Garden Detective

Want to keep lawn green? Tall fescue stands up to heat and drought

Tall fescue is a type of grass that grows well in Sacramento.
Tall fescue is a type of grass that grows well in Sacramento. Turfgrass Producers International

Our newly installed lawn has developed some bare spots (from under-watering when it was first put in), so we are planning to reseed those areas early next spring. Can you recommend a really hardy, sun- and drought-tolerant variety of grass that can stand up to our hot, dry summers? A specific variety and brand and where we could purchase it would be so helpful!

Gerri Wigglesworth, Sacramento

According to UC master gardener Carmen Schindler, you have some options.

Depending on the grass variety you currently have and if you are happy with the lawn overall, you should reseed the bare spots using the same variety of grass you originally planted. If there is a reason you don’t want to do that, you have several options for re-seeding the bare spots of your lawn.

Water shortages also make this an ideal time to consider reducing your lawn area and replacing the area with attractive hardscape or installing low-water-use plant varieties as an alternative to lawn. An extensive referral list of “Gardening with Limited Water” ideas can be found at www.ucanr.edu/sacmg.

If you want to keep lawn, some grasses cope with heat and drought better than others. Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is very tolerant of drought and heat. Selected varieties include Crossfire, Masterpiece, Bonsai, Brandy, Aztec, Gazelle, Jaguar, Olympic Gold, Plantation and Tulsa. Find them at garden centers or online.

Tall fescue forms a moderately coarse-textured lawn that is trouble-free and uniform in appearance. Within a mix with other cool-season grasses, it appears as coarse weeds. However, newer selections are finer in texture and shorter in stature. They require the least maintenance of cool-season grasses in California.

Highland bentgrass (Agrostis ssp. C.V. “Highland”) is adapted to valley climates and will survive extensive droughts. It forms solid patches of grass that turn a frosty blue color from morning dew during cool seasons. Highland is not to be confused with Colonial bentgrass, which is not a low-water user.

Kentucky bluegrass is often blended with other varieties, although it is not recommended because none of the varieties are adapted to our hot valley climates.

The University of California’s integrated pest management website, www.ipm.ucanr.edu has a “Lawn Guide” with extensive information about turf selection, renovation and lawn care. Check out those suggestions for repairing your lawn’s bald spots.

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Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

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