- Drought-Resistant Ornamental Grasses
- Heavenly Greens Blog
- Bermuda Grass
- Bahia Grass
- Zoysia Grass
- Buffalo Grass
- St. Augustine Grass
- Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses: Is There An Ornamental Grass That Resists Drought
- Is There an Ornamental Grass That Resists Drought?
- Choosing Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses
- Growing Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses
- Drought-tolerant Ornamental Grasses You’ll Be Pleased to Know About
- The Best Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grass Varieties
- Drought-Tolerant Grasses
- Saint Augustinegrass
- Tall Fescue
- Other Ways to Beat the Drought
- Landscaping with grasses in Arizona
- Deer grass
- Pink Muhly grass
- Bamboo Muhly Grass
- Mexican Feather Grass
- Mexican Thread grass
- Sideoats Grama Grass
- Bear grass
- Red Yucca – Hesperaloe
- Green desert spoon
- Twin flowered agave
- Slipper plant
- Fountain grass – NOT recommended
- Lawn alternatives
- Trailing Indigo Bush
- Trailing Desert Broom
- Ice plant
- Saltillo Primrose
- Trailing Rosemary
- Juniper ground cover
- Meadow Lawn
- Blue Grama Grass
- Artificial grass
- Consider these grasses now for fall in the desert
Drought-Resistant Ornamental Grasses
Photo by Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder
“Where drinking water is scarce, it doesn’t make sense to use so much of it on our lawns and flowers,” says landscape designer Nicole Lopez, who works in drought-prone Santa Monica. “You need to match plants to the climate that you live in. It just doesn’t work the other way around.”
The ornamental grasses in this gallery are excellent choices for low-water gardening. Plant information is provided for each, including climate zone information, which links to our Hardiness Zone Map.
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’)
Clumping, graceful green leaf blades; coppery-red plumes in fall; grows 4 to 6 feet tall; prefers full sun, average soil; hardy to -10 degrees F; zones 4 to 10.
Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’)
Photo by Nancy Andrews, drought resistant ornamental grasses
Pale yellow bands across strappy, arching leaves; silky spikes in late summer/early fall; grows 4 to 6 feet tall; prefers full sun or dappled shade, well-drained soil; hardy to -10 degrees F; zones 4 to 9
Blue Oatgrass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
Photo by Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder
Striking stiff, gray-blue leaves with graceful 4-foot flower spikes in midsummer; grows to 4 feet tall; prefers full sun, well-drained soil; hardy to -20 degrees F; zones 5 to 9.
‘Elijah Blue’ Grass (Festuca glauca)
Photo by Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder
Attractive blue leaves and wheatlike stalks; grows 8 to 12 inches tall; prefers full sun to part shade in hot, humid regions; good in small borders and rock gardens; hardy to -20 degrees F; zones 4 to 9.
Leatherleaf Sedge (Carex buchananii)
Photo by Courtesy Magnolia Gardens Nursery
Stiff thin stalks grow upright up to 2 feet tall; prefers partial shade in dry climates; good for containers and borders; hardy to +10 degrees F; zones 7 to 9.
Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)
Photo by Courtesy Forest and Kim Starr (USGS)
Clumps of white and pink flowers bloom in late summer atop the green grass blades. Grows quickly and reaches up to 8 ft. tall; prefers partial shade; well-drained soil; hardy to +10 degrees F; zones 7 to 10.
Oriental Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale)
Photo by GAP Photos/Paul Debois
Rounded clumps of green grass with white wheatlike flowers; grows 2 to 3 feet; prefers moist soil; hardy to +10 degrees F; zones 7 to 9.
Blue Panic Grass (Panicum virgatum)
Photo by GAP Photos/Richard Bloom
Slivery blue blades with delicate pink flowers that bloom in late summer; thrives in full sun with well-drained soil; grows to 7 feet; attracts birds; hardy to -10 degrees F; zones 5 to 9.
Heavenly Greens Blog
Living in an area that is prone to drought conditions can make it difficult to landscape your property. There are a number of shrubs, trees and grasses that are drought resistant and will thrive even in the most extreme conditions. Whether you are looking for tall, decorative grasses or ground cover, there are many different kinds to suit almost every desire and decorative taste. Different types of grasses and ground covers do better in certain situations and handle different levels of traffic. You need to know what type of activity is best tolerated and find a ground cover that meets all of your needs. Check out the different types of grasses you could use for drought tolerant landscaping.
