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High-Performance Grass

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University

Above & Below: Well-designed grass panels bring out the best in landscape design. The design is based on "high-performance grass and the grass trilogy," as indicated by the "1,2,3": manicured grass, long cut grass and meadow grass in the ratio of 30-40-30. High-performance grass means the proper selection of species for proper growing condition of sun, soil moisture soil nutrition and for variation in the height, texture, color and form of grass ground covers used.

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Design is the primary high-performance grass criteria. Design influences the use of grass, its placement, location, versatility in use and the amount of maintenance and cost involved. Well designed grass forms in the landscape can replace the sometime formless green carpet effect with spatially contoured and designed geometrical patterns of grass that define landscape beds and other site use areas. Wherever possible, high maintenance lawn grasses should be substituted for low-water use native plants, shrub beds and planted tree groves with natural ground covers,

There are other criteria of high-performance grass, but most important would be creating a grass management plan that takes advantage of the "grass trilogy."

Grass trilogy is based on the design principle of using at least three forms of grass:

Type 1 grass is walkable, playable manicured turf grass used near buildings. Type 1 grass is maintained with trim mowers, irrigation, garden chemicals and is bordered by landscape beds. Type 1 may contain single trees as specimens or interior landscape beds or garden amenities, such as pools, fountains, pavilions, decks and the like.

Type 2 grass is cut after grass goes to seed about twice seasonally. This grass is used within swales, meadows and under and around tree groves. In some areas this grass extends to the property boundary, especially along street frontage and next to neighboring buildings.

Type 3 grass is cut once a season with a small tractor. Type 3 is allowed within habitat preservation areas and along property
line buffers.

Each grass type is separated with a designed boarder and the perimeter of the property contains a four to eight-foot maintenance strip. A good formula for mixing these three types of site grass is 30-40-30 percent respectively.

Designers have always worked with grass with great effect since the days of Brown, Repton, Downing and Olmsted all of whom brought the English garden style to the United States.

Mesa, Arizona has adopted a grass for cash program that pays homeowners to tear up 500 sq. ft. of grass lawn and replace it with native desert plantings.

Greening Grass Ordinances

If we measure high-performance grass as we measure high-performance buildings, landscape architects can do a lot to green the environment of the city. By taking a smarter approach to the use of grass by using the suggested sustainability metrics listed above communities can change the green carpet approach to a strategy that suggests the use native plants, trees, shrubs and ground covers to promote more biodiversity and a much more interesting urban landscape.

High-performance Grass Sustainability Metrics

  1. Design is the first sustainable practice effecting use, placement, location, versatility in use, and the amount of maintenance and cost.
  2. High-performance grass means the proper selection of species for proper growing condition of sun, soil moisture soil nutrition and for variation in the height, texture, color and form of grass ground covers used.
  3. Grass areas shall be appropriately sized for intended use and to eliminate the "green carpet effect."
  4. Design with grass varieties that are drought tolerant to reduce the amount of irrigation required and use grassed areas to absorb storm water.
  5. Select species that minimize the use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and weed control chemicals. Design grass areas to prevent the run off of these compounds and to absorb storm water run off.
  6. Select species that grow slow and go to seed at a lower elevation.
  7. Minimize lawn grass maintenance and develop grass varieties of exceptional quality that reduce maintenance costs.
  8. Use a grass management plan based on the grass trilogy: manicured grass, long cut grass, and meadow grass in the ratio of 30-40-30.
    Type 1: adjacent to buildings and in heavy use areas manicured turf grass generally bordered by landscape beds and will be cut with trim mowers.
    Type 2: long grass that is cut twice seasonally and generally contains groves of trees and cut with zero turn estate mowers.
    Type 3: grass cut once a year that will generally contain free-standing trees and shrubs masses and will be cut with tractors.
  9. Reduce the use of gasoline engine lawn mowers by over 50 percent.
  10. Plant lawn grass to increase biodiversity.

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November 18, 2019, 10:34 am PDT

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