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Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing and Maintaining Grass in an Arizona Yard

February 24, 2023

A gorgeous patch of green does more than beautify your surroundings—it’s also as good as money in the bank. But with Arizona’s unfriendly environment, cultivating a lawn can be challenging.

Still, if you know how to work around the limitations, you can infuse life into your desert yard and, possibly, turn dirt into gold.

This blog post provides a basic guide to choosing the right ground cover for your lawn. It also gives some care tips for keeping Arizona grass healthy.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Planting Considerations for Natural Grass

Getting a good start is vital when growing natural turf. Think of the following before deciding on your ground cover:

WHICH NATURAL GRASS VARIETY DO YOU WANT TO PLANT?

The Arizona climate allows two types of grasses to grow. Below are the species most commonly found in Arizona homes.

Warm-Season Grasses

These varieties grow maximally during summer and minimally during winter.

  • Bermuda grass has gray-green blades that can grow up to 4” long but are best maintained at 1½-2”. It has an extensive root system, making it more drought-resistant than other warm-season grass species. Bermuda grass has excellent wear tolerance, making it a great golf course ground cover. However, it does not grow well in the shade.
  • Midiron and Tifway 419 are shorter, more cold-tolerant Bermuda grass hybrids. Both recover quickly from damage, but Tifway 419 is tougher, making it the ground cover of choice for sports fields.
  • St. Augustine grass has the best shade tolerance among summer grasses. Its leaf is bigger than that of Bermuda grass, though it is less durable. Palmetto St. Augustine grass is a variant that can withstand foot traffic and cold temperatures better.
  • Buffalo grass is a low-maintenance type with the best cold tolerance among summer grasses. It thrives less in the shade but is moderately wear-resistant.
  • Zoysiagrass has slender blades. It is durable and moderately shade-tolerant but slow to grow.

Cool-Season Grasses

These varieties reach their peak growth in the winter, with most going dormant or dying in the summer. They are suited for planting over dead patches of an existing lawn—a process called “overseeding”—during the cold months.

  • Kentucky bluegrass has emerald green blades with boat-shaped tips. It has blue flower heads when allowed to grow fully, hence the name. It is moderately drought-tolerant owing to its relatively shallow roots. It is also less durable, germinates slowly and doesn’t grow well in the shade.
  • Perennial ryegrass tolerates shade, drought and cold temperatures less than Kentucky bluegrass. But it is a quick-growing, wear-resistant species that can cover a winter lawn’s bare patches fast.
  • Tall fescue germinates quickly and is more shade-tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. It is low-maintenance and wear-resistant. It has deeper roots, so it can tolerate the summer months better.
  • Eco lawn is a mixture of different fescue seed varieties. The mature grass thrives well in the summer and requires less maintenance than other cool-season types.

WHAT PLANT MATERIAL IS SUITABLE FOR ESTABLISHING YOUR NATURAL GRASS LAWN?

You can start growing a natural grass lawn using immature or mature grass or grass parts. 

If you use grass seed, you’re starting from the youngest type of all. The main advantage of starting from grass seed is that the upfront costs are low.

You can use grass seeds to cover a bare lawn. You can also use them to overseed an established lawn.

The main disadvantages of using grass seeds are their long maturation periods and greater maintenance requirements in the early growth stages.

Meanwhile, grass sod is mature grass planted on a layer of soil. The biggest advantage of using sod is that it can cover a bare lawn instantly, so long as the soil is prepped well. It just needs a few weeks to take root and be ready for foot traffic.

However, sod’s major drawback is that it has high upfront costs. Sod is bought and sold per square foot and must be installed by a professional.

You may also use sprigs and plugs to start growing grass. Sprigs are pieces of grass stems. Plugs are small portions of sod. You may use them to cover entire lawns or bare patches.

Not all grass species can be grown from all these plant forms. For example, perennial ryegrass seed germination is easy. But St. Augustine grass does not reliably grow from seeds, so it’s better to establish a St. Augustine grass lawn with sod, sprigs or plugs. Check with your supplier if they have the right starting material to fill your lawn with your chosen grass type.

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Grass Type for Your Arizona Lawn?

