Consider Low Mow Grasses This Spring
With the calendar barreling toward spring, I’m like many people this time of year . . . dreaming about how to make my lawn and garden better. I waited too long last fall on a big seeding project, so I’ll be out there again as soon as this weekend in southern Rhode Island to try to kick-start a lawn in time for my daughters to enjoy a summer of outdoor games.
Lots of people in the U.S. seem to be in the mood these days to be rid of their lawn, or at least some of it. At SafeLawns, we’re not an anti-lawn organization by any stretch. We talk about reduction in the size of lawns — why would anyone mow multiple acres of grass with gas prices pressing $4 and up? But, in general, we don’t feel that lawns are the bad guys; it’s the maintenance practices of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, excessive mowing and watering, and a general waste of resources that we’re trying to change.
One of the best places to start conserving resources in the yard begins with your selection of grass seed. This weekend I’ll be planting a “low mow” brand known as Pearls Premium, which I know from trials becomes deeply rooted, yet remains relatively slow growing as compared to many lawn seeds. As much as I travel, I can’t be a slave to mowing — and I’m not quite ready to relinquish that task to the neighborhood teenager (if I could find one) or one of the mow, blow and go companies.
Notice I used the phrase “low mow” above and not “no mow.” The idea of having a real, living lawn — as opposed to one of those plastic carpets — that doesn’t require ANY maintenance is a bit of a fantasy. “No-mow” is really a misnomer, because such a thing doesn’t exist. There are, however, grasses you can get away with cutting only three to four times a year, maybe a bit more than that in full-sun locations that receive more than 20 inches of rainfall per season. That’s what we’ll focus on here with a review of some proven companies and products:
LOW MOW GRASSES — I’m quite sure it’s accurate to credit Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin for coining this phrase. When I interviewed him for my book, the Organic Lawn Care Manual, he said he’d been selling his selection of low- and slow-growing fescues since 1994.
These days, High Country Gardens in New Mexico is among the three companies that have risen to the forefront of the alternative lawn grass movement. One of High Country’s products is a “Low Work and Water” blend of fescues for Zones 4-10, which is the bulk of the nation. High Country’s own “No Mow” mix is specially formulated for colder, rainier areas of the country such as the Northeast.
Pearls Premium, from my neck of the woods up in New England, has probably done the best public relations job of getting the notion of environmentally friendly grasses out into the marketplace. I tried the product last year and it works as advertised — pushing out a nice, think stand of grass with thin blades that are comfortable under foot. They have different formulations for sun and shade, so be sure you know which is best for your yard.
A Canadian company known as Wildflower Farm has been selling Eco-Lawn grass seed for several years with its own proprietary blend of fine fescues. I’ve grown this, too, and was impressed with the germination rates and lush stand. Wildflower Farm, which as the name would indicate also sells wildflower seeds, offers a 50-pound bag covering 10,000 square feet for $299.50. That can be a great investment when it blooms a rainbow of different colors.
SPEAKING OF OTHER ALTERNATIVES, check out this guest blog from David Salman of High Country Gardens: http://www.safelawns.org/blog/index.php/2011/02/guest-blog-rethinking-the-american-lawn-part-ii-great-groundcovers/. We’ll be reposting all of David’s great work from 2011 in the days ahead.