Saturday, August 8, 2015 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Drought Tolerant Turfgrass

Choose the right grass for your specific lawn needs

Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener | Posted:

Saturday, August 8, 2015 12:00 am

Q. I don’t have a sprinkler system, and my lawn is mostly sunny. What lawn grass can survive with the least amount of water? Bobby, Sand Springs

A. The turfgrass grown in Oklahoma that is most drought-tolerant is buffalograss, a native prairie grass, a grass that fed the herds of buffalo and was used by settlers to make the “sod” of sod roofs.

Oklahoma sits in a transition zone between warm-season and cool-season grasses. Our warm-season grasses are Bermuda, zoysia and buffalograss. The cool-season grasses are tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. These groups of grasses are named after the season in which they grow best. Warm-season grasses love hot summer; cool-season ones do best in spring and fall.

All turfgrass, like most plants, needs water to survive. However, the warm-season grasses generally can perform well on about half the amount of water needed by cool-season ones.

In summer, most of the cool-season grasses will die of heat and disease without irrigation. However, established warm-season grasses will simply turn brown and go into a protective summer dormancy when hot and dry. During this dormancy, if water becomes available, they usually green up and survive. They also predictably turn brown and go into a protective winter dormancy when cold weather arrives.

Of the warm-season grasses, buffalograss seems to be the best choice for a full-sun area with limited irrigation. Zoysia and Bermuda are the next most drought tolerant.

Native buffalograss can make an attractive lawn but is a little less appealing than the others. It has a blue-green tint, not deep green. The grass requires much less mowing, and some people don’t mow it at all, allowing it to grow to mature height of 4-8 inches, depending on the cultivar. However, mowing will stimulate deeper roots and above-ground spread by stolons.

Buffalograss also requires less fertilizer than other turfgrasses. Because it is a native prairie grass, it can do well with no fertilizer; however, it will look better with some fertilization.

Local sod farms have cultivars of buffalograss that are more attractive as a lawn than the native species. The cultivars are greener, shorter growing and more dense.

The grass can be established using sod, plugs or seeds. Most of the sod sold is composed of female plants — the males have undesirable tall seed heads. The seeds sold are actually small burs and are somewhat difficult to use. They also contain undesirable male plants.

On balance, some people will find buffalograss to be a good choice for dry areas, and after successful establishment, the need for less maintenance is a big appeal.

Garden tips
Fertilization of warm-season grasses can continue if water is present for growth. Do not fertilize Bermuda or zoysia lawns after the end of August. Do not fertilize fescue lawns until it cools off in September.

Establishment of warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and zoysia by sodding or sprigging should be completed by the end of July to ensure the least risk of winter kill.
Mowing heights for cool-season turf grasses should be at 3 inches during hot, dry summer months. Gradually raise mowing height of Bermudagrass lawns from 1½ to 2 inches.

Cucumbers may be bitter this time of year and vines quit producing. This is due to the heat. If you are able to get the vines through the summer, after it cools, they will be fertile again and the taste of the cucumbers will improve.


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