Native Grass for Lawns (that can handle mowing)

I did a search on the forum here and some google searching, and couldn’t really find answers to this specifically.

We are building a house and of course at the end, will seed around it. Due to tick issues and such we will be mowing right by the house; so it will be mowed. I believe is mostly seeded bermudagrass in the current yard and in the horse field.

I know grasses like to be long and let to grow; but would still rather plant native if it can handle being mowed? I can find 'native meadow mixes" left and right online; but finding out if it can be mowed is another thing all together I am having no luck with. (NE Alabama, 1600ft elevation)

Also open to other ideas for ground cover. Keep in mind there is a lot of existing yard and the horse field, so it’d be nice to blend a bit!
(view of yard, horse field beyond the fence seen in distance, house will be to the right beyond image)

(view of the prepped site, horse field is the same fence in this image)

not looking for ideas for the field, we may get a horse >_> we basically let it go, but keep it from going farrow, there’s def a good variety of wildflowers that pop up in it, and keep the edge mowed down so the neighbor’s cows don’t break the fence to get to our Good Yummy Grass haha

It is more yard than we’d have liked to have, but can’t complain about the location or the land. As we see saplings we plant to let them grow naturally to slowly let the forest kinda naturally take back over.

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a work friend had yarrow as a lawn replacement for several years. it could be walked on and mowed. I thought it looked nice - feathery. But later she got rid of it; not sure why.

Turkey Tangle Foot Frog (fog) Fruit, a southern native (https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=PHNO2).
is also known as
Phyla nodiflora . It’s a nice flowery and very low ground cover (no mowing needed). It can stand some foot traffic. I am experimenting with a small plot to see how it does.

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Buffalo grass might be worth exploring. Bouteloua dactyloides. Max height of 6", drought tolerant, and native to the U.S., though not to NE AL. https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=BODA2

It’s often promoted as a native lawn grass, and it’s frequently grazed.

-Edited to remove Kentucky bluegrass suggestion

Kentucky bluegrass, despite its name, is not native to North America.

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I was kind of wondering about that. The USDA plants map shows its entire distribution in the country as both native and invasive, which I didn’t know was even possible: https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=POPR

Depending on the light conditions (sun/shade) and water availability (dry/moist), you could also consider various sedges and/or mosses in addition to grasses. Low-growing sedges may not require much mowing. A couple of flowers here and there will be nice, too. I’ve noticed in my yard that Phlox subulata does well in the middle of my lawn. It actually seems to thrive being mowed regularly and provides cheerful bright flowers in early spring for the first pollinators of the year. Not sure how well it would do with being trampled in more high traffic areas though.

i think you should go to local parks that have lawns and look to see what native plants you can find growing in them. for example, in my area, non-grass things like Sisyrinchium rosulatum (a blue-eyed grass), Mimosa strigillosa and Neptunia pubescens (powderpuffs), Commelina erecta (dayflower), etc. will pop up in lawns all on their own and survive some mowing. there are also things that are considered very weedy (aggressive) in mowed lawns but which are native Poales, such as Cyperus brevifolius (Kyllinga), a few native Paspalums, Setaria parviflora, etc. There are also many native Euphorbias and things like Portulaca pilosa that look nice as groundcover until other plants have had a chance to grow in.

whatever plants you choose, you should consider how much sunlight they need. it looks like your site has at least some shade. so that may limit your options.

I’ve seen yarrow unintentionally fill bald spots in a neighbors lawn before, it works pretty great, I have mowed over it before and it pretty much never needs water, worth looking into as an option.

Might be worth checking out ‘Native Habitat Project’ on Facebook and Instagram, he is from the Alabama area and works on restoring native ecosystems, maybe if you sent him message he would have some suggestions.

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One problematic aspect to this is that turf grasses in general aren’t native to North America – you’ll notice that most of the suggestions here aren’t actually grasses, and this is probably why. All of our grasses are either annuals or perennial bunchgrasses.

What about Axonopus fissifolius aka common carpet grass?
It is native per Weakleys Flora of the SE US.
http://namethatplant.net/plantdetail.shtml?plant=3417

One person I know has a Big Bluestem lawn. It requires more mowing but is much more drought-resistant and wildlife friendly.

