Grasses

The trend in the grass seed industry, as consumers demand it, is for grasses that require less water, less fertilizer and grow slowly or are are short so they need little mowing.
While a standard has been Kentucky Bluegrass - a blue-green grass that spreads by its roots - it’s not the best for a low-maintenance lawn.

Sheep or Sheep’s Fescue

Sheep or Sheep’s Fescue is a grass with many varieties found in North America, Europe, and Asia. The types that are sold by the suppliers listed below are a dark green, fine-leaved, soft grass that grows in little bunches and spreads by seed.  Sheep’s fescue works well for a lawn. Once established it is soft on the feet and even.  


A mowed Sheep's Fescue lawn

Advantages of Sheep’s Fescue grass:

• it will not invade flower and shrub beds, as it does not spread by its roots
• it only grows 6 - 8 inches high in this climate, so can be left unmowed. It then lays down in swirls for a nice effect.
• it grows slowly so only needs mowing (if you mow) once a month at most
• once it greens up in the spring it stays green all season without watering
• it grows densely and out-competes weeds
• it grows well in sun and shade

While some say that Sheep’s Fescue will not do as well in heavy traffic areas (where it’s walked on a lot), Bowpoint Nursery has had Sheep’s Fescue growing since 2005 on a road at their nursery. This road gets driven over fairly regularly by trucks and the Sheep’s Fescue grass is holding up well.


Unmowed Sheep's Fescue on a road at Bow Point Nursery.

Hard and Creeping Fescues

Other varieties of Fescue grasses also work well in Calgary. Like Sheep’s Fescue, they are bunch grasses that grow in little clumps. Some of these grow a little taller than the Sheep’s Fescue so may require more mowing.

Blue Grama Grass

A grass native to the prairies and very drought tolerant. Read more . . .

Grass Trials

Olds College, an hour north of Calgary, has a Prairie Turfgrass Research Centre. They did trials in the mid-1990’s in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Fort Saskatchewan on low-maintenance grasses. They seeded areas with various grasses and grass mixes and watched them for a few years. The results showed that the Hard, Creeping, and Sheep’s Fescues and also the Blue Grama grass did pretty well in terms of establishing and covering the area, competing with weeds, and for tolerance of dry conditions.

Perennial Ryegrass, a common seed in many grass mixes, did not show as much tolerance for dry conditions. Many of the grasses native to this area took too long to establish and had a lot of weeds.

Read more . . . (scroll down the page to the mid -1990’s trials)

No Need for a Mix of Grass Seed

While almost all books recommend planting mixtures of grass seeds, it’s not necessary to do this, especially if you are overseeding existing grass. The reason for using a mix is usually to have faster growing grasses that will shade and protect the slower growing grasses. Local experience with Sheep’s Fescue is that it establishes itself with seeding it alone.

Seeding a New Lawn

Locally grown sod is all Kentucky Bluegrass based - that you can buy in rolls to plant over prepared soil. Fescues generally root too deeply to be grown as commercial sods. So, if you are starting your lawn from scratch, or want to start your lawn over, your best bet is to seed on prepared soil.

You can also replace the grass types in your existing lawn by overseeding for a few years. Read more . . .

In the long-run, the best thing you can do for your lawn is to have 8 inches, or 17 cms., of great soil underneath it. It will grow better, resist weeds better, and need less water in the long run. Most top soil available for purchase in Calgary is full of weed seeds and not very rich in organic life. Bowpoint Nursery has composted, weed-free soil available in bulk (see contact information below under Suppliers). You can also bring in really good compost and rototill it in with your topsoil. Click here for more on where to get compost.

Rake your soil out flat and apply the grass seed with a drop seeder (this will create a more even seed spread than a broadcast seeder - the whirly kind). Spread half of your seed back and forth in one direction and then the other half by going back and forth in the other direction for the most even seed coverage.

Suppliers

• Bowpoint Nursery (www.bowpointnursery.com), Springbank, 686-4434,

Sells 2 kilogram (5 lb.) bags - enough to cover 2000 square feet or most residential yards. They have two types:
 1)  Sheep’s Fescue grass
 2)  a mix of Rocky Mountain, Hard, and Sheep’s Fescue grasses plus 10% blue grama grass.
Patches of both kinds of grass are growing at the nursery so you can see what they look like.

• Westgro Horticultural Supplies, 1557 Hastings Cres. S.E., 287-3988

Sells Sheep’s Fescue Grass by the kilogram or in 23 kg. bags. Has a wide variety of other grass mixes in 23 kg. bags.

Other local garden centres or nurseries probably don’t have fescue grass seed mixes.  If you buy at these places, look for grass mixes that will have the least percentage of Kentucky Bluegrass.

Seed suppliers can make you custom grass seed mixes or sell you just one type of seed- you just have to order in large quantities.

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