Fescue grasses thrive in almost any condition, but will hold its own in hot, dry temperatures. Although fescues prefer cooler temperatures, they can withstand prolonged periods of drought and will recover quickly if they have to go without water for any length of time. Fescues are extremely popular grasses for lawns and playing fields. It is very resilient and works well in high traffic areas, like playgrounds, backyards, athletic playing fields and show areas.
Bermuda grass grows thick and fast, especially when given ample amounts of water. This type of grass thrives in direct sun and grows best in southern areas with sub-tropical climates. Bermuda grass is extremely tolerant of high traffic and will recover quickly after a long day of child’s play. The grass works well for playgrounds and parks. It is extremely resilient and can take a lot of punishment if it is cared for properly.
Bahia grass is extremely coarse, but grows thick and full. It grows well in areas where other grasses won’t or can’t thrive. This grass needs full, direct sun. It’s excellent for drought prone areas and will continue to grow even in harsh conditions. Bahia grass works well in lawns where it is difficult for other grasses to thrive. It is somewhat tolerant of foot traffic. This improves once it is allowed to get established.
Zoysia grass is tolerant of moderate traffic and produces a thick, lush carpet of grass. It thrives in either sun or shade. Zoysia is extremely slow growing and is flexible when it comes to both climate and watering. This type of grass is ideal for playgrounds and other areas where a thick bed of grass is needed.
Buffalo grass is a long, tall prairie grass, that thrives in full sun and requires warmer temperatures. Although it is a thicker, hardier breed of grass, it does not do well with heavy traffic. It thrives in areas where rainfall is minimal and grows slowly. This is an excellent grass for landscaped areas, especially if it is allowed to grow to its full height.
St. Augustine Grass
St. Augustine grass is extremely drought tolerant. It does grow well with a good sun/shade mix. It is consider to be medium to high maintenance. It will crowd out most weeds due to its thick, lush carpet of ground cover. It is characterized by broad, flat blades and establishes itself through runners that spread quickly over the ground’s surface. It is tolerant of traffic but will need to be closely monitored for bare areas if traffic gets too heavy.
Choosing the right type of grass will determine whether or not your lawn will look its best when conditions start to get rough. High temperatures and minimal rainfall can wreak havoc on a lawn. It’s important to make sure you have the right type of ground cover in place when drought conditions hit. You should review your options and talk to your local landscape company to ensure that you have made the right choice.
Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses: Is There An Ornamental Grass That Resists Drought
Ornamental grasses are often considered to be drought tolerant. This is true in many cases, but not all these magnificent plants can survive severe drought. Even well-established cool-season grasses will need supplemental water, but some of the warm-season grasses are better suited to the dry conditions of summer and certain regions. There are several drought tolerant ornamental grasses that will perform well and grace your landscape with airy elegance.
Is There an Ornamental Grass That Resists Drought?
The gentle sway and seductive whisper of sound that ornamental grasses afford the landscape are balms to the soul. Heat-loving ornamental grasses have particular value in hot climates. These water-saving plants are easy to maintain and generally tolerant of dry soils. Choosing the right ornamental grass for arid conditions is important. Nothing is more fruitless than purchasing an elegant grass for its drought tolerance only to find it failing when the moisture levels aren’t right.
Whether you live in a dry part of the country or are just trying to be water wise, plants that thrive in low moisture areas are important choices. Ornamental grasses are not all adapted to drought. Even those that tolerate such conditions may need to be planted in a semi-shady location to perform best.
Avoid grasses that require moist soil such as most Carex (sedge), rush, and moor grass. These are all native to regions with moist meadows or occur in ditches where water collects. Fortunately, there is a wide selection of ornamental grass for arid conditions and some that can withstand periods of drought in summer by going semi-dormant.
Choosing Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses
Evaluate your landscape for soil fertility, drainage and light conditions. Most ornamental grasses perform best in full sun but some can tolerate partial shade, which is useful in hot, arid climates. Most warm-season grasses have thick roots that conserve and uptake moisture, making them ideal for the dry zones of the garden. Heat-loving ornamental grasses suited to xeriscape yards in full sun include:
- Blue grama
- Buffalo grass
- Arizona fescue
- Green fescue
- Bluebunch wheatgrass
- Prairie dropseed
Zebra grass is a Miscanthus that will survive drought if planted in partial shade, as do Elijah Blue fescue and leatherleaf sedge.
