Native Sods As Drought Solution

Posted on February 24, 2016 by  
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Native grassesThe longer the drought goes on, the more sense it makes to question lawns in our summer-dry climate.

Kids and dogs are often offered as reasons to plant these large, finicky monocultures, yet kids and dogs can have more fun playing in a diverse, interesting garden with nooks and crannies. If you must have a lawn, make it as small as possible.

You can get the look and feel of a greensward without the tedious maintenance and unending thirst of a Midwest-style lawn by using perennial native grasses. And if you’d also like an instant green carpet rather than waiting for seed or plugs to fill in, it is in fact possible to get native sod.

Jodie Sheffield, who heads research and development at Delta Bluegrass Co., talked to native-gardening enthusiasts and landscape professionals last year about the virtues of drought-tolerant lawns and the varieties of native sod currently available.

If you let a traditional lawn go brown all summer (or substitute hardscape), you lose the ecological benefits that living plants provide. For example, a living native lawn retains soil moisture and cools the air around it approximately 10 to 15 degrees, Sheffield said. It also produces oxygen, filters pollutants, traps sediments, prevents erosion and keeps down dust. Moreover, it provides food for birds and small mammals by supporting a healthy population of “insects, spiders and worms among the grass blades and under the soil surface,” she added.

Once established, the deeply rooted native sods can still use approximately 30 to 50 percent as much water as a traditional lawn. If you appreciate the aesthetic of a soft, billowy meadow, you can let the native grasses grow long and flop over, then go to seed.

Not only do unmowed grasses support more pollinators and birds, but they also offer a sense of seasonality and enable you to forgo the considerable emissions, noise and particulate pollution of mowers and edgers. Some of the grasses tolerate mowing as low as 2 inches high twice a month, but the more regularly and severely the grasses are sheared, the more water they will need.