Establishing A Native Grass Lawn
Excerpted from: Native Grasses: Are They Right for Your Lawn?
Are native grasses right for your lawn?
Native plants are those that are original to an area whether it be in an immediate area or even a broader
scope such as original to a state, country, or continent. Native plants species are indigenous to a region
at the time of European settlement.
When the settlers first made their way westward from the founding colonies, they were greeted with a
wide expanse of native grasses across the plains and prairies. Gorgeous, unadulterated acres that
rustled in the breeze and protected the underlying soil from erosion and degradation. Having evolved
in the Americas, they needed no watering or fertilizing to thrive.
The types of native grasses available are divided into two classes, warm-season varieties or cool-season
varieties. Within those two classes are both ornamental grasses and varieties suitable for turf.
Warm-season and cool-season grasses differ in their photosynthetic pathways, demanding slightly
different growing conditions. Hence it’s important to understand the different types if you are choosing
a native grass for your landscape.
Need a minimum air temperature of 60 to 65℉ and soil temps of 50℉ for growth to begin.
Produce most of their biomass in the hottest months of July to September.
Optimum biomass production when average temps are 85 F to 95 F.
Have a greater photosynthesis rate at higher temps to better utilize nitrogen and phosphorus.
Better adapted to high-stress situations such as drought, high temperatures, and high
oxygen/low carbon dioxide concentrations.
Go dormant and turn brown in areas with a cold winter.
Need a minimum air temperature of 40 to 42℉ for active shoot growth.
The plants produce most of their biomass in the spring and late fall in cooler air and soil
Optimum biomass production when average temps are 65 to 75℉.
Require more water to stay green in a hot summer.
We are all familiar with the standard concept of turf grass, the sod-forming types that spread by runners
above and below ground. This is the typical grass used for home lawns. Some native grasses form sod,
but most are “bunch type” grasses, which grow
in separate clumps. A few of the bunch types can be planted so closely together that they form a turf-like
surface, but most like a little elbow room. That means most native grasses are ornamental — they make
your landscape look good with very little maintenance, but they’re not a turf substitute.
Others are prairie grasses meant to grow tall.
Most native grasses are ornamental — they make your landscape look good with very little maintenance,
but they’re not a turf substitute.
Native grasses have some advantageous reasons for including them in your yard, but they also present
some very distinct disadvantages.
Consume less water, more drought resistant.
More hardy than developed species.
Increased resistance to pests, insects, and diseases.
Encourages animal biodiversity and wildlife habitats in open areas.
Significantly fewer weeds due to increased leaf density.
Sequesters carbon dioxide from global warming.
More native ornamental grasses than turf species.
Takes more effort at first, as sod-type native grasses are harder to establish as a lawn.
May not look as green and uniform as a “traditional” lawn from nonnative turf grass species.
While there are many types of native grasses available, not all of them are the best type to use to establish a lawn. Shortgrass does better than tallgrass if you are
looking to have a lawn that is kept mowed.
Choose whether you want to seed your lawn with a single native grass, or a blend of several. The increased demand for natural plants has spurred amazing
research and development of new native blends that work well for creating lawns.
Blue grama, Bouteloua gracilis
Buffalograss, Bouteloua dactyloides
Fox Sedge, Carex vulpinoidea
Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula
Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
Wisconsin Native Berry Shrubs
Lovely Native Violets
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