If architectural excellence is on your mind, you can’t go wrong with pampas grass, which prefers partial shade and, once established, is an ornamental grass that resists drought in any but the most extreme weather.
Blue oat grass will add color and texture in dry zones, and feather reed grass turns a rich rust color with delicate airy inflorescences.
Miscanthus variegatus and Schizachyrium Blue Heaven are two cultivars that have both drought proof growth and deer resistance.
Growing Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses
Planting and site preparation are crucial to healthy plants that have drought tolerance.
- Amend the soil with organic matter to increase fertility, reduce weed competitors and help conserve moisture.
- Loosen the soil a foot around the root zone so newly forming roots can easily grow through the area.
- Even drought tolerant grasses will need supplemental watering as they establish. Keep them moderately moist for the first year and then keep a careful watch in subsequent years for browning and drought stress.
- Many ornamental grasses will die out in the center. This is a signal that it needs dividing. Dig it up in the dormant season and cut it into 2 to 3 pieces. Plant each piece for a new grass but don’t forget to water until established.
In most cases, little extra care is needed for growing drought tolerant ornamental grasses. If your grass seeds prolifically and the conditions are right, you could end up with more grass than you can handle. Deadheading flower plumes is an easy way to keep the plants where you want them and reduce volunteers.
Drought-tolerant Ornamental Grasses You’ll Be Pleased to Know About
Drought tolerant ornamental grasses are characterized by narrow leaves and strong root systems. Some of the best drought-resistant ornamental grasses are blue fescue, pampas grass, big bluestem, maiden grass and cogongrass amongst others.
Various types of grasses are used in landscape designing projects. The varieties are not limited to the dwarf grasses that we grow for maintaining a uniform green lawn. In fact, some ornamental grasses reach a height of about 5-7 feet, and are grown to complement other garden components. They not only withstand fluctuating climatic conditions, but are resistant to common pest problems. And the drought tolerant ornamental grasses grow well even in dry areas with less effort.
The Best Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grass Varieties
The widespread distribution of grasses explains its hardiness to varied growing conditions. Classified under the taxonomic family Poaceae, these flowering plants are monocots and have parallel leaf venation. Although all ornamental grass types hold the reputation of low maintenance plants, they require basic growth factors, like water, light, temperature and nutrients. So, if you are residing in areas that get exposed to frequent dry spells, ensure that you select drought-resistant ornamental grasses for garden plantation.
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Scientific name: Festuca glauca
Hardiness Zones: 5-9
The bluish gray foliage is a distinguishing feature of this grass cultivar. Blue fescue grows in clumps, and plant height averages 1 foot. The leaves are semi-evergreen and growth pattern is perennial. Extremely hardy to dry conditions, blue fescue is popularly planted in rock gardens and xeriscapes. You can grow this rapidly spreading grass variety as a specimen plant, groundcover and along garden beds.
Scientific name: Cortaderia selloana
Hardiness Zones: 6-10
Pampas grass is prized for its tall height (measuring about 9 feet and more), bluish-green foliage and spectacular white inflorescence. The colorful leaves are evergreen, thus adding a color interest in all seasons. Plant pampas grasses in rows, and they really look amazing. It performs in dry climate and poor soil. In many regions, growing this ornamental grass type is banned, owing to its invasive nature.
Scientific name: Miscanthus sinensis
Hardiness Zones: 4-9
Having variegated leaves, maiden arching grass is popular for creating hedges in landscaping projects. You can even think of incorporating this tall grass in the back of garden borders. Upon maturity, the plant height reaches 5 feet and slightly more. It requires partial shade to full sun, and well-drained soil for optimal growth.
Scientific name: Andropogon gerardii
Hardiness Zones: 4-9
As the name indicates, the stalk of this ornamental grass is bluish-green in color. It attains a height of approximately 4-8 feet. There is another bluestem variety called little bluestem, which maximum height is 3 feet. For both types, the bronze colored blooms are retained in the plant for a longer period. Once acclimatized to an area, it forms rhizomes and spreads profusely. Hence, it is often considered as a weed or invasive grass.
Oriental Fountain Grass
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Scientific name: Pennisetum orientale
Hardiness Zones: 5-9
This mound forming ornamental grass is medium-sized (3-4 feet height), and produce whitish cream blooms in late summer. Resistant to dry areas, this ornamental grass is a performer in xeriscapes. For maintaining healthy fountain grass, grow it in fertile soil and areas that receive full sun. Avoid overwatering, as it puts the plant under stress and increases the chances of pest infestations.
