A New Look At the Intermountain Home Landscape Green Spaces
Part 2: Turf Alternatives

By William Habblett, CNP, CPD
Landscape Industry Certified Manager
CWI Horticulture Instructor

You have thought about your personal oasis and have concluded that you have areas where turf in those areas are just for your weekly mowing. There are many great options for these spaces that I will go into more in depth shortly. But first, we should talk about effective ways to get rid of the Kentucky bluegrass.

Before you install your new option, you will need to ensure that the Kentucky bluegrass is killed off so that it doesn’t become a pervasive weed in your new landscape. At this time, the general recommendation at this time is to use a nonselective herbicide; such as glyphosate, to kill off the grass and the root system. You will generally need to reapply in two weeks to take care of any spots that have survived the initial application. If you prefer, you can use horticulture vinegar. You will have to do multiple treatments because vinegar only kills the top plant growth. Depending on what you are applying, it is still best to remove the sod with such tools as a sod cutter. Just using a sod cutter will leave behind small root structures called rhizomes that will grow new tufts of bluegrass in your new environment. There are other techniques that you can do but don’t rely on just shutting the water off. Realistically, Kentucky bluegrass is the most drought tolerant grass with its ability to go completely dormant for extended periods of no moisture.

There are multiple options that are available to you to use as a groundcover and it comes down to function, aesthetic preference, and personal preference. I will introduce you to a few; and then hopefully, we will have your interest peaked and you can explore the many options available at your local nursery.

Creeping Thyme is one of the classic alternative ground covers that is available for your use. There are multiple types available from lemon thyme to woolly thyme. All the thymes will spread out and as the stems stay in contact with the soil, they will begin to grow roots. One of the best ways to promote this is to walk on it after light moisture so that it will get stuck in the ground. Just watch out for the happy bees when it is covered in small purple blooms.
Ajuga is a nice option that spreads by stolons. There are a few color variances in leaves out there. It may suffer some winter desiccation, but overall, it will cover an area and needs almost no maintenance. It has a nice blue bloom that occurs during the cooler season but the thick matting of rosette leaves is the real pleasure. I personally use it as the ground cover under my roses.
There is also the option of standard and Ornamental Strawberries that could be a wonderful option for you. It’s not for an area that has a lot of traffic because you might end up tripping yourself on thick plant clumps and wondering stolons. . They are an early bloomer for great color and the ornamental strawberry holds its bright fruit for an extended season.
Sedum/Stonecrop is a wonderful, drought tolerant ground cover whose usage has exploded in the green roof market because of its durability and adaptability. Colors vary from lime green to dark purple and will hold up all year long. All of them will create a wonderful carpet that will cover your open area with very few issues.

As I said, there are many more great options that exist. To the point, a book could actually be written on just this subject. But what if you are interested in options, but still want grass materials in your yard. The first options that I would suggest are they meadow type grasses that are adapted to our environment. Sheep’s fescue is one that is commonly used. It is regularly grown in clumps and is used regularly for planting in areas that can’t be easily mowed, such as hill sides. It can be seeded/planted closer together and create a more typical turf. Because of the clumping nature, it won’t be the easiest surface for sports-type activities.

Two other options for you is blue gramma and buffalo grass. They are two more grasses that perform well with our summer conditions. Buffalo grass is a very durable grass and will hold up to most family recreation. I do recommend trying to find the clone, ‘Legacy’, because it doesn’t create the burr seeds that can be a little painful to walk on. Blue gramma is a nice option for sandier sites and would prefer afternoon shade in the treasure valley. Both can be maintained by mowing at less than once per month or left to go grow to about 8” tall to blow in the wind. The only issue for some is that they both go dormant from October to May and have a strong straw appearance for that time.

Are you still a little nervous about getting away from the traditional turf appearance, but you want to know if there are options available? Two local companies supply sod that are different fescue variances that I recommend you try. ‘RTF’, ‘Compacta’, and ‘Xerilawn’ are just a few options that are available. All three of these will give you a more ‘traditional’ look and feel of turf while limiting the need for water, fertilization and pesticide usage.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that it has inspired you to look at other options for your landscape and take the time to enjoy your landscape beyond the weekly mowing. Support my friends and your local neighbors by shopping at your local nurseries who are available to help you choose the best plants for you and your home. The images used were from www.stepables.com and you will be able to see many more options available there also.