Photo courtesy of UC Verde Buffalo Grass
I’ve just started another chapter in my on-going quest to find lawn alternatives that look good, can handle foot traffic and are more environmentally sound than the fescue lawns that plaster California. Remember my chamomile lawn that last year morphed into a Carex pansa lawn? Well guess what? It’s now home to 128 rapidly expanding UC Verde grass plugs.
When Tom Engelman from the GrassRoots Program, a non-profit website that promotes environmentally friendly lawn alternatives in California recently called me about UC Verde grass, I immediately volunteered my little front yard garden as a test spot. Florasource, the distributor for the grass, kindly provided me with a flat of plugs, and I got busy planting.
Some quick facts:
- UC Verde (Buchloe Dactyloides) is a bunch grass developed by the University of California.
- It spreads via stolons, forming clumps that ultimately grow into a lawn.
- It requires 50 to 70% less water than traditional fescue lawns.
- Left unmowed, it grows into a meadow about 6” high – otherwise, mow every three to six weeks for a lawn effect.
- Low pollen count makes it better for allergy sufferers (my blogger friend VW has drilled the importance of this one into my head!)
I planted the plugs two weeks ago and I cannot believe how quickly they are growing. The stolons (the little side blades that are shooting out) are easily twice the length they were a week ago.
This is a warm season grass, so the fact that the temperature was over 100 degrees most of last week actually helped get it started. I planted my plugs 6” apart since the flat was more than I needed for my tiny yard, but recommended spacing is 12” to 18”. The grass takes anywhere from two to five months to fill in, depending mostly on the temperature - the hotter the better - and also on how far apart the plugs are. I expect mine to be filled in by September. One of the things I like best about this grass is that unlike virtually every other plant, my hotter inland climate means this grass will perform better here than for those closer to the coast - In your face, Berkeley!
Because it spreads by stolons, it won’t stay tucked inside its bender board frame, but will simply hop over the top of the barrier. Yesterday my contractor and I sheet mulched around the edges as an experiment to see if this might discourage the stolons from moving outside of their designated area. Otherwise, some edging will be required if I want to keep a tidy border.
Sheet mulching in progress. Contractor commented "boy, you sure like doing Sudokus!" You'd be amazed what your recycling reveals about you.
Tom sent me these photos from his Santa Monica garden so you can see what the grass looks like when it's farther along:
Plugs at four weeks
Lawn unmowed after only nine weeks spaced 18" apart
Lawn after mowing
And now for the fly in the ointment. As this is a warm season grass, it will go completely dormant in the winter. To me, that’s a small price to pay in exchange for the water savings and greatly reduced mowing schedule. Plus the more I think about it,the more I think the better way to look at it is to view this seasonal change not as a negative to be overcome, but rather as a truer reflection of California’s natural beauty. After all, winter rains turn the hills that surround my home in the East Bay a brilliant green that gradually gives way to summer's glowing, golden slopes, artistically dotted with majestic oaks. My new lawn will do the same; it will just be on a different time schedule.
When it comes to lawn alternatives, here’s hoping the third time’s the charm.
7/30/09 Update: It's been a week since I wrote this post and the grass has grown noticeably. So far, so good.