Scientific name: Muhlenbergia capillaris
Hardiness Zones: 7-11
Whether you are referring to pink muhly grass or pink hair grass, they mean the same ornamental grass type. It simply looks adorable in fall, when the entire plant is covered by pink colored plumes. At maturity, pink hair grass grows to about 3-6 feet, including the plumes. An indigenous grass of the United States, you can successfully grow it in any season. It can withstand high temperature, poor soil and dry spells.
Scientific name: Eragrostis curvula
Hardiness Zones: 7-9
The name of this lovegrass is coined with reference to its downward pointing leaves. It grows well in any type of soil, provided that the plant receives adequate sunlight. Maximum plant height is 3 feet, and the leave length accounts to 1 foot. Exclusively planted for foliage, yellowish blooms are borne in long stalks in late summer. The weeping lovegrass is basically grown to prevent soil erosion in slopes and roadside.
Japanese Blood Grass
Scientific name: Imperata cylindrica
Hardiness Zones: 5-9
Japanese blood grass or cogongrass is found growing in disturbed areas, where other plants cannot thrive. While young leaves of this grass variety are green, the older foliage flaunts orange brown color. The plant height measures 1-1 ½ feet, based on the cultivar and provided growth conditions. The adaptability of this grass species to drought areas is attributed to its roots, which penetrate deep in soil for collecting water.
Well, this was a list of some drought tolerant ornamental grasses. Proper site preparation, correct plantation and initial plant care are required for maintaining healthy plants. As expected, the actual guidelines for how to grow and care for ornamental grasses differ according to the selected species. Apply your gardening skills to provide the same for these grasses. After the first year, they require cutting back in spring time. So, even if you are growing grasses to create privacy, be prepared for the trimming procedure. Within 2-3 months, the ornamental grasses will reach normal size and provide screening effect.
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A drought-resistant native, Buffalograss prefers life on the dry side and will form a thick turf that rarely grows more than 8 inches tall. If rainfall and irrigation are scarce, the plants will turn brown and go dormant, reviving quickly when moisture returns. Buffalograss is cold hardy and doesn’t need to be fed as frequently as other grasses. It prefers full sun and has few insect or disease problems. Buffalograss can’t tolerate heavy foot traffic.
Thriving in sun or light shade, Zoysia is a warm-season grass that goes dormant when the temperatures drop in the fall. It’s slow growing and will eventually form a thick carpet that’s dense enough to handle foot traffic and eliminate weed competition. Some varieties are considered more drought-tolerant than others. Look for JaMur, ‘Palisades’, ‘El Toro’, or ‘Empire’. It’s best to start a Zoysia lawn from plugs or sod. Plants grown from seed can vary in appearance and hardiness. In the North, Zoysia can be slow to green up in the spring.
In warmer regions of the country, Saint Augustinegrass is a durable low-water lawn alternative. It forms mats of thick green foliage that’s dense enough to eliminate weed competition. Saint Augustinegrass grows quickly during the summer months but eventually slows down and goes dormant in the fall. The plants grow in either sun or light shade and require regular applications of nitrogen fertilizer. It is not recommended for high-traffic locations. Look for drought-resistant varieties such as ‘Palmetto,’ ‘Sapphire,’ ‘Floratam,’ and ‘Seville’.
Once used primarily as a pasture grass to feed livestock, Tall Fescue became a popular turf grass when its resistance to heat and drought were discovered. Tall Fescue is a cool-season grass with thick, coarse, textured leaves with strong disease resistance. Because the plants develop a deep root system, they are better able to withstand dry spells. Tall Fescue grows well in sun or partial shade, stays green all winter, and can tolerate foot traffic. Newer turf Tall Fescue varieties that have finer foliage include: ‘Defiance XRE,’ ‘Titan LTD,’ Rebel Shade’ and ‘Greystone’.
Other Ways to Beat the Drought
Choosing the right lawn grass for your backyard is only the first step to minimizing water use. Here are some ways to still have a lawn without turning on the tap.
- Minimize lawn areas If you really want a thick green lawn for your kids to play on, focus on a smaller area, putting the rest of your landscape into shrubs, natives, or groundcovers. Or, leave the rest of the yard in grass, but let it go dormant if rains are infrequent. (Learn more ways to work with less lawn via xeriscaping.)
