Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Low Maintenance Lawns

University of Texas researchers have been testing out grasses hoping to find one that’s easy to grow and less work to maintain. 

Although we don't grow these types of grasses here in Ontario, it's good to know that someone is working on grasses that will use less of our limited resources.

Story from Terri Gruca / KVUE News

Our recent rains have been a welcome relief to our yards. However the drought may have already destroyed some of our lawns.
It’s why for the last year and a half University of Texas researchers have been testing out grasses hoping to find one that’s easy to grow and less work to maintain.
It may make you wonder how homeowner Bobby Schreiber did it.
"Our lawn stayed green all through this drought, this brutal summer we've had here," he said.
Schreiber considers himself a self taught lawn expert. He says he learned his lesson after years of watching the St. Augustine grass struggle.
"With St. Augustine the biggest problem is probably the afternoon sun beating down on this," he said.
So this year he planted Zoysia grass. He said it’s more expensive but it still looks fabulous.
It turns out St. Augustine, which many homeowners have in their yard is actually more susceptible to pests and disease and like most lawns requires a lot of water.
"They use between 30 and 60 percent of the urban water around the country,” says UT researcher Mark Simmons.
It is why Simmons is so excited about the research he’s doing at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
“Being a Brit I love my lawn. I had to mow it once a month, so I’ve been thinking about this a long time,” said Simmons.
UT researchers received a two year grant from Wal-Mart to test seven native species of grass.
The idea is to find a lawn that requires less maintenance.
"With a native grass with these native grasses you can effectively let them go dormant, drought dormant," said Simmons.
So far that’s exactly what researchers have found. A lack of water won’t kill these native grasses. Like Bermuda grass they’re easy to grow, but they are less susceptible to weeds and require less mowing.          
"These were mowed two to three weeks ago,” Simmons said pointing to two plots of grass sitting side-by-side. “And you can already see the Bermuda grass is much higher now. It's coming up about twice the height of the native turf grasses."
And there’s another benefit to using native grasses.
"It's actually a much more pleasant texture to sit on and walk on," said Simmons.
 The research comes at a critical time. The drought provided the best real world test and these grasses appeared to pass with flying colors.
"If something like this means a reduction in gasoline from lawn mowers, reduction in pesticides, reduction in fertilizers, then we know we're doing the planet a favor," said Simmons.
The Best Grass
According to Simmons the native grasses so far seem to be a mixture of Buffalo grassBlue Grama and Curly Mesquite grass. They are all currently commercially available, which means you can plant them in your own yard.
You can find more information about those grasses and the UT native lawn program here.