Be Seen in Green: The Future of Drought-Tolerant Grass

 

Preservation of natural resources remains a big topic in multifamily, enough that discussions about reducing energy and utility use typically fill a session or two at education conferences.

Not long ago, an industry executive mentioned her company was being a good steward of the environment and eliminating lawns with concrete in the same breath as retrofitting lights in common areas. The comment resonated that a lawn-less property would save water and money. Maybe even at the expense of the apartment community’s appeal.

Saving water on your landscape – typically through xeriscape or landscapes with drought-tolerant, colorless plant life – doesn’t necessarily mean it has to come at the cost of a green lawn. Behind the scenes of some the nation’s foremost horticultural university programs, grasses that can withstand drought and heat are being developed at a rapid pace.

They are giving hope for those of us in rain-starved regions that a nice, green lawn can exist without guzzling water and ultimately becoming a casualty of local water restrictions.  Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, buffalo grass and even Kentucky Blue Grass hybrids are getting more and more drought tolerant as universities like Texas A&M, Clemson and Georgia Tech dig into new grass strains.

New variety of St. Augustine stands up to drought

At A&M AgriLife Research center in Dallas, turf specialists recently unveiled a new variety of St. Augustine that has shade tolerance and deep roots like one of the more popular varieties of the grass that is much more finicky. DALSA 0605 has shown excellent response to drought stress because of its longer roots that penetrate the soil and get moisture where other varieties cannot.

First tested in Texas, the grass has adapted to Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. At a recent conference hosted by AgriLife, researchers said it’s grass like this that adds a new dimension to xeriscaping. Patches of healthy, green grass will surely add life to even the most water-conscious landscape.

On a larger scale, complete lawns that better survive drought conditions will restore some of the beauty of an apartment landscape, and at the same time minimize water use.

Established drought-tolerant grass will bounce back from dormancy

What makes these grasses stand out is their ability to bounce back from a water-starved diet. Given the same circumstances, all grasses will thrive on the same amount of water. In other words, drought tolerant grass will get just as green as those varieties that need plenty of moisture. The difference is the ability for the grass to recover from the typical dormancy period that grass goes into when the water stops.

Once established, drought-resistant grass can get tough with dry conditions. Good soil and the ability for the grass to set deep roots with good aeration are essential for these grasses to emerge dormancy stronger. Zoysia, an increasingly popular choice in many parts of the country, goes dormant for long periods of time but bounces back when hydrated. Likewise, a Bermuda lawn left for dead will suddenly thrive after a good soaking rain.

The reason is that drought-tolerant varieties better protect themselves through those periods and are able to emerge stronger when the water source returns. They are, in effect, better insulated through their genetic makeup. They will usually maintain their color a little longer while others will begin to die as drought and heat persist.

Remember to let the grass do its thing

Remember, though, that just because a grass is drought-tolerant doesn’t mean it will have that deep, emerald green look all the time. While it will flourish with water, the idea is to let the grass do its thing – survive on less water. In the meantime, the lawn will stand up to drought and be in much better shape than one left for dead in the summer.

It used to be that extreme heat and drought was a lawn’s worst nightmare. More tender grasses simply wouldn’t survive, and a good raking would leave the ground bare. That’s changing.

Through advanced research, the grass really is getting greener on the other side.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

 


President, Earthworks

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Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

One response to “Be Seen in Green: The Future of Drought-Tolerant Grass”

  1. John Jessup says:

    What about trees? Our Dallas properties have Oak and Cypress trees. 30% of the Oak trees have died and the remaining look bad. The Cypress trees have roots that are difficult to work around. What kind of draught tolerant trees are good replacements?

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