Lawn In the Desert?

Of course. Right plant – right place, right?

I’ve designed so little lawn (AKA turf) during my career since college graduation (1988), and especially since moving to the desert southwest (1992) – in numbers of projects, or percentage of area on those projects. Most of that turf was for at least one use, to justify high water and soil fertility needs in the desert.

This project is no different – photos from Sierra Providence East, 11/12/2014:

walking up for my final inspection, this initial green view threw me…and I was the person who designed in that lawn…

The excess water and puddle is from a valve that stuck, about to be repaired…

El Paso = 8″ average annual rainfall, 4″-17″ range over 70+ years of record.
‘Santa Ana’ Bermudagrass = 30″ annual rainfall required to form a sod.

intially, it was amended soil, an underground rotary irrigation system, and a sand or silt fence…
west side turf…even Bermudagrass turf needs serious soil amendment in the desert…soils here a pH of 8.5, sand over packed sand and caliche…
even more turf to be installed on the east side…bike racks in front to come to that crushed, compacted DG area…
more green, dryland plants towards the building…

It’s still hilarious with so many taking out lawns, that here I am featuring a lawn. It’s been years, and it may be years, again!

Never mind, I’m finishing 2 subdivision parks with…2 main lawn areas and 3 smaller lawn areas.

dizzy yet?…east side turf installed with…more dryland plantings and undulating grades between it and the building…

While people in El Paso rarely use lawn due to local practices and water costs, some uses of a space require a lawn.

Even before the owner came up with new uses like events, movies, and the like, I already saw this area as enclosed by building walls. That screamed “oasis” to me, as well as, “breaks and lunches, sitting on the lawn”.

curves…dry plants high, wet plants low…

Remember a past post – movies on that far wall in the dark? And community and hospital staff events outside on the lawn?

The (5) red oak trees relocated to parking lot areas have in their place openness to better accomodate those events and not having to be so close to the “screen” and tilt one’s head up a bit much. There’s still (5) trees left for those warm season, shady picnic lunches, so it could be worse.

across most of the alternate lawn space…no longer an alternate

This post shows but a small area on the project that’s been landscaped. In this area, lawn looks over 50% of the landscape, but in my past post, you can see there’s still more dryland and native plantings than lawn. (38% lawn, 62% dryland plantings, plus the edible garden by others)

The total landscape area built to-date on this 42 acre hospital property = 155,935 square feet / 3.58 acres (8.5% of the property…more to be added)

The turfgrass (higher water-use) area = 7,568 SF / .17 AC (4.9 % of the landscape) 

The dryland plantings (lower water-use) area = 148,367 SF / 3.41 AC (95.1 % of the landscape)

Do you think that amount of lawn is acceptable in a desert town, given the setting and potential uses?

Have you owned a lawn, or begun replacing lawn with lower water-use plantings?

7 Replies to “Lawn In the Desert?”

  1. My childhood home in South Texas was on a large lot with grass, grass, and grass. My wise old grandmother fertilized and watered that grass so that it had to be mowed twice a week throughout the year. I went off to college in 1973 and have never had grass. I did buy a home a couple of decades ago that had grass, but six months later not a blade to be found! Not a fan of grass unless it’s on the golf course.

    Thanks for stopping by. Even S Tx, where 1x week / 10 day watering keeps lawn alive and mown much less, I wonder why we do what we do. How about using grasses that can be mown 1 or 2x a year like Buffalograss or others, then let them go…only mowing a small area as needed. But I’m now in the desert, where it takes intensive but less-skilled care to have lawn. Agreed on golf courses, parks!


  2. It’s easy on the eyes and a good contrast with the surrounding landscape.

    There are reasons to keep a bit of lawn. The healing and therapy gardens where I volunteer have several patches of Floratam. Some family members make it a point to thank us for the lawn, literally with tears in their eyes.

    That’s what I envisioned, yet I was still surprised how much it created that very effect – maybe I’m so used to having 0 lawn anywhere? I looked up Floratam, and having a place like that for healing gardens does make sense, not just the typical scent-floral healing gardens.


  3. There are definitely reasons to have a little grass. We removed all of our lawn but kept one small square inside a back fenced area that is close to a swimming pool. It provides just enough space for small children or dogs to play and/or stretch out on towels (the children of course, not so much the dogs…).

    I agree even for adults to stretch out on. At my first house, I went out some evenings and sat in my small circle of buffalograss. Until the bats did their evening recon mission for sphinx moths, that is!


  4. I like the idea of small lawn oasis in the desert especially if you are looking for places for people to sit on the ground. Here in Houston were I don’t have to water my St. Augustine grass but maybe twice a year in the dead of summer, I still slowly taking it out. No lawn on side or back of house anymore and the front right of way now has two big natural shaped beds and a lawn border. But for me it is not because of water but because I love plants and concerned about air pollution. We get lots of clients that love lawn and think there dogs need them. I have found my two dogs are fine with my DG and gravel back yard and mondo grass and other ground covers are fine too. I have come to see that another big concern about lawns it the carbon footprint of gas powered mowers. We have a reel mower on our list to maintain the remaining small front lawn. I have been trying to think of other ways to create open meadow like spaces with out using turf grass!

    I’ve heard that about how dogs need lawn…I think they and kids are often used as crutches by adults. In the Gulf Coast, I just saw a photo of Sabal palmetto in a mass in sun, with trees in the background…gorgeous. But not for small areas! Then, there are other options for small spaces – sedges, rain lily, and so on. A friend has some areas of rain lily in one of his outdoor spaces, and I hope he adds more…


  5. I really like a the lawn. That is such a small space, but big impact.

    I remember when our youngest grandson was born in AZ. Their rental had one of those all rock yards, as did the neighbors. We went into Mesa for a doctor visit, and the office had a lawn. Our granddaughter rolled around in it, giggling and having a good time. Something not too much fun, on rocks.

    So, yes…there are good reasons for some lawn. It just needs to be the kind that doesn’t take a lot of water.

    Hope you had a great Christmas, and wishing you good health and happiness in the new year.

    My first walk-up, I really liked the effect and knowing how it can get used. Those rock yards, even when planted well, can have one long for something else. In the neighborhood I’m designing the small parks, those might be the only lawn anyone has.

    Thanks as always for your insights and wishes…maybe both our teams will win their Monday bowl games, too!


  6. Got rid of my lawn a decade+ ago. Why pay someone to mow when 1 years savings, from mowing, would pay for flowering shrubs, trees, groundcovers, mulch?

    Money motive, made me do it.

    Then…………..I get an idyll. AND, pollinator habitat, no chemicals, irrigation, someone driving to my home with more gas powered equipment to mow turf.

    Not poisoning the ground water with fertilizer or chemicals.

    Sure, drought conditions are a reason for no turf. But the other reasons are equally, if not more, important.

    Then, there is the new science arriving about how plants benefit us via blah blah happy blah.

    Let me know when you name your patio !!

    Merry Christmas………….on to new years.


    I tend to agree with you…one mindless maintenance, the other therapeutic thinking maintenance. Though lawns are rare here, I would like to carve out some time and do initial and long-term cost comparisons of maintaining no-lawn plantings, all lawn, and a few other styles…broken into the work and water, fertilizer, etc. You’re probably right on all the reasons beyond just water use.

    I’m just glad I have the majority of the landscape in plants that do benefit pollinators and give shade. You’ve definitely raised the bar on naming garden rooms…I can do this, just 1 room!


  7. I’m removing my lawn next month!

    Very cool, and think of the immense workout you’ll get from all that lawn. And room for real plants!


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