Replace Lawn with Ornamental Grasses

Red Fountain grass pennisetum Rubrum
Fountain grass likes regular watering to look its best and should be cut back to about 8 inches in winter. One very positive thing that can be said about the ‘Rubrum’ variety is that it does not naturalize easily and does not become an invasive pest plant. White Fountain Grass, however, is an aggressive pest plant, banned in several states. Do not use it.

We have seen many attempts at replacing green lawn areas with Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) planted in red sandstone rock mulch. All too often we have been disappointed with the results. Usually, the red Fountain Grass is planted too far apart and not given sufficient water. The effect overall looks sparse — unlike the photo, right, which shows lush fountain grass filling in a large space.

Golden sedge grass agave iceplant Golden silky threadgrass mixed with ice plants and large green agaves make this a very drought tolerant front yard. In mid-winter the owner trims the grass back to six inches tall.  Now that’s low maintenance!

Grasses roses flower border hot gardens

These homeowners decided to replace only part of their lawn by installing a wide border using red Fountain grass as a basic element. Also planted: Lambs ears, white roses, society garlic and star jasmine. This border could be easily expanded to fill in the entire yard which is actually quite small.

Blue fescue deer grass agave hot gardens
A full desert garden look done beautifully. This lawn has been replaced with a simulated dry creek bed full of large rocks, surrounded by Blue Fescue, Deer Grass and a very large Agave.


Deer grass


Deer Grass, alone, can be a non-thirsty replacement for a traditional grass lawn if you have a large enough space to work with. Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is an American Southwest native grass that thrives on its own from California to Texas. This drought tolerant plant grows in clumps to 4 feet high in one season with flower spikes that rise 2 feet higher in Fall. Because it is such a large and imposing plant you only need a few to fill in a front yard. It looks best when planted with a few large rocks and stately agaves for companions.

For a slightly smaller scale Deer Grass, try the Purple Muhly variety (Muhlenbergia rigida). It grows to 2 feet tall and has spires bearing purple flowers in Fall. Both varieties of Deer Grass are very drought tolerant, but look better with some additional watering.

Replacing a water-guzzling  Fescue lawn 
with a native drought tolerant one

Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) is growing in popularity as a fescue lawn substitute. This native of the American Great Plains needs much less water and the newer varieties almost never need to be mowed. It greens up in spring, grows to 5 to 10 inches in height, depending upon the variety, and turns brown as the weather cools in Fall. Buffalo Grass requires the least amount of irrigation among lawn turf grasses.

Replacing your lawn — read this for what NOT to do
Replacing your lawn with perennials
Replacing your lawn with ground covers
Replacing your lawn with ornamental grasses
Replacing your lawn with pavers
Replacing your lawn with mazes and knot gardens
Replacing the lawn in your parking median

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