Many homeowners would like a turf grass lawn, but might feel irresponsible watering a lawn in the arid Southwest. The key to choosing a turf grass is to determine the one most suited to the specific needs of your landscape.
There are two different categories of turf grasses: cool season and warm season. Cool season grasses are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue. These are cold tolerant, green most of the year, and hold up to extensive amounts of foot traffic. But they use a lot of water. Warm season grasses are Bermuda grass, blue grama, and buffalo grass. Warm season grasses have a shorter growing season. This means they green up in mid Spring, are low maintenance, and require less water than cool season grasses. But blue grama and buffalo grass can’t take extensive foot traffic.
Grasses should not be selected solely on perceived water use. Depending on the purpose and function of the turf area, traffic tolerance, recuperative ability, maintenance and aesthetic appearance should also be considered.
Four Turf Grasses for Albuquerque
PARK BLEND: The most popular turf grass lawn here, used by the City of Albuquerque and homeowners alike, is Park Blend. Park Blend combines all the cool season grasses into a blend of Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass and tall fescue, taking advantage of the positive attributes of all three grasses in one turf. Park Blend performs beautifully through warm summers and is especially well-suited to New Mexico’s growing conditions. While it does need about 37″- 41″ inches of water a year, this is a great choice for a lawn that will receive a lot of traffic. It does require regular mowing and weed control.
BUFFALO GRASS: Choose warm season buffalo grass for a beautiful low growing, low water and low maintenance grass. It will handle light traffic, rarely requires mowing and uses around 24″ – 28″ inches of water a year.
BERMUDA GRASS: Bermuda grass is a great choice for a low water, low maintenance grass with medium foot traffic. The downside is that it does spread prolifically via runners. It is best to surround this grass with an 8-inch-wide and deep edger to keep it in check. Bermuda grass uses about 22 – 26 inches of water a year and requires a few mowings a year.
BLUE GRAMA GRASS: Choose blue grama grass for a stunning native meadow look. It can be seeded with wildflowers for a beautiful spring and summer appearance. Keep the eyelash like seed heads on the grass through the fall and winter for both aesthetics and wildlife appeal. This grass uses about 18 – 20 inches of water a year. Trim and dethatch once in late winter for best appearance.
PRO TIPS: prepare the soil well before planting turf grasses, water early in the morning or late evening, keep grasses to a mow height of 3-4″ so the soil stays cooler, service the irrigation system regularly to check for efficiency.
Author: Jill Brown, ASLA Landscape Architect and owner of My Landscape Coach in Albuquerque, NM. Resources: Turfgrass irrigation Circular 660 Bernd Leinauer, Professor and Extension Turfgrass Specialist NM State University, Growing the Southwest Garden by Judith Phillips, High Country Gardens, Plants of the Southwest. Even more resources about turfgrasses can be found over at NMSU.