a root system about 6 inches deep, with much of it staying in the upper 4 inches, while plants have roots as deep as four feet. So the plant’s ability to draw water from down deep is far superior to the lawns, and hence can survive drought conditions much better. The Buffalo Grass, so called because it was a principle food for the Bison, and the Native Bentgrass both have root systems comparable to the plants.
Another need of the Fescue lawn is its fertilizer requirements. We at Executive Care, being both a maintenance company and a residential landscape company, maintain our clients lawns by fertilizing every two months. These native grasses require half that amount. A good application in the Spring will carry these lawns till midsummer, when another application would be needed, and then once in the Fall, and it is the same with their tolerance against pests and disease. They handle foot traffic better, in fact bentgrass, for those of you that golf, is the lawn grown on the putting greens (what we are discussing is a different strain), so handling foot traffic is not a major concern with either of these lawns. So those of us with young families loaded with energy, these lawns would be great!
Ok, so we have compared water, fertilization, pesticide/disease and foot traffic. On all points these lawns are superior to Fescue, and very environmentally friendly, greatly reducing fertilization and pesticide residues coming off the lawns into our water supply. Another interesting characteristic of these lawns is they can go completely brown, no water all summer, and then be watered by winter rains, or an irrigation system and come back green again, pretty cool. Now there is more to talk about, such as comparing the two native lawns, because they do have their differences. Buffalo grass is a warm season grass, so it turns a light beige in the winter, Bentgrass stays green, performs better in shade, and comes in sod. Buffalo grass currently comes in plugs, tolerates poorer soils better, and has outstanding heat tolerance. Both require less mowing, for those of you that like the “just cut look,” you can still mow weekly, but for the rest of us, once every two weeks would be sufficient.
Let’s talk about cost. These are “cutting edge” lawns right now, and hence the seed for these lawns, that which the growers use to develop their sod or plugs, are at a premium compared to Fescue. As the demand for these lawns grows and more of it is produced, the cost will go down. So you have to offset the initial cost with water savings, fetilization, pesticide/ fungicide, and time saved from mowing to realize the true benefit, not to mention it is environmentally better for us, and will in my opinion become the lawns of the future. Currently the lawn price is approximately (excluding shipping) $2.50 a square foot installed for Native Bentgrass, and $3.00 a square foot for Buffalo, because of the extra labor associated with planting the plugs, as opposed to laying the sod of the Native Bentgrass. Fescue is about $1.50 a square foot. Hence to determine the true cost, or savings, it is not just the installation aspect of the sod, but the on going maintenance that needs to be considered as well.
In the next article we will need to discuss the type of irrigation system needed to water deep, to take advantage of the deep rooting capabilities of these lawns, and hopefully get to survival tactics for plants and trees. Lastly, as a personal favor to me, if these articles have been helpful please send me a quick note to email@example.com and let me know. Please use my website for all other communications. I enjoy writing, and love helping, but it is not easy for me. With that said, Good Gardening!
If you are a doityourselfer please use this article as a guide, and if you need help please do not hesitate to call Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. at (916) 7659040 or visit our website www.executivecareinc.com. Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service landscape design/install and maintenance company.