- Author: Dustin Blakey
If you've been trying to maintain a lawn in the Owens Valley and you've had issues with access to irrigation, then you may have noticed that while you still may have turf, it looks a bit different than before the drought.
There's a saying among gardeners in The South that it doesn't matter what you plant, you get Bermudagrass. Fifteen years of pulling it out of my garden and landscape in Arkansas confirms this. For better or worse, this wisdom may apply to some lawns in the Owens Valley.
If you have any Bermudagrass present in your lawn, for the past week or two it has been greening up from its winter dormancy and is noticeable now. In my dead bluegrass/fescue/ryegrass lawn small, discrete patches of Bermuda are popping up everywhere.
Reductions in irrigation to lawns as well as dry conditions in winter may have injured or killed cool-season turf species in lawns like mine. I've noticed in my neighborhood that many yards that were lush with cool-season grasses are now home to Bermudagrass. Why is that?
The reasons we see warm-season species like Bermudagrass now are:
- Warm-season grasses are dormant in winter and need no care or water so they persist
- These grasses require full sun and decline of the cool-season grasses in lawns has increased access to light by Bermudagrass; when these grasses get water and light, and it's warm out, they grow quickly
- There is less competition with other grass species injured by drought
- Bermudagrass is drought tolerant and uses less water than fescue or bluegrass
- It was probably already there, just less prominent.
If you now are looking at a weak, but mostly Bermuda lawn, you have have to decide either to embrace it—after all it's green in summer and easy to grow—or re-establish a cool-season mixture of grasses.
If you decide to keep it, as long as there is about 1 green sprig for every couple feet, it can fill in during the season if you give it ample water and nitrogen fertilizer while the weather is warm. Bare spots can be seeded beginning in April with seed, but try to avoid using Arizona Common since it isn't very cold-hardy. Bermudagrass only grows in bright light so it will never really take off in the shade. Save your money trying to get it to grow under trees; you'll need cool-season lawn there.
For those of you wishing to re-establish a clean stand of cool-season turf, you need to seed either now or in late August through early September. Maybe both. If you have the means to maintain soil moisture both late and early season that will help it to compete. Fertilizing in cooler weather discourages uptake by Bermudagrass and favors the cool-season grasses, but don't overdo it. You might wish to use a herbicide to kill off the Bermuda before seeding if you really don't want to have it. (Note: you'll probably still have it.)
The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns has information on renovating turf here.
Probably the easiest course of action if you aren't fussy about which type of turf you have is to put out a mixture of cool-season turfgrasses before it gets too hot, irrigate as best you can, and not worry if you have Bermudagrass growing in the lawn. It's tough and will do well where the cool-season grasses struggle to survive. This is the "at least it's green" method. Hopefully you'll choke out some weeds in the process.
No matter what route you take, expect weeds to be more of a problem than usual if your lawn isn't in great shape. Weeds love bare ground and weak turf. If you don't do anything, expect a good crop of crabgrass and broadleaf weeds.
Of course you can remove the lawn and go with a different type of landscape, but that's a different article altogether.
It's now been more than three months since I wrote the “Test of the Removal of Lawn
and Use of Newspaper to Eliminate Remaining Grass” - published June 3, 2015 - so an update is long overdue. As the summer and growing seasons end I can report that the test has been an unqualified success.
Very little grass has grown into the new garden bed. None of the original grass that was once under the new bed has come through the newspaper barrier although a little managed to bridge across the open trench we left between our existing lawn and the new bed. Any sprouts that did show up posed little problem and were very easy to remove by hand.
The new bed proved extremely successful and produced prolific plant growth. We grew three plants that produced zucchinis by the boatload, some of which grew larger than a loaf of bread while were away on vacation. We also grew lots of cucumbers, two healthy basil plants, red peppers and a beautiful dahlia.
Since the use of newspapers has proved to be so successful in the elimination of grass we
are now considering expanding the existing area and/or doing another section in a
different location in our yard.
The following photographs were taken on August 20, 2015