Two alternative grass options that can thrive in our dry climate

Friday, July 7, 2017 8:39 PM

Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.By Darrin Parmenter

When it comes to lawns, turf or grass, many of us have a preconceived idea that they are water hogs, wasteful and a poor use of our resources. In some cases, those ideas can hold some validity. Lawns tend to not be xeric; lawns, or turfgrass, don’t always have the best root system; and if you want your lawn to be green and relatively weed-free, you have to put some energy (or chemicals – organic or non-organic) into keeping it in that shape.

Now, I can argue that it’s not so much the turfgrass’ fault as it is the owner’s fault. It’s not all that uncommon for homeowners to water way too much. It’s not that the Kentucky bluegrass loves all that water; it’s that we love to give Kentucky bluegrass all that water. But if you like the look of a lawn, and many of us do, but don’t want to apply a lot of water to your landscape (or can’t afford to), there are some options that are relatively waterwise and require very infrequent watering:

Buffalograss. I’m somewhat hesitant to recommend buffalograss in all situations, but there are plenty of lawns in the Durango area (and at lower elevations) that have shown it can work here. It is a warm-season grass so it tends to not green-up until mid to late May and will become straw-colored with the first hard frost. It needs a good amount of sun and will struggle when elevations go much above 6,500 feet. But it has excellent heat and drought tolerance and requires mowing only every couple of weeks, if that.Dog TuffTM grass. Yes, it’s a strange name. But beyond being resistant to dog urine, this sterile, hybrid, warm-season grass is quickly making its way throughout the West as a drought-tolerant turfgrass. Similar to buffalograss, its performance tends to decrease as elevation increases, but there are successes above 7,000 feet in elevation out there. And again, just like other warm-season grasses, it turns green in late spring and can go dormant in mid-autumn. Other benefits of the Dog TuffTM grass is that it loves full, hot sun; hardly ever needs to be mowed; doesn’t wear thin like buffalograss can; and honeybees dig the pollen in spring.Both of these grasses should be planted by plugs and allowed to fill in over a couple of years.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at or 382-6464.