Plant a no-mow lawn

Here's how to replace your thirsty lawn with a casual, easy-care meadow

Jim McCausland

Choose a grass that's a natural for your area. These grasses can live on rainfall alone in their native Western ranges, and they need mowing just once or twice a year to keep tidy. Details and sources below.

Desert: Fine fescue, spring-planted buffalo grass, or blue grama.

Northern California and the Northwest: Fine fescue and hair grass (Deschampsia).

Rocky Mountain: Buffalo grass or blue grama below 6,500 feet; fine fescue above. Plant all in spring.

Southern California: Fine fescue, spring-planted 'UC Verde' buffalo grass (along coast).


Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis). Native to the western Great Plains. A bunching perennial grass, it grows 1 to 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. Stems carry flowers on one side only. Give it full sun, little water. Best in Sunset climate zones 1–3, 7–11, 14, 18–21.

'Hachita' Goes well with natives and perennials; if you don't mow it, it can become an artificial short-grass prairie.

Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). Native from Montana to Mexico and east to Louisiana. Grows 4 to 8 inches tall; has gray-green color in summer, straw color in winter. Turf varieties are selected for density and greener color.

Female selections (always vegetatively propagated) have flowers at the base, so you don't see them. Male plants have flowers on top, so they look ratty to some, attractive to others.

When you start this from seed, it always contains a mix of male and female plants. Give it full sun or open shade, some summer water (gets summer rain in the wild). A good garden performer in zones 1–3, 10–11, 14–16, 18–24.

'Prestige' Good in mild-winter areas.

'UC Verde' Developed by the University of California, this doesn't go dormant along the Southern California coast and in mild areas, but inland (Riverside, for example), its dormant season stretches from October to March.

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