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Establishing A Native Grass Lawn

Excerted from: Native Grasses: Are They Right for Your Lawn?

Is native grass right for your lawn?

Native Grass Lawn Native plants are those that are original to an area whether it be 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.

Types of Native Grasses

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.

Gardening With Wisconsin Native Grasses provides a catalog of our native grasses including detailed descriptions and images.

Warm Season vs Cool Season Grasses

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.

Warm Season Grasses

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.

Cool Season Grasses

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 temperatures.

Optimum biomass production when average temps are 65 to 75℉.

Require more water to stay green in a hot summer.

Sod-Forming and Bunch-Type Native Grasses

We are all familiar with the standard concept of turfgrass, 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.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Native Grasses

Native grasses have some advantageous reasons for including them in your yard, but they also present some very distinct disadvantages.

Advantages

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.

Disdvantages

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 turfgrass species.

Types of Native Grasses Good for Lawns

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.

Suggested Grasses:

Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
Buffalograss, Bouteloua dactyloides
Fox Sedge, Carex vulpinoidea
Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula

Further Information

The Life Cycle of Plants: Fertilization
Is Clover Good For Lawns?
Pollination and Fertilization
4 Ways To Use Eggshells For Your Plants
10 Ways to Use Banana Peels in Your Garden