Growing Grass in a Desert Climate

Stuart Wellbert
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Does the Type of Grass Matter?

The general rule of thumb is that warm-season grasses grow quickly, stay green all year, and are the most common. Cool-season grasses grow more slowly, go dormant in summer, and are a bit hardier in colder winter weather. However, if you're worried about how well a warm-season grass will be able to survive in your climate, there are a few things about your growing climate that you need to consider as well.

If you're starting from a relatively bare patch, it might be worth it to either purchase a mix of a cool- and warm-season grass, or two separate types of warm-season grass to get your lawn started off right. The importance of choosing a variety of species is found in how each grass acts and reacts to the amount of rainfall each year can have. Drought-tolerant cool-season grasses can help keep your yard from turning into dirt. Warm-season grasses can withstand heat and cold, so the ability to choose a variety of grasses gives you the most flexibility when it comes to your individual needs.

Grass Species That Thrive in a Desert Climate

You can still create a lush and vibrant yard with tons of green grass in a desert climate, but it isn’t as easy as you may think. The most important thing to remember is to choose a proper grass species that suits the dry climate. A few grass species that are a great fit for your backyard are:

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is a drought-tolerant grass suited for low maintenance and for regions with large rainfall differences. This species does need regular watering when first planted. It has an aggressive growth habit and produces a beautiful-quality turf during years of adequate water and food.

Fescue Grass

Fescue grasses make a healthy and durable lawn in regions where summers are hot and the soil is dry. Fescue is fairly disease-resistant, but needs to be mowed regularly and watered adequately.

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is a low-growing species that grows best in warm regions and in the southern plains. It requires lots of sunshine and dries out quickly. Bermuda grass grows best when planted in full sunlight, and does well in areas of the United States with warm climates.

Preparing to Plant Grass in a Desert Climate

Preparing to plant grass in a desert climate is very different than preparing for planting grass in other climates. In the desert, grass needs to be watered on a daily basis during the summer. Plan on planting in the late afternoon/early evening, so that the grass has time to set before the hot, dry sun comes in the next day. Do not till in the fall or winter, as this will allow the soil to erode even more in the desert.

In the desert, you should plant grass with a low invasive spread, such as buffalo grass. In other climates, it can be planted for grazing purposes.

Seed vs. sod

Grass Seed:

Sowing grass seed is a tried and tested method for growing grass in the arid heat of dry sandy desert regions. Grass seeds need moisture to germinate, which it will get from the depth of the seed packet. One issue of using this method is that too much moisture makes the seeds germinate faster, but a lot of excess moisture can also kill the tiny seed. It's a fine balance to get the spacing and soil moisture right for germination, and then give the seeds what they need once they are sprouting.

Sod:

Sod is the way to go if you make mistakes of either kind, and germination is not the seed’s strong point. Sod also germinates much faster than seeds, so germinating is not an issue. A sod lawn is usually destined for death with the amount of watering it takes to keep it alive, but it does give the grass a great head start on any seed lawn. It's especially needed if you're trying to prevent weeds from taking over the lawn.

Planting Grass Seeds in a Desert Climate

The most important thing when raising grass in a desert climate is to make sure you water your newly planted lawn. Watering your lawn heavily for two weeks will make sure the grass gets its roots established and starts to germinate before the heat sets in.

Keep your lawn watered thoroughly for the first year after planting the grass. The heat of the desert will cause the grass to die off quickly. After the first year, water your lawn lightly at least one time per month, all year round. In the hotter months, you will need to water at least twice a week. Keeping your lawn watered is the best way to keep it growing.

The second thing you’ll need to plant your lawn in a desert is to use seeds that are suited for the area. If you live in Arizona, or another desert area of the southwest, there are specific types of grass seeds made for desert climates. These grasses have evolved to be able to handle the hot temperatures and desert sunlight in their areas. Using these seeds will give you the best chance of having a successful planting.

A third thing you’ll need to successfully grow a grass lawn in a desert is to choose a location for your lawn in the shade of a tree or the side of your house. This gives your new lawn the most shade possible, and will give you the best chance of having it take root and grow.

Protecting Grass Sod From Heat

Even though a desert is considered a barren hot dry place, open land in the desert can be used to grow grasses and trees. Protecting new seeds and grass species is very important. Long-term environmental protection can take place because grasses and trees filter the air, provide shade and food for birds and other wildlife, and aid in erosion control.

To protect grasses and trees from sunlight, use a minimum of three layers of shade material. The materials you use should be lightweight and reflective to maximize shade. When placing materials over seeds or established grass species, gently pack the material into the grass to create a flat surface. To keep your grass from drying out and dying, select materials that create shade but allow air circulation.

When calculating the volume of shade material needed use a cylinder measurement. This calculation requires only one measurement and will not vary due to shape or size of the object.

Shade Material ” ” ” ” ” ” ” =Square Feet

The depth of the mulch, such as 3 inches, is not included in the volume of materials needed.