Growing Grass in a Desert Climate
Growing a great looking lawn of luscious green grass is something that almost every homeowner aspires to, but it is not always as easy as you might like it to be! If you live in cooler climates, such as the Northern Zone of the US, it should be relatively straightforward to grow a vibrant and healthy lawn, and there are plenty of guides out there to help you if you run into difficulties.
If you’re trying to grow grass in a desert climate, such as in large parts of the Southern Zone of the US, you might find it a little harder to get your lawn up and running, and might struggle to keep it healthy without some help and advice. Unfortunately, there aren’t anywhere near as many guides to growing grass in a desert climate as you might hope, but that’s where we come in. Here at Best of Machinery, we’ve put together a guide to growing grass in a desert climate in order to help you out with getting your lawn up and running in this hot, dry, challenging climate.
Does the Type of Grass Matter?
Grass is not a single plant but is, in fact, an entire family of hundreds of different similar species, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Picking the right grass is like picking the right dog; they are all grass, but they aren’t interchangeable at all! Within these different species, there are different varieties, all of which have further individual traits, albeit generally slightly less significant than the differences between species. You are definitely going to need to choose an appropriate species of grass for a desert climate, but selecting the right variety or selection of varieties will help your new lawn to thrive more easily.
All of the different varieties of one species of grass might look similar to one another, but they actually offer a range of different advantages that you will want to consider when you set out to grow grass in a desert climate. Some varieties of grass are better at surviving extreme weather conditions than others, making them a good investment for the future as climate change leads to more frequent extreme weather events even in desert climates, while others offer strong resistance to pests, diseases, or fungal infections.
It is advisable to buy a mixture of different varieties of your chosen grass species, ensuring that no matter what problems strike your lawn, some of the grass plants should be resistant to each one. This can ensure that no matter what happens, some of your lawn will survive successfully, keeping your lawn in the best condition possible even in moments of crisis.
Grass Species That Thrive in a Desert Climate
In general, grasses divide into warm season grasses and cool season grasses. If you are looking to grow grass in a desert climate, you’re going to want to look at warm season grasses, which thrive in hot climates such as deserts. This makes them an excellent choice for the South and South Western areas of the US, due to the hot, dry summers found there; they’ll also usually do well in other desert environments too, though, so these recommended species are a good fit for any desert. Warm season grasses go dormant without watering in hot, dry environments, but do not die, and will rebound well as soon as conditions become wetter.
The most common species of warm season grass is Bermuda grass, which is a good, reliable choice for any desert environment and the most likely grass for most desert homeowners. This common grass is coarse and hardy, coping well with extreme conditions. It is also available as seed, while many other warm-season grasses are only available as plugs or sprigs, making it an easier and more versatile growing choice for many situations.
Bermuda grass is a fast-growing and resilient species of warm-season grass that rebounds very well from heavy wear, making it ideal for lawns with heavy foot traffic or that are used as play areas for children, but it can sometimes spread faster than is ideal for smaller lawns.
Preparing to Plant Grass in a Desert Climate
Desert soils are often rocky and heavily compacted, making for a poor substrate for growing grass in. In order to ensure that your grass can thrive in desert soil, you’re going to need to prepare the soil appropriately so that the grass plants can develop a strong and healthy root system, no matter whether you’re growing your grass from seed, plugs, or sod.
To start with, you should dig down to a depth of about 6 inches and turn the soil several times. If it is particularly hard and compacted, you might want to use a rototiller to break up the soil with a bit more force. If there are still hard clumps of compacted soil, break them up thoroughly with a garden fork to ensure that the soil particles are relatively small, allowing air to properly reach the roots of the grass plants so that they can grow properly.
Once you’ve broken up the soil properly, you’re going to need to add nutrients. Desert soil is usually poor quality and requires its nutritional value to be boosted a bit in order to sustain grass properly. Often, desert soil can be too alkaline for most grasses. Add gypsum to the soil and mix it in as thoroughly as possible to reduce the alkalinity of the soil to a more manageable level.
After that, you’re going to need more organic nutrients. Apply a good 2 inches of compost and mix that in thoroughly to increase the nutrient content, and then layer on a fertilizer that’s rich in phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen to further enrich the soil for grass growth. You want to do everything you can in order to get the grass established as fast as possible!
Seed vs. sod
The two most common ways to get a new lawn planted are grass sod and growing from seed, although not all species of warm-season grass for growing in desert climates are available in seed form. While you may well be limited by the forms in which your chosen grass species is available, it is worth considering the advantages and disadvantages of seed and sod for growing grass in a desert climate, as if the choice is available you may wish to prioritize certain aspects.
Grass seed is generally the cheapest grass option available, and it may well be easier to find a wide range of different varieties of your chosen species in this form, assuming you’ve selected a grass species such as Bermuda grass that is available in seed form. It is, however, slower to establish than sod, which can pose a problem in poor conditions such as desert environments where the hot, dry weather can cause issues during the establishment of a lawn.
Grass seed can also grow somewhat patchily, especially in poor desert soil, requiring you to occasionally reseed areas that have failed to establish themselves firmly. Seeded grass can take a while to grow strong enough to be resistant to weeds and other problems, meaning that it requires closer inspection and maintenance than sod grass.
Sod is a more expensive option for establishing a new lawn than seed, but it is much faster to get properly established and also often thrives better in hot, dry conditions such as desert climates than younger seeded grass lawns are able to. Sod varieties are also often limited to the particular options grown by local sod growers, as sod chunks are much harder to transport or mix than seeds are! Sod is generally a good option, although it is worth noting that sod chunks can dehydrate easily before planting unless you take certain precautions to avoid that risk.
If your lawn is on a steep slope, though, sod is essential; sloping surfaces are prone to erosion, particularly in dry desert conditions, and seeds can easily become detached and fail to grow on dry slopes. Sod, however, is heavy enough to stay in place while it becomes well established and rooted, and especially when pinned in place, sod grass can establish itself far more easily on a slope than seeds are able to.
Planting Grass Seeds in a Desert Climate
As long as you’ve prepared your soil correctly before you start to plant, the process of planting grass seeds in a desert climate is relatively straightforward and should be familiar to most people that have tried to plant grass seeds in more temperate environments.
Smooth the planting surface and rake the garden until it is level and smooth. Uneven planting surfaces can lead to a patchy lawn, particularly if an unexpected wind or rain shower occurs. Plant your seeds evenly, using a push spreader to ensure that it’s spread out smoothly and evenly, and cover them with a fine layer of compost to retain as much water as possible. After that, water frequently and lightly for the first few weeks, and make sure that the seeds do not dry out in the desert heat!
Protecting Grass Sod From Heat
In the hot, dry conditions of a desert climate, grass sod can dry out very quickly. If you’re not going to be planting your sod immediately, you’re going to need to keep it cool and moist until you use it. This is important, as dried out sod will be unable to grow! The edges of your sod rolls will dry out faster than the rest of it, and if not moistened properly, they can lead to stripes of dead grass across your new lawn.
Keep your sod under a tarp in a shaded part of your yard, and sprinkle water across the edges of the rolls on a regular basis to prevent them from drying out while waiting for the planting process to begin.
Desert conditions are far from ideal for growing grass, but the process of growing grass in a desert climate does not have to be impossible. If you follow Best of Machinery’s guide above, you should have an easier time trying to establish a new lawn in the difficult conditions of a desert environment.
As long as you make sure that you’ve chosen a species of grass that thrives in hot, dry climates, and follow some simple precautions to help your new lawn get established as quickly and securely as possible, you should be able to get a new lawn up and running in a desert climate without experiencing too many problems.