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Alternative Grasses

Alternative Grasses

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Turfgrass Overview

This guide is for turf type grasses that grow in the Salt Lake Valley in place of Kentucky bluegrass.

Kentucky bluegrass is a cool season grass that requires 25-35” of water annually, while the Salt Lake Valley receives an average of only 15” annually.

Alternative turf grasses offers a range of colors and textures to let you choose according to your preferences and site requirements. The two main grass categories are cool season and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses are green and growing during the cool parts of the growing season (spring and fall) and go dormant and dry during the hottest part of the summer.

If watered and occasionally fertilized, most cool season grasses remain green during the entire growing season. Warm season grasses are green and grow during the hottest part of the year (May to early Oct) and go dormant and brown when temperatures cool (spring, fall and winter). Warm and cool season grasses only tolerate high traffic during their respective growing seasons.

Turfgrass Species

Blue grama Bouteloua gracilis Warm season Sun Water 0.5” once every 12-14 days

Blue grama is a warm season Utah native grass that is blue green and soft-textured while actively growing. It is similar to Buffalograss in that it goes dormant (brown) during the cool parts of the year, so the primary complaint is the late greening-up.

It tolerates considerable traffic while actively growing, less while dormant. Blue grama survives on 10” annual precipitation and requires no additional irrigation, although light irrigation, every 12-14 days, keeps it greener in the summer. It can be mowed or left unmowed for a natural prairie look about 18” tall. Blue grama is a bunch grass and is easiest to start from seed once temperatures are above 85 degrees.

Buffalo grass Buchloe dactyloides Warm season Sun Water 0.5” once every 12-14 days

Buffalograss is a blue green warm season grass that is very soft while actively growing (late May through early October). Buffalograss goes dormant (brown) when temperatures drop (October to early May).

It tolerates considerable traffic when green, less when dormant. It requires no additional irrigation, although light irrigation, once every 12-14 days, will keep it greener in the summer months. This grass tolerates compacted soils and prefers clay soils.

Buffalograss can be mowed at 2-4” or left to its natural height of 4-6”. It spreads by runners and can be grown from seed, sod, or plugs. When starting from seed, wait until end of May or when temperatures reach 75 degrees.

Crested Wheatgrass Agropyron cristatum Cool season Sun to part shade Water 0.5” once every 7 days or less if needed

Crested Wheatgrass is a drought tolerant, cool season bunchgrass that prefers going dormant during hot, dry periods. It survives very well on 12- 16” of precipitation and competes poorly with other plants on moister sites.

It forms a thick dense sod once established, that does well without irrigation. Keep grass mowed to a height of 3 inches or above to produce a nice green sod during its growing season (fall and spring). Seeds germinate easily at a wide range of temperatures and quickly form fibrous roots, that grow to depths of 3 to 8 feet deep at maturity.

Fescue varieties Festuca species, Turf-type tall fescue Cool sun to part shade Water 0.75” once every 7 days

Many types of fescues are used in conjunction with or as substitute look-alikes for Kentucky bluegrass, such as turf-type tall fescue (F. arundinacea; some example varieties are ‘Bonsai’ and ‘Lion’). Fescues tolerate shade and recover well after drought.

The types of fescues used for sod, are fine-textured, cool season bunchgrasses. They are cold hardy and retain most of their green color through winter. If mowed, cut no shorter than 3” to ensure high disease resistance and weed control; cutting lower causes clumps to die and stresses the sod. Some if left un-mowed, form a soft carpet with a natural prairie look. Fescue varieties grow slowly in moderately heavy clay soils and require between 24-30” of precipitation annually.

Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula Warm season Sun to part shade Water 0.5” once every 12-14 days

Sideoats grama is a warm season Utah native grass that is gray green in color. It survives with as little as 8” of rainfall a year, however, supplemental watering once a month during hot summers will keep the grass more attractive.

Unmowed, it grows to 24”, for a natural prairie look. Mowed at 3” or above, it forms a bunchgrass sod, spreading by tillers. Sideoats grama tolerates dry, drought conditions and grows in any soil type. Sideoats grama is a long-lived, fine textured perennial adapted to rocky slopes, dry areas, and alkaline conditions.

Seed once the soil has warmed to give an excellent stand. This warm season grass is green in at the same time as Blue Grama and does not tolerate high traffic while dormant.

Turtleturf Koeleria species Cool season Sun to part shade Water 1.0” once every 7 days

Turtleturf is a cool season, shade tolerant, bunch grass that is slower growing than Kentucky bluegrass, requiring less maintenance and less fertilizer.

Turtleturf is a relatively new grass and water needs for growing it in the Salt Lake area are under evaluation; a preliminary estimate puts it water needs close to the Fescues. It is not recommended for high traffic areas.

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