Phoenix is in southern Arizona, a unique place where the temperature swings wildly from season to season. Finding the right turf is vital, so consider the following factors when you shop for grass:

LOCAL REGULATIONS

Arizona’s limited water supply makes it uninhabitable to plant species not native to the Sonoran desert. To ensure steady water distribution, cities and HOAs impose strict rules on home water consumption and vegetation type options. So you can’t just choose any ground cover unless it meets local regulations.

MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS

Keeping a natural grass lawn lush throughout the year can be pretty demanding (see below). You have to go all in, from soil preparation to maintenance. By comparison, artificial turf stays green even without meticulous care. Mostly, you only need to ensure that it’s installed properly and cleaned regularly.

IMPACT ON YOUR LIFESTYLE

Natural and artificial grasses have attributes that appeal to different kinds of people. Nurturing types go for natural grass. Those who can’t fit lawn upkeep into their schedule choose artificial turf. People who want a cooler environment and don’t mind the higher water bills pick a natural ground cover. Those who have loved ones with pollen allergies stick to artificial grass. 

SHADE

Grass needs the sun to grow. Some species can thrive with less sun exposure, while others become susceptible to disease. If tall structures like trees and buildings shade your lawn, it’s better to choose shade-tolerant natural grass or artificial ground cover. 

SOIL TYPE

This matters if local rules allow you to plant non-native grass on your lawn. Most of Arizona has alkaline soil, which changes the chemical form of nutrients and makes them less absorbable. Have a sample from your lawn checked. Consult your local nursery or county extension office for tips on amending poor soil conditions.

FRONT YARD OR BACKYARD?

Your activities are different between the front and back of your house. Your use of the grass and its purpose will be different. For a front yard idea, think about primary function of the lawn being that of making you and your guests feel welcome upon arrival. The backyard lawn may be used for play often. So it’s common to have different types of grass at the front and in the back.

TIME OF THE YEAR

If it’s spring, you may fill your lawn with warm-season grass. If it’s autumn, pick cool-season grass. Neither summer nor winter is a good time to plant grass because temperature extremes prevent proper growth. If you have a bare lawn during these months, it’s best just to get the soil ready for the next planting season. Prepping a soil bed for grass planting can take a few weeks.

Real vs. Artificial Grass

Natural grass has a more comfortable feel and contributes to oxygen production. It cools the environment, reducing Arizona homes’ air conditioning use and energy requirements. However, it usually takes a while to be foot traffic-ready, and its maintenance is more expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, not all grass species are sturdy, and some release allergy-inducing pollen in the air. 

Meanwhile, the upsides of artificial turf include low water and maintenance needs, durability, quick installation and being pollen-free. But it is non-biodegradable and does not lower ambient temperatures.

Both natural and artificial grass can prevent soil erosion. The former relies on root growth, while the latter owes it to soil compaction during installation.

Which will blend swimmingly with both your outdoor space and lifestyle? Read on to find out which type suits you better.

WHEN DO YOU WANT TO START GREENING UP YOUR LAWN?

As previously stated, Arizona has two planting seasons. But the question is: When do you plan to start your lawn project?

Spring planting is for summer grass. If you’re using grass seed, plant in early spring so it will not be exposed to very high temperatures while it is still young. If you’re using sod, it’s okay to plant in mid to late spring.

In autumn, plant winter grass. If you’re using grass seed, start as soon as the temperatures dip to 65-70℉. This usually occurs in October. If you’re using sod, you must install it weeks before the ground gets icy.

If you’re not in a rush, keep in mind that spring is better than autumn for establishing a lawn. You can fill your yard with drought-tolerant, warm-season grass during springtime. Cool-season grasses need much more water in the summer than summer grasses do in the winter. So it’s more practical to limit their use to overseeding in the cold months. 

Maintenance Considerations for Natural Arizona Grasses

Natural grass requires more care than most of Arizona’s native plants. The following measures are critical to their health:

FERTILIZING

Grass needs fertilizers for healthy growth, but over-fertilizing increases water and mowing requirements. Unless your soil has particular nutrient needs, get a complete fertilizer and follow the usage directions.

WATERING

Irrigation is another part of lawn care that you must approach carefully. Too little water and the grass dies. Excess amounts will attract fungus and weeds that can compete for nutrients with your grass. Watering too frequently will produce shallow roots.

Grass needs about one inch of water per week. If you use a sprinkler, you can measure how much it sprays using a rain gauge or a one-inch-high tuna can.