- Water infrequently If you do water your lawn, do it less frequently and measure how much you are applying. Most turf grass will be just fine with about an inch of moisture a week. Get tips for creating a waterwise landscape.
- Monitor sprinklers If you have an automatic sprinkler system, install a timer to prevent waste. And, if possible, turn off your sprinkler system when rainfall is expected. Too often you see sprinklers going full blast in a rainstorm.
- Let your grass go dormant Don’t be so picky about how your lawn looks. When rainfall fails to materialize, don’t panic. Let your lawn go dormant. It will come back when the weather becomes cool and damp.
- Mow less frequently Raise the blade height on your mower to about 3 inches. Taller blades of grass require less water than those that have been scalped.
Concerned about wildfire? Try these tips.
- By Karen Weir-Jimerson
Red Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) holds a dominant place in a mixed border that includes white roses, Society garlic, Flax and Star Jasmine. Note: Flax (Phormium) does not do well is desert areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas where it withers and dies in summer heat. And roses love water.
The graceful beauty of Ornamental Grasses
In recent years ornamental grasses and other grass-like plants have grown in popularity particularly as accents and borders in rock mulch style gardens. Many are fast-growing, very drought tolerant and will even thrive with considerable neglect. As a rule of thumb, they need fast-draining soil.
In Fall, the seed-bearing plumes of fast growing Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) rise to 20 feet high with little need for irrigation or fertilizer. By mid-winter, this perennial should be cut back to 18 inches tall. It will re-grow to the height shown in the following summer. Avoid planting the Pampas Grass (Cortaderia jubata) which is an invasive weed. Given the right conditions — usually near a stream — it will self-seed and spread wildly forcing out native plants..
Common Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) – this is the short, clumping, fine blue or silvery gray grass, often seen as an edging to borders. The ‘Elijah Blue’ selection is relatively long lived and very blue. Grows to one foot high. It is not necessary to cut it back in winter. In this photo, right, it has been used as a dominant plant replacing a conventional green lawn.
Deer grass (Muhlenbergia), right, looks like a larger cousin of some of the Fescues. It grows to about 2 feet tall during the summer, but unlike Pampas Grass and Fountain Grass it does not need to be trimmed back in winter. Needs very little water.
Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) – looks like giant blue Fescue grass, but grows to 2 to 3 feet high and wide. Bright blue leaves with tall stems of yellow flowers in the Spring. Needs rich soil.
Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) – has reddish brown leaves and rose-colored plumes. Dies down in winter and should be cut back to a few inches high. Be sure to get the red variety, the white fountain grass is invasive and has been displacing native grasses. For best appearance Fountain Grass should be planted in dense clusters or as part of a mixed border.
Flax (Phormium tenax and lots of hybrids) – These New Zealand natives can be 5 to 7 foot tall giants, but with the proliferation of hybrids, smaller, more colorful plants are now available. You may have to ask for some of the newer colors – and they are glorious. For example, ‘Morticia’ has purple-black leaves; ‘Dazzler’ has scarlet leaves striped with maroon; ‘Tiny Tiger’ (only 1 foot tall at maturity) has variegated leaves that become tinged with pink as the weather cools and ‘Tom Thumb’ gives you green, wavy-edged leaves with a reddish border. You will have to put most of these in large pots out of direct sunlight; they do not do well in hot summer areas such as Phoenix or Las Vegas.
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Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Rubra’) – leaves emerge in spring with brilliant red tips and a green base. The red color intensifies as it grows to 1 or 2 feet tall. Rarely blooms and should be cut back almost to the ground in mid-winter. The photo, taken in early Spring, shows young Japanese Blood grass.
Golden Mexican Feather Grass is the basis for this drought-tolerant front yard. Simplicity is the key: in addition to the Feather Grass, large agaves and blue-green iceplants make up most of the other plantings. Almost no maintenance involved! Once a year the owners cut the grass back to about 6 inches high.
Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) – a member of the lily family, has very fine bluish-green leaves with shoots of lavender flowers in Spring and summer. On the right, it is shown in a pot filled with rich soil. It retains its leaves all year round. It also emits the scent of garlic to the nearby area.
Other members of the lily family, including Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are also excellent grass-like plants for hot climates. Some, however, really need a lot of shade.
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plant a Crape Myrtle. Other trees are here.
