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No-mow lawns: too good to be true?

JoAnne Skelly
For the Nevada Appeal

Recently Dorothy brought me information on a lawn mix promoted as a “No Mow Lawn.” The old saying “if it’s sounds too good to be true …” came to my mind, since the advertisers’ claims make these products sound like the answer to gardeners’ prayers.

The product is a mix of varieties of low-growing fine fescue turf grasses such as creeping red fescue, Festuca rubra, and sheep fescue, Festuca ovina. The parent stock of red fescue is adapted to a wide range of soils, easy to establish, of short stature and able to take heavy traffic. It has a medium level of drought tolerance, requiring 30 inches to 70 inches of water per year. The parent of sheep fescue is a bunchgrass rather than a sod-forming grass. It is slow to establish, but will reach 6 inches in height. Sheep fescue is very drought tolerant, requiring 12 inches to 30 inches of water per year. Varieties will have variances on these traits.

The ads claim, “You will never have to water.” They are referring to areas in the Midwest where it rains in the summer. Grasses in Nevada will rarely grow and definitely won’t form a decent lawn without regular summer irrigation. The ads say that this lawn seed mix is not acceptable for heavy clay soils with little topsoil. In Northern Nevada we rarely have heavy clay soils; however, we also rarely have much topsoil either!

One advertisement says this lawn will need mowing only once per month. Another reports “if not mown at all, it will grow to 9 inches and then fall over for a rolling meadow look.” If allowed to fall over year after year, each spring I foresee a dense mat of dead stuff underneath the new growth that will become a fire hazard.

In caring for a no-mow lawn, the websites recommend either no fertilizer at all or once in spring and fall. Too much nitrogen is worse than none according to the sellers. This is a great idea that could reduce fertilizer pollution to surface waters and the river. However, it’s nothing new; I have always fertilized only once or rarely twice per year.

Would we like to mow only once a month? You bet! Before you rush out to buy plants that sound too good to be true, do your research. Get the scientific name from the seller so you can find out what climate areas the plants were developed for and what precipitation ranges. Northern Nevada growing is unlike most of the country.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.