Irrigate once every three days during summer and once weekly during winter. Split the amount of water evenly when irrigating twice a week.

If it rains, measure the amount of rainfall with a rain gauge. If it doesn’t reach one inch in one week, spray the remainder with your sprinkler.

The best time to irrigate is early morning when water is less likely to evaporate. Make sure your lawn sprinkler is working well so it sprays the right amount of water.

MOWING

Mowing promotes resiliency and even growth. Mow only up to one-third of the grass’s height, as shorter leaves need more water. Keep your lawn mower blades sharp so they don’t make the grass disease-prone or look jagged.

AERATING

Aerating creates holes in the soil, letting air and water in. It softens hot weather-compacted dry soil, which can otherwise cause runoffs or disrupt root growth. Do this once a year, preferably when the rain or irrigation moistens the summer soil.

DETHATCHING

Thatch is a mesh of living and dead plant materials that can accumulate during the peak growth stages of summer grass. A thin layer keeps water on the ground, minimizing evaporation. But too much can produce shallow roots, making your ground cover less drought-tolerant.

Dethatch in the summer using a power rake or a vertical mower. Water and fertilize afterward, as dethatching can get your lawn out of shape. Overseed if necessary. Do not dethatch in the winter, when the grass cannot easily recover from the stress.

DISEASE, PEST AND WEED CONTROL

If you stay on top of your lawn’s care needs, you’ve already done most of the work keeping disease, pests and weeds out. Call your local nursery for advice if you encounter problems despite good maintenance. 

Considerations for Artificial Ground Cover in Arizona

Artificial grass provides an instant lawn. It is fashioned from plastic and made to look like natural grass. Maintenance consists of regular cleaning and clearing of pet waste, if there’s any. There’s no need for fertilizers, water and other things natural grass needs. Its average lifespan is 15-25 years.

Artificial grass has three types, depending on the kind of plastic used.

Polyethylene is the most popular as it is the most real-looking and does not absorb water and odors. It is also durable and resistant to UV and heat, making it suitable for both home lawns and sports fields.

Nylon is stiffer and tougher than polyethylene, so it’s better as a sports field ground cover. It’s also UV- and heat-resistant. But it’s more expensive and easily absorbs pet urine and odors.

Polypropylene is the least durable of the three. It is resistant to moisture and odors but not to UV and heat. Some may still choose it over polyethylene and nylon because it is the cheapest. 

Artificial grass can be further classified according to stitch count, height, color, and other characteristics that are often manufacturer-specific.

Is There An Eco-Friendly Artificial Grass?

In recent years, manufacturers have started taking steps toward making eco-friendly artificial grass. Some have begun using recycled petroleum-based plastic. Others have developed artificial turf from biodegradable, plant-based plastic. The performance of these products has not been fully tested in a wider market. But you can work with your trusted supplier or landscaping professional to find high-quality, eco-friendly artificial grass for your home.

Style, Value and Nature’s Nurturing: The Benefits of a Healthy Desert Lawn

The benefits of having a green grass lawn are plenty.

For different households:

  • It enhances curb appeal.
  • It relaxes a stressed mind.
  • It cools the surroundings.
  • It increases property value.

For the community, it prevents soil erosion and its hazardous consequences.

Indeed, you reap more than what you sow when you care for nature, even if it’s just on a small piece of land.

However, establishing a lawn and keeping it healthy are no easy tasks. You may do them on your own, but it’s hard to guarantee success if you don’t have the skill. The best way to get your dream lawn and value for your money is to hire an excellent landscaping team. 

Phoenix Lawn Ideas for Inspiration

Can’t wait to green up your outdoor space? Let these views of our work get you started on your lawn project.

This Arizona garden has a natural grass lawn as its focal point and red, orange and yellow flowers for accents. It provides the perfect background for al fresco dining in the adjoining outdoor kitchen and dining area.

Natural grass and drought-resistant plants surround the slide, swing, shade and trampoline. Kids would never want to leave this fun backyard that looks like a park. Playful adults wouldn’t, either.

Artificial grass makes for a lovely and durable putting green. Drought-tolerant  trees, shrubs and pink flowers complete the desert oasis look.

Finally, if you don’t want to leave your landscaping project to chance, let the Straight Line Landscaping pros handle it. Our process is easy. Call us so you can get the home exterior you’ve always wanted!

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