Issue: January 18, 2003

Lawn

Question:

I plan to plant a new lawn this spring. At previous houses I owned, I planted blue grass because I like the color and texture. Obviously, bluegrass requires more water than other grasses. Is there another grass or grass mix you can recommend for this area that might have a similar appearance to bluegrass but requires less water? I have installed a sprinkling system so I will have water, but I would like to minimize the watering requirements. My soil is very sandy, though I plan on treating the soil with peat and possibly manure.

Alan B. Farmington, NM

Answer:

"Reville" Texas bluegrass is similar to Kentucky bluegrass but requires less water. There are other cool season grasses that will have similar appearance to Kentucky bluegrass. "Turtle turf" and lawn-type fescues are other options. Each uses less water than Kentucky bluegrass but more than a warm season grass.

Warm season grasses often do not have the appearance of bluegrass but can be attractive. These are the most water efficient grasses. They use less water during their growing season and much less water during their shorter growing season.

Your local Cooperative Extension Service agent can give you detailed information regarding the best grasses for your county.

Your plan to amend the soil with organic matter is wise; however, there are some things to consider. Manures are often very salty and can damage germinating seeds. Composted manure is okay. Much of what is called "aged manure" has just been left in piles that were not turned or irrigated so they retain their salts. True composting will involve turning, addition of water, and usually other organic material. Use manure that has been properly composted.

Organic matter, whether composted manure or other compost, increases the soil's water-holding capacity and slowly releases nutrients that benefit the grass. The increased water-holding capacity increases the efficiency of irrigation by reducing the frequency of irrigation. The greatest evaporative loss of water with traditional sprinkler irrigation occurs during irrigation. That means that a soil that holds more water and can be irrigated less frequently can be watered more efficiently.

Another important consideration is that the soil be loosened as deeply as possible. Lawns planted near structures are often plagued with compacted soil that interferes with root penetration and water infiltration. When you incorporate the organic matter, you will be loosening the soil, so do this as deeply as your rototiller or spade will allow.

It is good to see people considering use of more water efficient grasses and proper soil preparation to conserve water. This will result in a more attractive lawn that requires less intervention on the part of the gardener to solve problems in the future.

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Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or at https://www.facebook.com/DesertBloomsNM/. Please include your county Extension Agent (aces.nmsu.edu/county) and your county of residence with your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.