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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

A New Lawn Alternative: California Native Sod


Left to grow naturally, native bentgrass (Agrostis pallens), creates a graceful meadow.

A new product — California native sod — may be the answer to a conflict that I often face: pleasing folks who want a water-conserving landscape yet aren’t willing to give up their lawns.

No one disputes that turfgrass represents a hefty chunk of most residential water bills, or that water is a dwindling resource in the west.

But those are not always compelling enough reasons to convince people to chuck their grass.

After all, lawns provide a soft, safe space for kids to play, and a comfortable place for pets to roam and do their business.

And despite our best efforts to turn clients toward colorful, water-conserving landscapes, many people find an expanse of turf to be refreshing and beautiful.

How to Satisfy Everyone

Until now, we’re struggled with planting reasonable lawn alternatives. I’ve tried meadow sedge (Carex praegracilis). But while it’s a beautiful, fine-textured grass, it’s invasive as all get out, sending opportunistic, underground runners that overtake nearby planting beds.

Other folks tout UC Verde buffalograss. A warm-season grass native to North American plains, it looks terrific during summer and is soft as can be on bare feet. But here on the Central Coast, few clients are willing to gaze upon a swath of straw-colored turf when it goes dormant over winter.

Beyond those concerns, establishing the sedges or UC Verde is a time-consuming process. They’re typically available only as seed, plugs or 4-inch plants. You may have to wait a year or longer for them to fill in, and mount an aggressive weeding campaign in the meantime.

They’re a tough sell compared with the ease — and instant gratification — of conventional sod.

The Holy Grail of Turf?

Clipped and mowed, native bentgrass (Agrostis pallens) stands up to traffic along Sunset Boulevard in San Francisco.

But that could all change with what I found at a landscape expo sponsored by All Around Landscape Supply in Santa Barbara last week.

This new native sod, Agrostis pallens, has fabulous potential. It’s a cool-season bentgrass, a rich, deep green, and it withstands foot traffic. It requires half the water of traditional turf and half the mowing and maintenance. Or it can be left to flop, creating the look of a natural, informal meadow.

It’s even native right here. According to Clifton F. Smith’s “A Flora of the Santa Barbara Region, California,” Agrostis pallens is found “as dense colonies commonly scattered on cool, well-drained woodland/chaparral slopes in Santa Ynez Mtns., west to San Julian area; Vandenberg AFB, Bishop Pine forest north of Lompoc and Point Sal. Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa islands.”

And I repeat: it’s available as sod. You can lay down the 2′ x 5′ strips just like any other turf. What’s more, the netting is biodegradable.

Delta Bluegrass Company grows the sod in Stockton. S&S Seeds, a long-time wholesale purveyor of wildflower, grass and California native plant seeds in Carpinteria, is the distributor for the Central Coast and southern California. The sod is cut to order, then shipped overnight in a refrigerated truck, to be installed the next day.

S&S Seeds distributes five additional California native grass sods from Delta as well. However, the others appear to be better suited for meadow plantings and restoration work. The Native Bentgrass is the best bet for swapping out a conventional lawn.

So instead of grimacing the next time a client requests turf, boy will I have a great solution. And if you would like to be among the first to grow a native lawn that promises to require only half the water and half the effort, plus treads lightly on the earth, please let me know.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

8 responses to “A New Lawn Alternative: California Native Sod
  1. …more like questions than a comment 🙂 ….This Bentgrass does well in CA – but since I live in TX, I’m not sure what type climate/sun/shade it requires. Also, will it choke out weeds – or must one start fresh?

  2. A Montecito garden design by Puck Erickson, planted last year, includes a good-sized bent grass lawn. It has grown in nicely as a meadow. It is on a gentle slope and is left unmowed. It makes a beautiful and soft expanse that blends well with other grasses. Thumbs up so far.

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