What is Low Maintenance Turf?
Low maintenance turf functions as a typical lawn but is made up of species that require less water, fertilizers, pesticides, and mowing than Kentucky bluegrass. Most low maintenance lawns are a mix of fine and/or tall fescues, both cool season grasses that are shade and drought tolerant. The benefits of fescues include:
- Drought tolerant; they need less water to stay healthy and green.
- Less fertilizer; they prefer 0.5lb/1000 ft2, as opposed to 3 lb/1000 ft2 for Kentucky bluegrass.
- Slow growing, so less mowing; mowing is typically done once in mid-summer to remove seed heads and once in late fall for a healthy spring lawn (shorter grass overwinters better).
- Adaptable; many species, such as creeping red fescue, do well both in shade and full sun.
- Weed-suppressing; some fescues are bunch forming while others are creeping. Either way, fescues interlock to form a dense sod and prevent weeds from establishing, so pesticides aren’t needed. Some, such as tall fescue, are even allelopathic, meaning they produce natural herbicides to suppress the growth of other plants. Built in weed control!
|Where to use low maintenance turf||Where NOT to use low maintenance turf|
Note, some lawns may go dormant in summer with 1-2 weeks of 90⁰F, but they will green up again.
What species to look for
The fescues used in low maintenance lawns are often referred to as “low mow” or “no mow” grasses. Proprietary seed mixes usually include fine fescues like hard fescue, sheep fescue, chewings fescue, and creeping red fescue.
How to create a low maintenance lawn
Overseed a traditional lawn with low maintenance species
- Mow your lawn very short—1” or less. Rake or remove grass clippings to expose as much soil as possible.
- Aerating the lawn is recommended, but not required. It can be done with a shovel or machine, and helps improve seed to soil contact and create good conditions for seed germination and healthy growth.
- Spread fescue seed at a rate of 3 lbs / 1000 ft2. For best results, apply a very thin layer of compost (40 lbs / 200 ft2) over seed to improve seed to soil contact, and/or a thin layer of straw to limit erosion.
- Do not fertilize or water frequently, and the fine fescues will eventually out-compete the existing turf.
Build from the bottom up
- To start from a blank slate you must remove existing grass. A large area of bare soil is easily eroded by runoff, and provides fertile ground for weeds to easily grow. Herbicides are not recommended because of impacts to water quality. All methods have pros and cons. Below are alternatives to chemical removal:
- Sheet mulching uses cardboard to smother grass.
- A sod cutter is a non-chemical method that can cleanly remove grass and its roots—but is hard work, and you can lose a lot of organic matter.
- Solariziation is a non-chemical method that covers the area with plastic and using the sun and lack of water to kill grass. This uses a lot of plastic, takes time, plastic degrades and may release toxins, and is not practical on a large scale.
- For homeowners, 20% acetic acid or Phydura is an ecologically responsible alternative to glyphosate. It kills all vegetation but leaves roots for stabilization and reseeds easily.
- Optional: Aerate the area by removing cores of soil. This helps air, water and nutrients get to where they’re needed most.
- Reseed with mix of fine fescue at a rate of 6lbs / 1000 ft2
- Water daily for 10-15 minutes to maintain moisture for a week, then every other day for a week to encourage germination. Water deeply weekly, as roots establish, then ensure your yard receives at least 1” water a month from rain or irrigation to maintain green.
- Pull any weeds as they become apparent.
Maintenance and tips
- Mowing – If you mow, keep it at least 3” tall. Taller lawns shade the ground, preventing too much moisture from evaporating while also discouraging weed seeds from sprouting.
- When you seed from scratch you will have weeds, so you will need to weed and seed bare spots as it establishes.
- To maintain green throughout the growing season, your low maintenance lawn should receive 1” of water a month (as compared to 1” water per week for Kentucky bluegrass).