Sep 112007
 

It may surprise you to learn that not all native grasses are tall feature plants. In fact in parts of Australia, pasture is composed almost entirely of native grass species. For the home gardener, that means you can have a native lawn that you can mow.

There are many local indigenous grasses that make lovely tough lawns. Some are available as plugs or you can sow it from seed and both are available at selected nurseries. You will get a better result using material sourced from local populations, as these plants will be better suited to the climate in your area.

How do native lawns benefit the environment?

Native grasses grow naturally under Australian climatic conditions. They have deep root systems, which means they require less watering than most conventional lawns and also enables them to survive periodic droughts and fires. They don’t need to be fertilised as often as most lawns, because they have adapted to Australia’s low fertility soil. Many native grasses have attractive flowers and seed heads, so interesting effects can be achieved by leaving carefully chosen areas of your lawn unmown. You can plant some indigenous wildflowers amongst the grass to create colourful areas of meadow. These are fantastic habitats for butterflies, pest-controlling insects and provide food for other wildlife such as birds.

Varieties suitable for lawns

There are several types of perennial native grasses suitable for lawns. The following species can be found growing naturally in most parts of Australia. You will get the best result using seeds or plugs that have been sourced from local populations. These plants will be better suited to the climate in your area.

Cool Season Grasses

These grasses do not go dormant over winter and, unless there is a prolonged period without rain, they remain green.

Weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides)

Native to most of the wetter zones of Australia and New Zealand, this cool climate species is as tolerant of dry conditions as the most drought-tolerant warm-season grasses.

Type: Spreads short distances by rhizomes underground

Height: Can be mown to any height required

Features: Weeping Grass is perhaps the most suitable native grass for creating the look of a traditional lawn. It can be mown regularly and will grow well in a wide range of soils, including acidic soils with a pH less than 6.

Tolerances: High drought tolerance; High frost tolerance; Medium salt tolerance; Shade tolerant. Low tolerance to heavy traffic and dog urine.

Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp.)

Wallaby grass is widespread across the temperate areas of all Australian states.

Type: Tufted grass that should be mown no lower than 4cm.

Height: 30–80 cm

Features: Wallaby grass will survive without irrigation in soils from medium clays to light sandy loams with good drainage. It has white fluffy seed heads in spring and sometimes autumn.

Tolerances: High frost tolerance; High drought tolerance

Left: Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra)
Right: Slender Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia penicillata)
Photographs: Ken Harris, Churchill, Victoria. Morwell National Park web site

Warm season grasses

These grasses actively grow during warm weather. In winter, they have a period of dormancy that is usually casuses a change in leaf colour.

Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra syn. T.australis)

Kangaroo grass is one of the most widespread native grasses in Australia growing in every state and territory. It grows from interior arid regions, to the Alps and the coast.

Type: Tufting. Will tolerate mowing twice a year.

Height: 40-90cm

Features: As the foliage ages it changes colour from green to maroon. In summer the plant bears attractive rusty-red seed heads.

Tolerances: High drought and heat tolerance; Low to moderate frost tolerance.

Redgrass (Bothriochloa macra)

Redgrass occurs mainly in coastal, tablelands and slopes environments.

Type: Running, spreading slowly on underground stems

Height: 10cm

Features: Redgrass, as the name suggests, has green or reddish leaves. In summer and early autumn it produces reddish-purple flowering stems, which grow up to 80 cm. Its naturally low height means it may never need mowing!

Tolerances: High drought and heat tolerance; Low to moderate frost tolerance

How do I grow a native lawn?

Native lawns can be grown from seed and some are available as trays of plugs; both available in nurseries, or the seeds can be ordered online from www.nativeseeds.com.au.

While germinating, the seed should not be allowed to dry out and the lawn will require some additional watering to establish over the first few months. After the seed has germinated and put on some growth, help the grass to establish deep root systems by gradually watering for longer periods on fewer days. Eventually your lawn will survive with no additional water, simply rainfall. During droughts, the grasses may brown off, but if their root systems have been well established, they will resprout with the first good rain.

