Bluegrass Grama

Buffalo Grass

Sideoats Grama

Why pick native turf?

The great American lawn features grasses native to Europe. The typical lawn has cool-season grasses that thrive in the cooler, moister weather regime of England. In Iowa, cool-season grasses thrive in the spring and fall but struggle during hot, dry, long summer days. Today, there is an alternative that could become the new status symbol. Native turf lawns feature short-growing, deep-rooted warm-season native grasses that create a more sustainable lawn. 


Traditional cool season turf lawns require significant inputs of fertilizer and water to keep them looking healthy like a thick and lush carpet of deep green grass.


Native turf can look similar to traditional lawns while providing a number of benefits, including significant cost savings, water quality protection, and reduced flood potential. Warm season, native turf won’t green up as early in the spring but will stay green during hot, long, dry days of summer when cool season species either go dormant or require irrigation. The deep roots of native turf find moisture in the soil that shallow rooted non-native grasses can’t access. Once established, native turf rarely needs irrigation. The deep rooted native grasses also build soil quality time over time so that lawns can absorb more rain and shed less runoff. This protects water quality and helps reduce potential flooding. 


If lanws were a crop, they would be the fifth largest crop grown in the United States. There are about 40 million acres of lawns in the U.S. By comparison, there are about 30 million acres of farmland in Iowa. So, lawn can and should be green infrastructure to absorb more rain and shed less runoff in urban areas. Native turf will help lawns provide these benefits. 

A native turf management plan differs from a non-native turf plan. 

Native grasses don’t need fertilization or watering after the root systems are established

Mowing of native turf could be eliminated, or done on a limited basis, to keep the appearance more like traditional grass turf if desired. Unmowed areas would stay in the 8″ to 18″ range. 

A blend of Blue Gamma, Buffalo Grass, and Sideoats Gama is recommended. Sideoats Gamma will grow to about 18 inches, so if you don’t plan to mow and prefer a shorter look, only use Blue Gamma and Buffalo Grass.

More Info

This illustration shows the difference between shallow-rooted grasss, like Kentucky bluegrass, and deep-rooted native turf grasses like Buffalo Grass and Blue Grama. Native turf grass can extend up to six feet deep, versus six-inch deep roots on non-native turf.

Native turf improves the soil’s ability to infiltrate water and hold moisture. Once established, native turf is easy to maintain. It resists local pests and disease and does not need fertilization or irrigation. Mowing can be significantly reduced.

  • Less Mowing
  • Drought Tolerant
  • Stays Green in Summer
  • Less Watering Needed
  • Thrives in Dry Sites
  • Tolerates Clay & Compacted Soils
  • Little or No Fertilizer Needed

Seeding Rates & Mixes

When seeding a native grass turf, the seeding rate is similar to the seeding rate for a traditional turf-grass sod. The grasses need to be seeded close together to produce good sod. 

Use “Pure Live Seed” (PLS) when seeding a native turf lawn. PLS is a measure of the percentage of seed that will germinate. 

For example, if you ordered 100lbs of seed with 85% PLS, only 85 lbs (85%) would germinate.


  • Seed in late spring or early summer. 
  • Soil test to determine if starter fertilizer is needed. Usually, fertilizer won’t be needed. It’s safer not to fertilize or under-fertilize. 
  • De-compact and prepare a viable seedbed.
  • Broadcast seed, then pack the site for good seed-to-soil contact. Do not incorporate seed deeper than about a quarter of an inch. 
  • Water as needed to enhance germination. Keep moist, but not saturated
  • Water as needed in the first year to avoid drought stress, but don’t overwater.
  • Native turf may be slower to establish than regular turf, so be patient. 



  • Avoid fertilizing with nitrogen
  • Avoid frequent irrigation
  • Mow the first year to keep weed growth down
  • Control crabgrass with pre-emergence chemicals
  • Do not use 2,4-D during the first year when temperatures are above 80 degrees. 

Root Systems


Polk Soil and Water Conservation District

1513 North Ankeny Blvd., Suite 3

Ankeny, IA, 50023

(515) 964 1883 ext. 3

Monday – Friday

7:30 am – 4:00 pm

Polk Soil and Water Conservation District is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

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