The Lawn for the 21st Century
I have been looking for a viable alternative to the conventional thirsty lawn for quite some time. Some of the alternatives I’ve tried are Buffalo Grass (Bucheloe dactyloides), Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Hairgrass (Koeleria), and even Yarrow and Thyme lawns. But the best lawn substitute I’ve found so far was pioneered by grass guru John Greenlee.
Carex pansa is native to all states west of the Mississippi. If you water it once a week, it stays green all year round. If you don’t water it in the summer, it turns brown and goes dormant, greening up again with the first rains. Let it go, and it grows only 6-8”. If you prefer the neater, mowed look, you only have to do this six times a year as compared with 40 times a year for a conventional lawn.
Carex pansa is a clumping grass, spreading by rhizomes. Prepare the soil just as if you were planting a lawn. That means work in a good compost for the first 15” of topsoil. Install a pop-up sprinkler system on a valve with a timer. Make sure you have full coverage, just as you would for a lawn. Grade and use a compacter. Carex pansa must be planted as plugs, one foot apart. Water, keep weeded, and within three months you should have full coverage.
If you have a shady area, mix the pansa with Carex texensis, another bullet-proof native that is shade, drought, and traffic tolerant.
These new types of lawns will soon be replacing, where possible, our thirsty conventional fescues. Less water, less mowing, and if you want to plant bulbs, English daisies, or violets, go right ahead. Since you won’t be mowing frequently, these colorful flowers will thrive in your new meadow.