By now, most folks have heard the term “xeriscape.” Xeriscape doesn’t mean a dry, barren landscape, it refers to a landscape that requires minimal additional water, and is the best way to landscape in our dry climate.
Want lawn? Fine! “An appropriate sized lawn” is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. If your eye craves grassy green, you should plant what makes you comfortable in your own yard. But to have a lawn and xeriscape too, follow these five planting guidelines and four care tips.
Plant lawn close to the patio, and keep its size appropriate for how much use it will get.
Select the best-adapted grass for your site. Hybrid Bermudagrass is ideal because it can take the triple digit heat and survive on relatively low water (as compared to other lawn grasses). Hybrids don’t flower, and thus do not torture allergy sufferers with pesky pollen. Pick the right hybrid for your use, amount of traffic, and amount of sunlight.
Prepare the soil properly. Dig at least 18 inches deep, remove rocks larger than a cherry tomato. The deeper the soils worked, the better your lawn will thrive. If you hit a white caliche layer, you will need to break through it, at least in a few places, otherwise your lawn will be sitting in a large salty bathtub.
Amend the soil. Add at least 30 percent compost to your soil. Available from nurseries and garden centers, compost is critical to help hold moisture in the soil and to lower the pH to a level where lawn can thrive.
The real secret is to plant your lawn below the level of your patio. Yes, below grade. A good rain will run off other surfaces and soak into the lawn.
Now for the all-important lawn care tips.
Mowing. Sharpen your mower blades. Sharp blades cut cleanly instead of ripping the grass. Clean cuts help the grass recover with a minimum of brown tips, and lower water demand. Mow off only one third (or less) of height at one time.
Dethatch. Thatch is a layer of organic debris between the soil surface and the green grass blades. It looks like tan colored straw. A little thatch is fine, but once it’s deeper than a half-inch it needs to be reduced. Excessive thatch prevents water, fertilizer, light, and oxygen from reaching the roots, plus it can serve as a breeding ground for insects and fungus. Dethatch by raking out this layer, or at least most of it. Leave a thin layer of thatch as summer mulch.
Fertilizer. Follow directions. Too much fertilizer can kill plants. Use a lawn fertilizer three times a year: as the lawn greens in spring (March), mid-summer (July), and late summer (late August). You can fertilize more often, but then you’ll need to mow more often.
Water. Deeply. At dawn. Water so that the water soaks down two feet, then skip three to five days. A well-established, deeply watered lawn will grow it’s roots six feet deep. With that kind of root system, once a week watering, even in summer, can be enough.
A small patch of lawn in your outdoor living space is in keeping with xeriscape principles. If lawn helps you use and enjoy your backyard, have some. Treat it right and you will have years of enjoyment from your patch of healthy, happy lawn.
(Editor’s Note: Jacqueline is an award-winning garden writer focusing on meeting the challenges of Southwestern gardening. She also works as a garden coach and makes house calls. See more about Jacqueline by visiting her website at gardeningwithsoule.com.)