A Better Lawn

California gardeners are always looking for grass
alternatives. Watering a traditional
green lawn can be impractical in areas with long summer droughts, and many
gardeners prefer the more free-flowing look of native grasses or wildflowers. The birds prefer this look, too: it provides them with a source of food and
nesting material.

 If you like
the look of a green expanse of grass, but would prefer a more drought-tolerant
alternative, consider buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), which grows to 4
inches tall and requires no mowing. It
stays green during the rainy season and turns a lovely straw color in late
summer and fall. If you won’t be
mowing, consider adding the native blue-eyed grass or yellow-eyed grass
(Sisyrinchium bellum and S. californicum, respectively) for a modest show of
½-inch blue or yellow flowers in spring. California wildflowers also mix well with native grasses; consider
mixing in yarrow or poppy seed. Yarrow
stands up particularly well to an occassional mowing or cutting with a scythe.

 There are
plenty of good choices for showy fountain-type grasses as well. Lyme grasses such as Elymus arenaruis
‘Glaucus’ or E. condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’ offer vigorous clumps of blue-green
foliage and powdery blue flowers. Deer
grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) is a widely popular native that forms dense clumps
of narrow green leaves. It can grow to
3-4 feet tall with little or no water.

 Even a
traditional lawn can be made more bird-friendly by keeping the grass tall (2 ½ to
3 inches is appropriate for many lawns), leaving grass clippings to decompose
and enrich the soil, and avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers that
could harm birds and the insects they are foraging for.