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Landscaping with grasses in Arizona
Ornamental grasses give a landscape an updated look–landscapers started incorporating them 20 or so years ago. In Arizona, there are a large variety of plants that have a similar silhouette to ornamental grasses. Add them among your other bushes and cacti to give a filled out look. While ornamental grasses use less water than lawns, you may want some grass-like options with even lower water requirements.
Or you may be going for the look of a lawn with lower water requirements. Latest trends for the desert are to use lawn alternatives. You can try a groundcover, grow a lawn using meadow grasses, or put in artificial turf.
Here are my plant suggestions.
This native grass is rabbit resistant, and can live on only 15 inches of water per year. Can tolerate drought when established as well as regular water. Prefers sun but can grow in shade. Reaches up to 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Great xeriscape native plant choice for Arizona.
Pink Muhly grass
Showier and smaller than deer grass, pink muhly grass grows 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Fluffy pink–colored flowers dry to a light buff. The plant looks great when backlit by the sun. This grass is also native to the southwest. Water every one or two weeks.
Bamboo Muhly Grass
An Arizona native, this grass reaches 4 feet by 4 feet and requires moderate water (weekly).
Mexican Feather Grass
This feathery ornamental grass forms small clumps. Airy seed heads move with the wind and create interest in smaller spaces. Grows 18 inches tall and wide. Water every 2-3 weeks when established.
Mexican Thread grass
This fast growing grass reaches 18 inches tall and wide and requires weekly water. It is native to the Chihuahuan desert. I like the feathery look.
Sideoats Grama Grass
A bunch grass from across North and South America that grows 18 inches by 2 feet. Water every 1-2 weeks. The seed heads stick out to the side of the grass blade.
I love this plant. Not a grass at all but looks just like one. I haven’t seen it commonly in nurseries, but I see it while hiking in Prescott. Grows 4 feet high and wide. Wispy white flowers in spring and cute curly strands make it unique among plants. Water once or twice per month.
Red Yucca – Hesperaloe
This plant is easy to find. The main plant looks like a thick stemmed grass with the bonus of long-blooming flowering stalks through the hot season when other plants are dormant. Red (dark pink) and yellow varieties. Grows 3 feet high by 3 feet wide, clumping. It is not native to Arizona. Water every 1-2 weeks.
Green desert spoon
This spiky spoon and it’s blue-green cousin are easy to find and complement a landscape of native Arizona plants. While not a grass, its profile is similar. Up to 4 feet by 4 feet. Water twice a month.
Green desert spoon
Twin flowered agave
This agave has thin stems that resemble grass. Low water needs, since it is an agave. I did have a bunny nibble mine. Smaller size – 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
Twin flower agave
Native to Sonora Mexico, this sculptural plant has succulent, lime-green stems that curve as they grow long. The latest rage in modern plantings, it has no thorns and requires little maintenance. Great color to complement other shades of green. Size 3 feet by 3 feet; low water. Best in light shade.
Fountain grass – NOT recommended
This ornamental grass is commonly sold in nurseries, and has large fluffy seed heads. Please don’t buy it! It is a problematic invasive species in Arizona. It displaces native grasses, increases fire danger, blocks the water flow in washes, and alters habitat for animals. (NPS)
Arizona’s climate is hard on a lawn. The soft turf grasses can’t survive the heat of summer, and Bermuda grass feels rough on bare feet and turns brown in winter. A classic lawn in the desert creates a haven for crickets and scorpions. When I moved here, I vowed I would never mow a lawn. With all of the cons, I prefer finding something green that suits the space. If you’re looking for a lawn option without the maintenance, try a groundcover, a meadow lawn, or artificial turf.
Trailing Indigo Bush
Native to the Chihuahuan desert, this low ground cover has silvery green leaves and lavender flowers. Approximate size 2 by 6 feet. Water every 2 weeks.
Trailing Desert Broom
A fast growing ground cover with evergreen foliage. Look for seedless variety. Spreads to 3 feet by 4 feet. Water every 1-2 weeks
A thornless ground cover native to Africa. Many varieties have showy flowers during winter months. Low to moderate water.
A popular ground cover with bright green leaves. Short and spreading 8″ by 6 ft. Takes moderate amount of water.
This variety of the herb rosemary grows 2 feet by 4 feet and requires water every 1-2 weeks. The trailing branches can look dramatic.
Juniper ground cover
I saw some juniper growing in a raised planter in Sedona. The juniper ground cover looked like lawn (from a distance) and created a stunning contrast with the red rock. Requires weekly water.
