What type of grass should I seed?

Asked April 27, 2018, 10:21 AM EDT

I have an office in Idaho Springs. It is surrounded by pines, which means lots of pine needles. I have rototilled about 500 sq ft, that I would like to plant some grass. How should I prepare the soil, and what kind of grass do you recommend? I don't want bluegrass or another high water grass, but would like something greenish and comfortable looking, preferably easy to care for.,

Clear Creek County Colorado

1 Response

Thank you for your inquiry. Usually it is difficult to get anything to grow under pine trees, but since you have tilled, you may have more success. Soil amendment may be helpful; I would suggest a soil test from CSU's Soil Lab. (I have sample bottles and instructions at my office,) Below are some suggestions for grasses to try. I hope you find this information helpful -- please keep me posted and let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Chris Crouse
CSU Extension in Clear Creek County

High Elevation Native Grasses (~7,500’-9,000’)

By Irene Shonle, Gilpin County Extension

Even with normal precipitation, trying to establish new grass under dryland conditions is tricky. Generally, the best time to seed is in the late fall, just before the first significant snowfall. The seeds will then germinate in the spring. The other time in Colorado for seeding is in late June or early July, just before the monsoonal moisture flow that is typical for that time of year. This timing can be successful or a total bust, depending on whether the rains come in the right amount and over a long enough period of time. Seeding with a grass drill is the most successful practice, but most small acreage landowners do not have access to a drill. Broadcast seeding can work, but is not as successful as drill seeding. For broadcasting, the seeding ratio needs to be doubled and the seeds need to be incorporated by harrowing as best as possible.

INDIAN RICE GRASS This beautiful grass was a prime food source of Native Americans who would grind the rice into flour to make bread. Both the leaves and the grain have a high nutritional value. Indian Rice Grass has been steadily destroyed in its native habitat since the 1800s; it is a grass worthy of restoration and preservation. The 1’-2’ flowering stems are beautifully airy and a graceful accent in rock gardens or flower beds, and a great sandy/meadow reclamation grass. Often found in flower markets, many people grow it specifically for cutting. Birds love the seeds! Look for a variety called Nezpar or Palome.

MOUNTAIN BROME This is a bunchgrass native to the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast regions. Plants grow to 4 feet with leaves up to 12” long and about .24” wide. Leaf blades are flat and hairy underneath. Growth starts early in the spring, producing much leafy forage relished by livestock. Because of rapid seedling growth and a well-branched, deep root system, mountain brome is excellent where a rapid cover development is needed.

BLUE GRAMA GRASS This is a warm season grass, native to the High Plains. It is a low-growing bunch grass (1 to 1.5’ with the seed heads) that is part sod-forming and can be grown as a tight turf. The blades are thin, so the texture of this grass is very fine. Easy to establish, cold hardy, pest and disease free, tolerant of poor soil. The seed is borne in flags that curl back gracefully when dry. Up here, plant only in open, south or west facing areas.

TUFTED HAIRGRASS A circumpolar native grass, medium to tall growing, densely tufted bunchgrass. It has a fibrous root system and stands between 20-80cm in height. It grows in soils varying from sand to clay, but performs best on finer textured soils. It has a low to moderate drought tolerance.

BLUE WILD RYE A perennial bunchgrass native throughout the Western states. It grows in small tufts, reaching up to 5 feet. Leaves are broad and flat, up to 12” long. It is abundant on moist soils, but will tolerate drought. It is shade tolerant.

SLENDER WHEATGRASS This grows to 3 feet in dense leafy clumps or bunches that are a foot or more in diameter. The flowering stems are erect and rather coarse. Most of the leaves are basal. They are up to a foot long and .5” wide. Propagation is by seeds. It can provide a good grass cover on areas that have been disturbed and may be used for seeding low areas that tend to be alkaline.

WHEATGRASS is a slender, relatively short-lived grass. It is not as competitive with weeds as other wheatgrasses, but it is shade tolerant.

ARIZONA FESCUE Dense, thin stems 2 to 4 feet tall form this high-elevation bunchgrass that grows in evergreen forests and meadows.

JUNEGRASS This grass flowers early and produces lustrous silvery-green seed heads in early summer. It grows on dry sandy and rocky soils, seldom exceeding 2 feet in height.

MOUNTAIN MUHLY This is a dense-growing, moderately large bunchgrass that flowers after the soil has been moistened by summer rains. The plants are usually 1 to feet tall.

WESTERN WHEATGRASS This is easy to establish on dryland sites. It is a cool-season, perennial sod-forming grass. It reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet, and because of its bluish-colored stems and leaves, it is often called Bluestem Wheatgrass. Western Wheatgrass will tolerate short periods of flooding and also endure long periods of drought.

LITTLE BLUESTEM This is more typically thought of as a plains grass, however, it is worthy of trying up here on south or west facing areas. A small. Non-spreading, clump-forming grass with blue-green leaves that turn bronze-red into the fall. Fluffy silver seed heads are ornamental through winter.

For more information, please refer to COLORADO MASTER GARDEN NOTES:

#581-Native Grasses for Use in Colorado Landscapes