Wed, Dec

Stop! Before You Rip Out Your Lawn, Read This!


GREEN ROSETTE-People are tearing out their lawns right and left.  We’re told our lawns are water guzzlers, and in this severe drought, we must get rid of them.  We’re bad citizens if we don’t.  Right?  Wrong! 

The truth is, NOT all lawns guzzle water!  That they do is a myth! 

Before you even think about putting spade to turf, here are some things to know.  

First, find out what kind of grass you already have. Is it a low water or high water type?  How to do this?   

Simply dig up a little clump.  Take it to a reputable nursery.  Seek out an experienced staffer who knows more about grass than that it’s green.    That person can usually tell you about your existing grass.  One of my favorite nurseries is Armstrong.  Most of their staff are knowledgeable and anxious to help.  And if one staffer is unable to answer your questions, she will bring you another staffer who can. 

If you have a low water grass, find out how properly to maintain it.  Have you been overwatering?  Overwatering can damage roots and turn your grass yellow or kill it.  If you are lucky to have a low water grass, take care of it properly. A lush green feeling beneath your feet will be your reward. 

Knowing what your existing low water grass needs can save you a bundle: the cost of labor to get rid of your lawn and preparing the soil, the cost of decomposed granite or pebbles, the cost of new plants, soil amendment, compost and the cost of installation.  

But suppose you have a high water grass, one of the guzzlers.  And suppose you don’t like decomposed granite and desert plants.  You can, as we say at Green Rosette, still save money, save water and look good doing it.  

One way is to consider a drought tolerant grass.  Yes, there are a few.  You’ll lower your water bills, you won’t have to pay someone to mow it except occasionally and you’ll still have green grass for your kids, dogs, and yourself.  

Here are a few drought tolerant grasses: 

UC Verde Buffalo grass is at the top of my list for southern California.   Developed at the University of California, it is, in my view, a great choice for southern Californians.  Make sure you ask for the UC Verde variety. 

It’s said to require about 70-80%% less water than most other lawn grasses.  It’s soft to the touch and can be mowed or not (see photos left), depending upon whether you prefer a manicured or meadow-like look.  If you decide to mow, you’ll only have to do so occasionally, because this grass grows slowly.

Like many lawn grasses, Buffalo grass goes dormant in the summer, when it turns somewhat brown or yellow, but it’ll green up as the season changes. 

It takes some traffic, though I wouldn’t let the kids play football on it. 

Oh, and it loves the sun. 

At this time it only comes in plugs.  It be found at or ordered from Armstrong Nurseries, FloraSource Ltd and Todd Valley Farms and perhaps a few other local nurseries. 

You might already have Bermuda grass, especially if you have an older lawn.

It loves sun. According to my research, Bermuda grass can go several months without water.  During that time its color will pale and might go yellow.  But once watered, it is easily revived. So in this sense it is drought tolerant.  A dense grass, it’s often used on golf putting greens.  Bermuda grass also goes dormant in summer, when it pales and turns yellow. 

Zoysia grasses come from Asia. They produce a lush carpet that tolerates traffic.  They can be mowed like a conventional lawn. Unmowed (photo left), they grow into a kind of mounded lawn that many people like.  You will see some lawns like this in Mar Vista. 

Zoysia grass is extremely drought tolerant and likes warm weather.    In extremely dry conditions, it turns straw colored but responds to watering.  A note of caution:  Some varies are high maintenance.  All Zoysias are vulnerable to thatch buildup. That said, a variety that grows well in southern California is Zoysia tenuifolia.   

Some mixed seed grasses used in California are said to be drought tolerant. Some claim to be green year round.  

Some of these are Pearl’s Premium, Bluestems’ Enviro-Turf and Wildflower Farm’s Eco Lawn.  If your nursery doesn’t have them, the nursery can order them for you.  Or you can buy them over the internet.  Just google the names as I listed them. 

To sum up, you don’t necessarily have to rip out your lawn.  But if you tear it out, and don’t like that Spartan desert look, drought tolerant grass can save you money, save you water and give you a beautiful green lawn! 

● Next Thursday: Green Rossette covers lawn altermatives.


(Rickie Avrutin is a sustainable garden consultant, a conservation columnist and the Executive Director at Green Rosette. She can be reached at [email protected]





Vol 13 Issue 50

Pub: Jun 19, 2015