Wheatgrass lawn?

sunnierJuly 12, 2010

We have a small lot with a couple of areas about 20' x 20' where we would like to put in lawn. We prefer to have something low-maintenance and with low water requirements, and having looked at various resources, I was considering using a combination of wheatgrass and clover. I had been considering using Fairway and/or Ephraim wheatgrass, but having read a bunch of posts by bpgreen, I am now also considering using Streambank and Western wheatgrass. I haven't been able to find any information on this board regarding Fairway wheatgrass, but maybe someone can help me compare these, and hopefully advise me about the suitability for my lawn areas.

I am in northern Idaho, zone 6, where we get 24"-27" of annual precipitation. Quite a bit of that is usually snow, and there is basically no precipitation in July and August. One of the hopeful lawn areas is a pretty significant slope (about 1' drop for every 3'), and has previously been covered with landscape fabric and bark. The other area was previously gravel, and we are putting topsoil in here on which to plant.

I had thought that we would need to really break up the soil on the slope in order to plant, but I have seen in some posts that tilling is not recommended. Do I just rake it a bit to loosen it, and that's good enough? I also see from bpgreen that these grasses do well with dormant seeding, which sounds like a great way to go.

The grass is intended to be play areas for our kids, so it would need to tolerate quite a bit of traffic, and would hopefully establish pretty quickly so that they could use it next summer. Would some types of wheatgrass, along with clover, be appropriate for our lawn here? If not, do you have other recommendations? What is the best preparation and planting method, particularly for the slope? Any advice and guidance offered would be greatly appreciated, as we have never planted a lawn before.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Fairway and Ephraim are improved varieties of crested wheatgrass. Crested wheatgrass is not native to North America, but is well adapted to the the arid/semi arid areas of the intermountain west. Crested wheatgrass comes from Siberia originally and was introduced to North America in the early 20th century. Older varieties are bunch grasses, but improved varieties such as Fairway and Ephraim spread by rhizomes (although you may need to water a little to get the spreading to occur)

Western and Streambank wheatgrass are native to the area and both are rhizomatous.

Western wheatgrass is more difficult to establish and looks less like a lawn grass than the other options because it is almost blue in color and has slightly wider blades. The advantage it has is that it develops really deep roots and stays green much longer.

Crested wheatgrass is probably the fastest and easiest to establish and streambank wheatgrass falls somewhere between the other two.

If it's going to be a play area for kids, I'd be a little wary of clover for two reasons. For one thing, it will attract bees. For another, it can stain clothes. If you decide to use it, you may want to use Palestine strawberry clover. Strawberry clover is similar to Dutch White clover in appearance and growth (the flowers have a slight strawberry shade to them). It does better in alkaline soils than DWC, but isn't as drought tolerant (but Palestine is the most drought tolerant of the strawberry clovers).

I wouldn't till, especially on the slope, where it may cause erosion. If you can water to establish the seed, you could plant right after the heat breaks. Depending on your first frost, that may be pushing it for the western wheatgrass, but the crested and streambank germinate faster. I'd water for three weeks (adjusting for rain) even if you see germination before that. You'll want to try to keep the surface moist the whole time if possible.

One option might be to get a little crested and streambank wheatgrass down to hold the soil in place, then do a dormant seeding with all three. Or you may opt to skip the western wheatgrass altogether. The crested and streambank wheatgrass probably look more like traditional lawn grasses than the western wheatgrass does.

If your precipitation patterns are like ours (and it sounds like they are), if you don't water at all, your lawn will likely go domrant in mid to late July and spring back in September. Last year, I watered three times. So far this year, I've watered once. I'll probably water again toward the end of July (unless we get some rain before then) and then once in August. My lawn stays mostly green if I water it three times a summer. I'm hoping that as the grass matures, I may be able to cut back to two times a summer, but that may be wishful thinking.

Once you get these grasses established, you'll want to make sure you don't overwater them. You don't have to get as extreme as I have with water, but I wouldn't water more than every other week or they'll probably suffer and maybe even die. They can withstand the spring and fall water they'll get from nature, but really do best when they don't get too much.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 7:41PM
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Thank you so much for your help. So you would recommend starting the grasses in maybe late August with irrigation? Our first frost is usually late September/early October, so I haven't quite been able to figure out when to plant to start after the heat but in enough time to establish before frost.

Do I need to do anything to prep the slope for planting? Do I rake it up a bit, or just toss the seeds out on it as-is, with maybe a little compost? Also, do you have any tips about how to water the seeds there without washing them down the hill?

Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 10:32AM
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I don't know what to do about the slope. I'd probably rake it a bit to disturb the soil slightly, then spread the seed and cover lightly with compost or something along those lines. I'd water VERY lightly to avoid washing down the hill.

The crested wheatgrass will sprout faster than the streambank wheatgrass. Both will probably have enough time to sprout and barely get started before a frost. I wouldn't try the western wheatgrass with that short a window because it takes longer to get started. I think if I were in your shoes, I'd use about half the seeds for the fall seeding and do the rest using a dormant seeding approach.

One thing I forgot to mention earlier is that you will probably not need to fertilize these, especially if you include clover in the mix. If you do fertilize, don't use more than about 1/2 lb of actual N per 1000 sq ft per year (KBG uses 3-4 lbs per 100 sq ft per year in 3-4 applications).

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 11:12AM
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Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience! I will certainly be using your advice.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 4:14PM
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Keep us posted on how it turns out.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 7:23PM
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