Drought Tolerant Native Grasses For Water Conservation & Xeriscape Landscaping

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Native grasses bring multiple benefits, not only to insects, birds, and other native wildlife but also to landscaping aesthetics. They require much less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides. In fact, they can prevent water run off and improve air quality. Native grasses can help decrease pollution because they eliminate the need for mowers and other equipment. The are perfect for xeriscaping (the process of landscaping, or gardening, that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation).

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Native grasses have fibrous roots which are great for holding soil in place in areas that are prone to erosion. This helps build organic matter in the soil and increase water infiltration. They are a low maintenance option and, once established, they don’t need additional water or fertilizer. Native grasses formed the foundation of the expanses of prairies, savannas and meadows that once covered the greater midwest. They currently are a natural component mingling beautifully with native wildflowers in both naturalized and formal settings.

Native grasses have adapted to grow in a variety of environments, such as drought prone soils, low nutrient soils, or seasonally flooded areas, which makes them perfect for difficult locations. Drought tolerant grasses, such as blue grama and sideoats grama, do well in heat-stricken areas near roadsides or as plantings in parking lots where they are exposed to sun all day long. 

Many people have misconceptions regarding grasses often thinking of lawns or weedy grasses such as poa annua; however, many native grass species are very attractive and are not invasive whatsoever.  They have varied shapes and sizes such as prairie dropseed, which has fine textured leaves and deep green foliage.  Another example is Indiangrass which has a columnar shape sometimes growing 6 feet with soft seed heads that turn golden in the fall. Some grasses offer brilliant seasonal color changes, like little bluestem that flush bright orange or switchgrass that can take on shades of maroon. 

Many studies estimate in hot, dry climates that 75% of a households' water is used to irrigate  lawns and landscaping. Xeriscaping (the process of landscaping, or gardening, that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation) helps preserve water as it is more reliant on natural rainfall and minimal maintenance when compared to traditional landscaping. Several studies have concluded that xeriscaping can reduce outdoor irrigation by 60% which will greatly reduce your water bill. There is no better way to start xeriscaping then choosing native grasses for your area.

In summary, here are some of the advantages of adding native grasses to your landscape developed by Lawnstarter:

  • Reduce soil erosion by having deeper, anchoring root systems
  • Capture sediment being carried by water and wind
  • Improve water quality by filtering chemicals and impurities from water before it flows into creeks and rivers
  • Provide wildlife habitat, especially as a nesting place for birds
  • A source of pollen, seeds, and insects for wildlife
  • Drought tolerant, since their survival depended on their ability to consume less water
  • Hardier than developed or imported grasses
  • A huge variety of heights, shapes, and colors
  • Most are perennials, requiring little maintenance
  • More resistant to pests, insects, and diseases than developed or imported grasses
  • Significantly fewer weeds because the leaf density provided up top denies them the sunlight they use to grow
  • Take away carbon dioxide: One acre can store 1 ton of carbon dioxide per year, according to the University of Minnesota.
  • Deeper root system will distribute carbon deeper into the ground and make the plant that much stronger. Almost 90 percent of non-native lawn grasses have roots no more than a few inches deep. Roots of native grasses go down several feet.