A truly native approach, consider using native grasses to grow a meadow. A meadow is harder to establish, but uses much less water than a traditional lawn. Depending on the type of grass, you may mow or trim only a few times per year. A meadow requires more work to weed, due to the space between plants. Growing a meadow uses grass just like growing a forest uses trees.
Blue Grama Grass
This fast growing bunch grass is native to North America. It can be grown from seed in the spring. To maintain a lawn, it requires 2-4 inches of water per month during the summer. Best mowed high for grass health (3-4 inches). Looks beautiful allowed to grow to full height with the attractive seed heads.
Other meadow grass varieties you may look for: Buffalo grass, Curly Mesquite grass (Arizona native), and Blue Fescue (requires more water).
If you want the look of a classic lawn, try artificial. The artificial turfs for sale these days feel so soft, look real, and require little maintenance. Your lawn will always look like a golf course, you never have to mow, and there is minimal weeding. The savings in water alone amaze me.
Consider these grasses now for fall in the desert
Every time the ornamental grasses start flowering in summer and fall, I fall in love with them all over again. I even love the invasive fountain grass because their abundant blooms, ruffled in our warm breezes for so many months, are rare animation in desert gardens. Most grasses start blooming during the dog days of summer into the fall until autumn winds rip away the last seeds.
You’ll see ornamental grasses used in many different ways. This is because they are the neutrals of the plant would. They flow like water through a landscape naturally or in precise plantings, in masses and as individuals. Their fine textures produce large enough masses to solve problems too, such as disguising irrigation boxes or ugly foundation vents. Buy larger container-sized ornamental grasses to speed up the process of cover and flowering.
In the Coachella Valley, the well-proven ornamental grasses will ensure success. Species with cold winter requirements for dormancy will not be sustainable here. Those that demand a lot of moisture for wide blades are unlikely to thrive either. The grasses that follow share adaptation to heat by narrowing their leaves. Consider these four contenders.
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Fountain Grass Zone 9: Genus Pennisetum is from tropical Africa so it’s a real heat tolerant species. The species, Pennisetum setaceum, or white fountain grass, bears buff tone flowers that arch over like fountains. Among its many cultivars are purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, with showy maroon foliage and lavender flower heads. Rubrum is more frost tender and short-lived compared to the species.
Deer Grass Zone 6: Muhlenbergia rigens is a native grass of the Southwest mountains and deserts. It’s highly adaptable, and is not invasive. These big clumping grasses fill a lot of space and make fine choices for larger landscapes. Closely-related, Muhlenbergia capillaris, Zone 7, has become highly favored for its haze of pink flowers that are a huge standout every year. Elegant and colorful, at just three feet tall and wide, this is the best choice for desert rock gardens during lean times of year.
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Feather Grass: The fineness and grace of Nassella tenuissima (Zone 5) is the deer grass of a smaller garden at just 18″ tall. Tolerant of some shade and loving sandy soils, it is great in pots or in ground where protected from wind and afternoon sun. Self-sowing, this grass has a shorter lifespan in the desert.
Blue Fescue: The blue 12″ mounds of Festuca glauca (Zone 4) first came out in mid-century as a groundcover in the Sunset magazine style. Since then, associated with both Japanese gardens and modern architecture, it’s best color is exhibited on south-facing exposures where protected from bleaching by direct morning or afternoon sun.
Grasses by and large love full sun just like a lawn. However, to have lush beautiful grasses you need to provide them with adequate irrigation. They should have slightly more than your average desert plant to avoid brown out and sunburn. Grasses dehydrated also lose their posture and lie lower than normal. This is a sign there may be inadequate moisture in the root zone. It is no small task to flower in the dead heat of summer’s end.
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All of these grasses are available to buy in a variety of container sizes. Shop over the next month or two when they produce summer bloom spikes held high for wind pollination. It lets you get a feel for how the bigger grasses look when fleshed out. Buy a five-gallon pot or larger to obtain a well-developed plant already blooming strong. In our super low humidity, a bigger root crown and maturity helps it to become established by next summer. You’ll also be able to enjoy it’s most productive late summer and fall flowering time.
Plant smaller one-gallon grasses and save money by nurturing them into adults. Smaller means you get more grasses to create a line, or irregular mass, grid or container plantings. Plant youngsters in October when conditions are more amenable for juveniles to become established in winter.
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