drought tolerant lawn seed mix

Asked April 18, 2016, 6:05 PM EDT

We are replacing our lawn and want to put in a drought tolerant seed mix, we have approx 4000 square feet of lawn. We live in Ellensburg, Washington USDA zone 6, our yard has southeast, south and western exposure with mixed shade from mature spruce trees as the sun moves around. We are confused as to tall fescue and dwarf and creeping fescues, mixes, buffalo grasses, warm vs cold grasses, is it too late to do a cold season grass. What would be best?

Kittitas County Washington

4 Responses

Excellent question. Lawn grass can be tricky because of the variety of soil conditions, sun exposure variation due to aspect and shading structures, competition for soil moisture from trees, etc. Warm season grasses are popular in places because they exhibit peak growth during the hottest part of the year. The downside is that they may not be winterhardy enough to survive (depending on the microclimate of the site) and they won't initiate growth until soil temperatures warm significantly, which means June in the Ellensburg area. Cool-season grasses are very winter-hardy and will begin growth in late March most years in central Washington. They often exhibit a "slump" in growth during July and August because they don't tolerate the heat as well.
Most reliable lawn mixes for the Ellensburg area are exclusively cool-season species. Buffalo grass is an example of a warm-season species that may work in places like the Tri-Cities, but it doesn't grow well in Ellensburg.
Tall fescue, creeping fescue, bluegrass, ryegrass . . . these are all good options for Ellensburg. They can still be successfully planted in April and early May, but seeds have to receive frequent, shallow watering and more frequent with sun and wind. WSU has an excellent publication on lawn grasses (Home Lawns, EB0482E) which can be found here: http://pubs.wsu.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=13322&SeriesCode=&CategoryID=&Keyword=lawn...

Also, you can find here a list of publications on lawns, including recent research and guidance on buffalograss and fine fescue: http://pubs.wsu.edu/ListItems.aspx?CategoryID=218

That is all very helpful, thanks.

Have you heard of turf type tall fescue? I found it in some of the research that we did, thanks for the leads, and it seems ideal for here, but it is not what is planted around here. Mostly there is a KY Blue grass/rye or fescue mix used locally. That requires about triple the amount of water that Turf Type Tall fescue does. This type of fescue apparently is ok for heavy traffic as well. Needs to be water once a week/10 days.

Thanks for any additional insight you can provide.

Yes, I am a fan of turf-type tall fescue. It is quite drought-tolerant, deep-rooted, persistent, and competitive. It is not as popular as others because it is not fine-leaved. It produces coarser, clumpier turf than the usual bluegrasses and ryegrasses, which many turf lovers find objectionable. However, I think it's an excellent choice for traffic areas, sandy soils that don't hold water near the surface for long, and full-sun lawns that are actually used by people (rather than only enjoyed visually from a deck chair or driveway). I have personally used 100% turf tall fescue in several areas in my backyard, which is used by children daily, and it works better than anything else.

Thank you, that is useful information.