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Greener summer grass?

Readylawn’s Roger Morgan explores some heat-resistant grass types that  will keep lawns looking great throughout the summer months 

It only took two weeks this January for the Canterbury landscape to transform from a healthy green after the Christmas rain to a parched brown appearance typical of mid-summer. The Nelson/ Marlborough region has had water restrictions since well before Christmas, and even Wellington introduced them in January! 

All of which means that lawns and yards are dry and, while it’s been this way in Canterbury for millennia, there are some newer options for summer lawns that could consign brown back yards to the past. 

Understanding grass types 

There are plenty of lawn options in New Zealand, with warm season grasses dominating the upper north, but now gaining traction in the South Island too. 

I’ve had a small piece of my home lawn in Bermuda grass (Cynadon species) for 23 years. In the past three years, it’s gone bonkers and has now naturally dominated 60% of my yard.  Some may point to global warming and climate change; others not. I’ll stay out of that one for today. 

We’ve traditionally grown ryes, tall fescues, browntops and fescues in New Zealand. They’re cool-season grasses, which thrive in the cooler months and like plenty of water in the summer. But they also go into summer dormancy in the heat and brown off readily. 

North Islanders will be familiar with couch (Bermuda ‘Cynadon’ species) and kikuyu grass. These are warm-season grasses that thrive in hot, dry environments and require much less water.

Their key characteristic is that they are strongly rhizomatic, which means they quickly grow into gaps and thin areas. 

They enter dormancy in the winter, with Bermuda in particular going brown in frosty regions. Length of dormancy depends on temperatures and increasingly on the cultivar. With an increased awareness of our environmental impact, consideration of the impact on our landscape is more prevalent than ever.  

A change of mindset to reduce our lawn inputs is already happening. However, lawns still anchor and frame our gardens and we need to keep them.  

Benefits of a lawn 

A natural turf lawn has a number of benefits to the environment, including oxygen production, erosion protection, silt, dust and pollutant absorption, and a cooling effect on a hot day. Selecting the best lawn for that environment and aligning client expectations to each turf characteristic remains our role as landscapers. 

Your local lawn expert, turf farmer or golf course super will know what’s working in each region of New Zealand. There are some neat things happening in the grass breeding space with our seed suppliers coming up with better turf products almost every year, so make sure you keep up to speed, so you can provide the best advice to your clients 

Roger Morgan is managing director of Readylawn Industries in Christchurch, which provides turf, landscape contracting services, synthetic and sportsfield construction, and maintenance services. 

The Readylawn system is franchised with farms around New Zealand.

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