Issue: June 13, 2001


Lawn grass

Question:

I need information on recommended "turf grass". I will use private well water from a shallow aquifer of the Rio Puerco near Cuba, NM. I heard that Blue Grass takes too much water. I want a grass that has a good appearance, low maintenance, and good ground coverage (sod). Someone told me about "Fescue", either tall or red fescue. Please help. I am hoping for summer rains to help with seedling establishment.

Answer:

It is important to consider the function of the grass when choosing a lawn grass. You provided some of this information, but there are other considerations. Is the purpose aesthetics? Soil stabilization? Athletic use (children and pets)? It is also important to consider the water available and to determine whether or not you have enough water to support the desired function of the lawn.

Athletic uses, play areas for children and runs for dogs will have the highest water needs. It will be important for them to grow rapidly to recover from damage which occurs during use. However, most home "athletic" uses don't require large acreage so only a small portion of the landscape should be used to grow these grasses. Outside the heavy use areas, lower water demand grasses (slower growing) may be used. If the function of the grass is only aesthetics and/or soil stabilization, you can use the lower water demand grasses.

Kentucky bluegrass does have a high water requirement. However, most people overwater bluegrass because the planting site was not properly prepared. Fescue can get by on a little less water than Kentucky bluegrass if the planting site is prepared to allow deep root development. Buffalograss and blue grama grass have even lower water needs, but again good site preparation is essential. There are some newer grasses (Texas bluegrass and Turtle turf) that are intermediate in water needs.

It is also possible to use other native grasses in the less manicured areas. They will be well adapted to low levels of irrigation and will look pretty good from a distance. They may be mowed a few times a summer to keep them shorter, or they may be allowed to grow and set seed. In all cases manicured lawn or native grass areas, good soil preparation makes a lot of difference.

The soil should be prepared by plowing or rototilling deeply to loosen the soil. Soil is compacted near homes by trucks and other building equipment which had been driven over the site. This compaction must be eliminated. Addition of organic matter in the form of compost (or manure only in the fall) helps grass seedlings to establish and helps keep the soil open. Peat moss or other materials may be used, but they are more expensive. The addition of organic matter will increase the effectiveness of monsoonal moisture in helping establish the seedlings. Don't trust the rains for seedling establishment. They may help, but they may also be too infrequent for successful grass establishment. Be prepared to irrigate briefly several times a day when the seeds are first germinating (skipping an irrigation or two if it rains). The soil must not dry once the seeds have begun to germinate. Later, as the seedlings begin to develop and there is good coverage of the site by seedlings, the frequency of irrigation can decrease and the duration of each irrigation can increase to moisten the soil more deeply to encourage deep root development.

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Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

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