Colorado High Altitude Turf Grass

Asked August 2, 2018, 11:54 AM EDT

I just moved to an 8500 ft. altitude in Colorado. Our house has the front yard and a small patch in the back of Kentucky Blue Grass and buffalo grass in the rest of the backyard.

It takes a LOT of water to keep the Blue Grass from dying and water is expensive here. Is there another grass such as Zoysia that requires less water but looks better and is easier to walk on than buffalo grass?

Teller County Colorado

1 Response

First, it's not likely that you have buffalograss growing at 8500 feet, as it is grows mainly on the eastern plains of CO and along the Front Range. I have seen it grow (not well) in Estes Park. Perhaps you have some blue grama, another warm-season grass, that will grow at a bit higher elevation than buffalograss. In any case, warm-season grasses don't perform well at higher elevations because of the short frost-free growing season. Zoysiagrass is also a warm-season grass - and not one that performs very well in Colorado (though could be used in Pueblo and Grand Junction where they have very hot, long summers. It is often promoted (in gardening publication ads) as a miracle grass that will do well everywhere. Not true, especially at 8500 feet.

Cool-season grasses, like bluegrass, will do much better at elevation. The bluegrass, by the way, will go dormant without water (though it looks dead). I have bluegrass that hasn't been watered for 30 years and is still alive. It just doesn't look good during long periods without rain.

A grass "group" that will do better in a high altitude lawn includes the "fine fescues": the Chewings fescues, hard fescues, blue/sheeps fescues, and creeping red fescues.They grow well on poor soils, prefer drier soil conditions, don't grow much (so don't require frequent mowing), and can even be left unmowed for a "nature lawn". Here is an example seed mix that can be purchased from Pawnee Buttes seed company in Greeley (even though it's called "Shady Lawn Mix", it will work find for a sunny lawn application):
Creeping Red Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, Hard Fescue, Chewings Fescue
Seeding Rate: 4-5 lbs/1,000 s.f.

For a lower quality lawn (grows taller, infrequent mowing, no or infrequent mowing) that basically covers the soil and keeps the mud and dust down, here are some other seed mixes from Pawnee Buttes that would work.

Canada Bluegrass, Sandberg Bluegrass, Rocky Mountain Fescue, & Sheep Fescue
Seeding Rate: 5 lbs/1,000 s.f.

Idaho Fescue, Sandberg Bluegrass, Rocky Mountain Fescue, Big BluegrassSeeding Rate: 5 lbs/1,000 s.f.

In the end, success will be dependent on any irrigation you can provide, uniform seeding and establishment (buy extra seed for seeding areas that are missed or don't "take"), and cooperation of the weather. Having some decent amount/depth of soil is also important.

Hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you have additional questions.