Welcome to May’s edition. This month I have something to share that is very new: Not a new type of lawn but a new lawn alternative. It is a low growing, evergreen, drought-tolerant groundcover. For some of us, this is great news. For others, we want our lawn. So, in writing about something relatively new, though it has been in existence since the early ’90s, I know that I am going to divide us into two camps: hard-core lawn supporters who believe we are just in a dry cycle and that rainfall will come back, and those who believe our climate is changing and we need to think about water conservation.
Regardless of which “camp” you find yourself in, the information I am about to share should be of interest and very encouraging in regards to saving water.
Let’s start by letting the “cat out of the bag.” The name of the groundcover is Kurapia. (Lippia nodiflora “Kurapia,” botanically speaking). If you go to my website I have attained permission from the breeder to host his website pictures on our site. I learned about Kurapia recently while attending a landscape conference in Southern California. Some of the classes I took dealt with California natives, water recapturing systems as well as this topic of Kurapia. I know that Southern California is even more stressed for water than we are so “cutting edge” information was what I was looking for. The class on lawn alternatives featured two speakers. One was the breeder of Kurapia who flew in from Tokyo. The other speaker was one of two brokers licensed to sell Kurapia. The breeder told us that Kurapia’s parent is in the Lippia genus. The parent species is widely naturalized worldwide, and seeds readily. However, Kurapia has been bred to be sterile and its growth habit is much more compact and tamed. And though it is sterile with respect to seed production, it does flower and is bee-and butterfly- friendly, blooming from May to October. If pollination of fruit trees is needed or if you just enjoy having a bee-friendly landscape, Kurapia answers that. However, if bees are an issue it can be mowed once or twice a month to cut the bloom off. Kurapia benefits from mowing as it causes it to grow denser.Though much of the pictures on the website are from Japan, it has been under extensive study at UC Davis and UC Riverside, in comparison with Bermuda grass and No Mow as well as other drought-tolerant cool season and warm season grasses. Kurapia has exceeded them all going 52 days without water (in the summer by drip irrigation) and still maintained its green color. Pretty impressive! Its secret is an extensive root system that goes as deep as four feet and its dense 2″ to 3″ tall mat–like top. It does not require much fertilization, about twice a year, and it spreads and self-repairs by stolons. This is very different, say from Bermuda grass which spreads via rhizomes, thus making Bermuda grass the invasive lawn it is. Kurapia is also evergreen and does not have a dormancy period though it stops growing or slows down in the winter. And it’s unparalleled for erosion control on slopes given its deep rooting capabilities.UC Riverside tests have shown Kurapia to be very tolerant of high salts, therefore a great candidate for areas with reclaimed water or areas that are on wells that might be high in salts. Also, research shows that Kurapia is hardy to 20 degrees, though in tests it has survived in temperatures as low as 12 degrees. It grows both in sun and shade, requiring only three hours of sunlight. However it tends to stay more compact in full sun. Lastly because of its matting growth habit it naturally suppresses weeds once it fills in.What Kurapia is notKurapia is not a sports field turf substitute; it cannot take consistent high traffic though it is very walkable. It can be used around children’s play areas with the normal wear and tear that any lawn would experience. As of this writing I am not sure if it is deer resistant. The breeder in Japan said there are no deer in his region. He says rabbits like it and the plant responds by becoming thicker so it is quite possible that deer might like it? It is not dog urine resistant, but it is more tolerant of dog urine than a lawn and mends quickly. And as the picture shows, Kurapia comes in plugs, not rolls.
If you believe our climate is changing then the psychology of having yards lush and green will have to change to meet reality. However, with Kurapia as a lawn alternative not much has to be given up if we can substitute leaves for blades of lawn. If you believe we will return back to normal rainfall Kurapia can be a temporary substitute. It beats looking at a dead lawn if restrictions come to that. The picture you see of our client’s yard is probably the first home in all of Northern California that has Kurapia as a lawn alternative. The plantings are a combination of Mediterranean type plants and or natives plus some Pieris (in the back) that were there prior. This would be the direction I would suggest for those who want an area of green or need an area for kids and pets to play.
Next month I will highlight a much larger yard with Kurapia for “green space” and discuss the specifics about planting Kurapia and what the breeder has for the future.
Lastly for gardeners, if you planted in April you should have some good growth by now. Remember especially with veggies do not overwater, you will cause them to remain vegetative, we want blooms. Without blooms there are no vegetables. Water well and in general do not water for two days afterwards. If you plant directly in the ground you can even skip a third day.
Good Gardening – Arthur