Green lawn has been the Western ideal of a perfect garden for over a century. Unfortunately the amount of water, fertilizer and pesticide it takes to keep that patch looking perfect has taken its toll on the environment. Anyone trying to get rid of escaped Bermuda grass from their garden can attest to that. If you see algae a streambed, it’s usually due to high nitrogen lawn fertilizers being washed into the watershed. However, native plants can provide you with usable, environmentally friendly alternatives.
Some families need lawn for kids, dogs, or sports. Switch your lawn choice to Blue Grama Grass. This North American native can tolerate foot traffic, cold, heat, drought and trimming. It can develop roots 3’ -6’ deep, so you can deeply water it and then give it a long rest. If you allow it to bloom, the flowers can be used in dried flower arrangements. The dried grass bunches were important to the Zuni people.
Bentgrass is a California perennial cool-season grass. It takes foot traffic, mowing and requires half the water of turf. It will become partially dormant in the summer heat.
Clustered Field Sedge can be a bright green, solid groundcover that takes moderate water, so is useful next to thirsty flower borders. It is hardy down to 10F, and tolerates full sun to partial shade. Its blooms are like little pom poms if left unmowed.
If you need a tough grass choice and don’t mind it spreading, then try Creeping Wild Rye. It is easy to grow and often used in restoration projects as a slope stabilizer.
A beautiful blue-grey mounding grass is California Fescue. It tolerates even serpentine soils. And then there is the lovely Purple Three Awn. The green stems are topped with purple flowerheads in the hot season, and are great for birds.
There are more native choices for grass substitutes that can be groomed like a lawn, or left to grow as a meadow which moves in the breeze. Replace your thirsty turf with native varieties, or use them as accents throughout your garden. You can spend the time you normally use maintaining turf watching the birds and butterflies enjoy the plants, and your expenses go down.
Diane and Miranda Kennedy operate Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture at www.vegetariat.com.