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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native xeric grasses for Colorado

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Thursday - June 24, 2010

From: Aurora, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Turf, Grasses or Grass-like, Wildflowers
Title: Native xeric grasses for Colorado
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Tired of mowing - replacing western exposure full sun lawn with native xeric grass. Please explain the pros and cons of Bouteloua Gracilis (Blue Grama) and Bouteloua Dactyloides Bella (Bella Blue Grass). Also, what native wildflowers would be good companions with each without taking over.

ANSWER:

You can read about the research on turfgrasses that the Wildflower Center has been conducting in our article, Native Lawns.  We also have two How to Articles—Native Lawns: Buffalograss and Native Lawns: Multi-Species.  Two of the grasses—Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) and Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama)—are native to Colorado, but Hilaria belangeri (curly-mesquite) does not occur naturally in Colorado.  There is, however, a closely-related Colorado native warm-season grass, Pleuraphis jamesii [syn. Hilaria jamesii] (James' galleta), that has a similar size and growth pattern that could be substituted for the curly-mesquite.  Bella (or Bella Bluegrass) that you mention is a short, drought-tolerant cultivar of Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass) developed and patented by the University of Nebraska.  It apparently tolerates heat and drought better than other varieties of bluegrass; but, according to UCVerdeBuffalograss.com it is not as drought tolerant as the UC Verde Buffalograss (developed by University of California Davis and University of California Riverside).  According to Todd Valley Farms, Bella bluegrass has only been available for sale since 2008 so there isn't much yet in the way of reviews of its features.  However, its advantages seem to be its low growth, requiring no or infrequent mowing; the fact that it does not go dormant in the winter; and its low water use and heat tolerance compared to other bluegrass varieties.  Buffalograss is low-growing and uses even less water and is more heat tolerant than Bella, but it does go dormant and turns brown in the winter.

Your site with full sun sounds perfect for buffalograss, blue grama and James' galleta.  You will have to be the judge of whether you want to try the Bella bluegrass depending on your rainfall and/or willingness to water.

Here are some wildflowers that you can use with your lawn.  There shouldn't be a problem with them overtaking the grass.  They should do quite well together.  You can read our How to Article, Meadow Gardening, to see how the grasses and wildflowers go together quite compatibly.

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) is perennial and blooms April through September.

Cleome serrulata (Rocky Mountain beeplant) is annual and blooms July through September.

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover) is perennial and blooms June through September.

Delphinium nuttallianum (twolobe larkspur) is perennial and blooms March through July.

Gaillardia aristata (common gaillardia) is perennial and blooms July through September.

Liatris punctata (dotted blazing star) is perennial and blooms August through October.

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia (tanseyleaf tansyaster) is an annual and blooms May through October.

Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower) is perennial and blooms May through October.

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan) is annual and blooms June through October.

You can find more wildflowers for your site in our Colorado Recommended list.

Here are photos from our Image Gallery:


Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua gracilis

Pleuraphis jamesii

Achillea millefolium

Cleome serrulata

Dalea purpurea

Delphinium nuttallianum

Gaillardia aristata

Liatris punctata

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia

Ratibida columnifera

Rudbeckia hirta

 

 

 

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