Native lawns require little, if any fertiliser. If you are mowing regularly, simply returning the clippings to the lawn may be enough. Native lawn species can thrive on low fertility soils, where weeds are at a disadvantage. If you avoid fertilising your lawn until you are sure that it needs it, you can reduce the number of weeds you get in your lawn too.

  12 Responses to “Native Lawns”

  1. G’day,

    I am a very average, very amateur gardener. I rarely find time to go beyond mowing and watering the lawn, about every three months I put in a semi-dedicated weeding effort – and asides maintaining a compost heap (which I’m yet to seriously use), that’s about it.

    But I was directed to your webpage by the GoodLiving e-newsletter (issued by DEWNR) and I cannot deny that I am interested in Weeping grass as a lawn for our place. We live in the north eastern suburbs of Adelaide, and we have a back and front lawn which are fine, but which struggle through summer, the back one particularly. Don’t ask me for the species – I have no idea.

    So, firstly, it appears that some people use weeping grass as a lawn. Is this something that could work in Adelaide’s north east suburbs? Is it fair to suggest that it gives a good coverage? Could you ever describe it as lush? (Not that is of high importance to us really.)

    Secondly, planting it. Again, this will show how much of a gardener I’m not. Do we simply spread the seen across the current lawn and water it, and let it take over the existing lawn? Or is there an actual ‘planting’ process? When is the best time to do this? In autumn or winter to catch the winter rains? Or do I do it now, and take the risk that I will forget to water the lawn from time to time through summer?

    And my final non-gardener question, if this is a ‘lawn-able’ grass that takes little wate, what are the trade-offs?!?! And what maintenance would be required once it’s established?

    Thank you!

  2. Hi, I live in the arid zone of Alice Springs which has cold dry winters and long hot summers and we get little rain. Which type of native lawn plant do you suggest please?

  3. I live south west of Sydney. We have dry winters and quite hot summers, with erratic rainfall. The area I want to grass has not done well with couch, kykuyu or sapphire buffalo. It is quite shady in winter. It is supposed to be a lawn area adjacent to the house, and suffers from vigorous dogs playing. Would Wallaby Grass be suitable, or is there something better?

  4. Hi,

    We’ve got a property in Bridgetown WA. Dichondra, Lippia or Pratia have been suggested to me – I can find a number of websites promoting them as good lawn alternatives and then as many websites telling me they are a weed!!!

    Need a frost tolerant native lawn alternative that is also a fire barrier to the house (south facing slope of trees). Mostly sunny, level area of about 70m2.

    • Dichondra should be suitable. It is not a grass but a running perennial that looks like native violets with very short stems. We had it in a very dry spot under trees and it did well. It can spread quite quickly, hence some people call it a weed, but if you want it as a lawn replacement it is appropriate.

  5. I live on the very sandy, “limestones” soil in Perth, where even native plants can struggle. What would you recommend for a native lawn here, and when should I plant it?

    • There is a company called Nindethana Seeds in Albany (WA) and they recommend Microlaena. It is used quite a bit for native lawns and should do alright. If the soil has a high pH I would recommend you work in a pea straw type mulch to help reduce the acidity and to help hold water. Trust this helps.

  6. Do I just spread the microlaena seeds all over the ground or how do I start to grow this?.

    • Lightly water the area before sowing the seed as this helps the seed to stick and settle in and will reduce the likelihood of it blowing away. Broadcast the seed at a rate of one to two handfuls per square metre. Microlaena clumps rather than running like couch, kikuyu and buffalo. You will need to keep the area well watered for two or three weeks. After a couple of months the lawn should be ready for its first mow and needs regular mowing to keep it soft. If you leave the grass uncut in the spring when it flowers the seed produced will help thicken up your lawn. Watering is only necessary if you have a very dry spell.

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

*