Best Type of Lawn for High Desert, CA

kendog2March 29, 2009

I need some advice on what type of lawn seed to plant in our back yard. We live in the high desert area of Southern California (zone 8). The average summer temperature is 99 degrees. Our soil is sandy. I would like to plant KBG because I prefer a thin-bladed attractive lawn. We have children so the lawn needs to be somewhat hardy. I understand that KGB needs a lot of water. Is there another type or mix that would be better for this climate? Where is the best place to purchase seed?

I had hoped to plant by the end of April so we can enjoy a green lawn this summer but from what I have read on this forum, it sounds like it would be better to wait until the fall. If I plant it now and some of the grass is lost this summer, will this affect the quality of my lawn forever? Can't I just re-seed in the fall?

I have tried to search the forum for the best type of lawn seed and how to plant it but most posts seem to apply to other parts of the country. Can anyone advise on how to find relevant information for my area? Thanks so much!

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

kendog, take a look around. The population in the surrounding 1,000 square miles is especially sparse. That's why there is so little written about your area. However, I want to give you a hearty CONGRATULATIONS for doing the research. It is not uncommon to find people posting the same questions in the afternoon that were posted in the morning.

I grew up in Riverside and my parents bought property in Apple Valley before moving out into Palm Desert. I still have family in Riverside and some in Hemet, so I get out there regularly. I am seeing a lot of fescue used in the new construction. The problem with fescue in the desert heat is it really does need a lot of water. KBG might be similar but I rarely see it used. If you like fine bladed grass your choices are fescue, KBG, bermuda, and zoysia. Fescue and KBG will remain green all year except in extreme cold years. Bermuda and zoysia will turn brown (dormant) in the winter. If you want to water every week you might be able to keep either zoysia or bermuda green much longer. During some mild winters it might stay green all winter (with weekly water).

Seeding for fescue and KBG is best done in the fall. Second best time is now. Seeding for bermuda is done in the hottest heat of summer. The better zoysia varieties are only available as plugs or sod. Any sod can be laid any time of year if you can find it.

Fescue is a bunch type grass which means that each plant is all you get. It spreads at a glacially slow rate. All the rest mentioned are sod forming grasses which spread like a carpet. Zoysia spreads the slowest and is most sensitive to wear. Between children and zoysia, the children usually win and the grass loses.

KBG sounds like a good match for you, if it will grow. I'd try it and see what happens. You can't permanently hurt anything by seeding now. You might get some weeds but you can deal with that later.

The problem with seeding now is that now is the time crabgrass seed is looking for the right conditions to sprout. Guess what? Crabgrass and grass seed are looking for the same conditions. Those are full sun and frequent watering. KBG is one of the slowest seeds to germinate so that extra long time gives all the weed seeds a good long chance to get a head start. That's why seeding in the fall works so much better. Another problem with seeding now is the roots do not have much time to grow deep. Deep roots are more resistant to drought and to the heat of summer. You will find you need to water a little more this summer than you will ever have to water again.

Good grass seed can be expensive. The clean seed growers know what they have and charge extra for the high quality. Poor grass seed has weed seed in it. It does not take very much bermuda grass seed in the mix before you have a big mess. Bermuda grass seed is the size of dust so you have to read the bag. Look at the analysis. It should say, "Other crop - 0.00%" and "Weed seed - 0.00%." Here is an article on seed selections, written by Bestlawn (a former GW member known for her expertise in KBG). I would use the Colorado recommendations for your area.


  1. Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means at least an hour in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than weekly during the hottest part of summer. If your grass looks dry before the month/week is up, water longer next time. Deep watering grows deep, drought resistant roots. Infrequent watering allows the top layer of soil to dry completely which kills off many shallow rooted weeds.

  1. Mulch mow at the highest setting on your mower. Most grasses are the most dense when mowed tall. Bermuda, centipede, and bent grasses are the most dense when mowed at the lowest setting on your mower. Dense grass shades out weeds and uses less water when tall. Dense grass feeds the deep roots you're developing in 1 above.
  1. Fertilize regularly. I fertilize 5 times per year using organic fertilizer. Which fertilizer you use is much less important than numbers 1 and 2 above.
    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 2:53PM
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Thank you for your very helpful advice. I know another reason not much is written about lawns in the high desert. Most people here don't bother to landscape at all! IMHO a house without landscaping doesn't look like a home.

I know Kentucky Blue Grass will grow here because my brother-in-law put some in his back yard. It looked great. I think I will heed your warning about the crab grass and wait until fall to plant the lawn. My brother-in-law is re-doing his lawn this year because it has crab grass. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 9:08PM
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Your BIL is redoing his lawn because it has crabgrass?!

Wow. That's a bit extreme. Crabgrass is just a summer annual that dies off and disappears after a few months.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 1:26PM
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