Native Grasses as Groundcovers: In Desert Gardens

Whether or not you have a lawn area, you will find that some native grasses can be used as groundcovers in your garden areas.

They really look good in landscapes that are intended to be naturalized. They also add color, texture and form to any garden area.

Most species of native grasses can be obtained from nurseries that specialize in native plants. If you’re new to gardening, ask some of your garden friends for the names of these nurseries. Or contact your local cooperative extension service or master gardeners association. Although they will not make any specific recommendations, they can probably point you in the proper direction.

If the type of grass you want to grow is not commercially available, then you can collect it from nature. When you have found a stand of the type of grass you want, wait until it seeds and the seeds ripen (probably in the fall or late summer), then collect the seeds. You can get the seeds off the stalks by simply running your hand up the grass stem to dislodge them. You can also bend the stems over, place the seed heads in a container of some kind and rub the seeds from the stem into the container.

It is very difficult to transplant native grasses. You will find that sowing the seeds gives you a much higher level of success.

If the grass is a cool-season species, sow the seed in early fall. It the grass is warm seasoned, then seed between March 1 and mid-July.

Plant the seeds in a well-prepared bed, and keep the soil moist for about two weeks.

Once native grasses have established themselves, they can survive on 15 inches or less of annual precipitation.

You probably will not have to mow your native grasses. If for some reason, you decide to mow, wait for the establishing grasses to flower and seed before the first cut. Do not cut lower than three inches.

One thing you might want to do is check your mower, if you have one and want to cut your native grasses. If it’s a power mower, set the blade to three inches or higher. That way you will be sure that the grass won’t be cut too short.

There are a number of different grasses that can be used for groundcovers:

  • Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides)
  • Blue gramma (Bouteloua gracillis)
  • Western Wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii)
  • Plains Lovegrass (Eragrostis intermedia)
  • Indian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)
  • Black gramma (Bouteloua eriopoda)
  • Curly Mesquite (Hilaria belangeri)
  • Vine Mesquite Grass (Panicum obtusum)
  • Side Oats Gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula)

Galleta (Hilaria jamesii)