Meadow grasses generally grow slowly and never get very big. That gives weeds an opening, so weed control is the biggest challenge in establishing a meadow. There are several ways to go about it.
Sod If you plant meadow-grass sod, it will smother weeds below.
Topsoil Turf consultant Fred Ballerini prepares his site, then covers it with about 3 inches of clean (weed-free) topsoil before planting plugs. He doesn't till the topsoil in, since that would just bring weed seeds to the top.
Pregermination You can eliminate lots of weeds by preparing the site, then watering and waiting a couple of weeks. Weeds will quickly spring up. When they're a couple of inches tall, till them in or hoe them off, then repeat the process. After the second round, plant your grass plugs. You'll still get a few weeds, but not nearly as many.
Preemergence herbicide Corn gluten is a good preemergence herbicide that feeds the new plugs (it's about 10 percent nitrogen) and inhibits the growth of sprouted weed seeds. It's a natural product (a byproduct of the manufacture of cornstarch).
FEEDING AND WATERING
Most kinds do fine with 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet annually, and about half the water of a conventional lawn.
Sources: Native plant nurseries; High Country Gardens for buffalo grass and blue grama plugs. Some sod dealers sell sod of blue grama and buffalo grass.
Design: Michelle Comeau Landscape Design, Carmel, CA (831/620-0111) for Eric and Greta Miller, Pacific Grove, CA; turf consultant Fred Ballerini.
More front yard alternatives: Lose your lawn