I bought a house in Western NC several years ago, and the previous residents over-mowed (too short) on steep slopes, which caused some erosion problems. I’ve been slowly but surely taking parts out of mowed lawn, and one area that I turned into a meadow I noticed that the grasses I was mowing didn’t all look like the usual turfgrasses.

So for a season, I just let 'er rip so I could see what I was working with. It was a surprisingly diverse mix of mostly native grasses. Things like little bluestem, virginia wildrye, green sprangletop, a couple different paspalum species, and so on. I haven’t keyed out everything yet, but I turned out to have a great start to a meadow. All I’ve focused on since then is seeding various wildflowers and removing things I don’t want. I mow it down every year in early spring, and occasionally once during the summer.

I still have a bunch of lawn on that side of the yard with all the same species growing in it. It all handles regular mowing plenty well, but definitely letting those bunchgrass species establish makes for a much rougher lumpiness as the grasses establish their mounds. the species composition also appeared to change as some of the lower-growing species have been crowded/shaded out.

it’s been incredibly hardy. I have a few neighbors who are diligent in maintaining their nonnative turfgrass lawns and they start looking bad during hot, dry spells, whereas my rougher-looking lawn full of a wider variety of species continues to look green.

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The upland sedge Carex praegracilis works well, and can be mowed.

“Kentucky” Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) – both native and introdued? Most of it in North America is non-native. Definitely. There is a native form in the alpine zone in the west. There’s a form from montane meadows that is alleged to be native, but the necessary work to confirm that hasn’t been done and there is some reason to doubt that it is.

I follow him, but he doesn’t seem responsive to help requests :) I think one must $$$ for advice there, lol

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Thanks for the ideas so far! I think what maybe I should have noted, is that this is probably on the order of 5,000 sq ft by the time all the work is done (it’s about 100x100 ft of dirt right now; house obv will take up space but that’s still a lot of area!); so it needs to be something that is: a) easily found in large quantities b) as affordable as the “standard lawn seed” options. Sedge, grass, other thing you can think of, open to all - but that’s the key.

Lots were asking, so part sun/shade, some spots more towards shady, but it is the first spot to dry out in summer and the summer sun is long and hot when it is burnin’.

Aye, we don’t mow our lawn much currently (in suburbs) lots of native (and some not native); our lawn is always green. But in this case there will be just a lot of dirt, and some of it is on a slope, can’t let that just go and see how it does. There was a bare patch that was a burn pile in the yard and in the two years since cleaning it all up, it’s still bare. Whatever is in the lawn doesn’t spread nicely on it’s own :( Nearby there is plenty of native stuff and lots of flowers like 300 ft away, heck there are two naturalised meadows here, but the yard is sadddddd. I feel you on the overmowing, MIL loves to weedeat and I’m always yellin’ at her to stopppppp. We are getting soil erosion from around the tree bases due to it. Litterally just the other day caught her right before she was gonna do it - and we havn’t had rain in a month, litterally not needed to mow in a month 'cause not much growth and now is not a good time to mow (there are some wildflowers in the mix i see butterflies on!) but she thought it ‘looked bad’. I had to explain i was not going to mow, and she was certainly not going to weedeat. rollseyes

That’s fine! Im very open to ideas :)

Sure I could - I have a project for everything I have found so far on our land though https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/nat-mountain (i just realised a lot of the plants aren’t in there…went around with a friend and he ID’d them so I never uploaded, whoops!) whatever it is in the end, it needs to be something we can easily seed over a wide at least 5000sqft area I estimate, and not be $$$$. I can’t just collect some seeds here and there, that won’t do it :)

…that looks like what I grew up being told was “crab grass” , ha! yeah i’d be fine with that, thanks for the lead!

Mosses i doubt, top of the mountain, dry. Also part sun/shade, but the sun is hot and long in summer. We have plenty of mosses around - but where they are in good shade. I do love phloxes; could work for some of it; but I doubt for coverage required it would be doable…if so I doubt itd be affordable…?

I’d like to stick to native to AL, but that at least looks like a much more helpful than most turf grasses and being promoted like it is, probably much better chance at finding seed in the quantity needed.

phyla nodiflora in Alabama
It’s got quite a few aliases , too.

I canno speak to relative costs, but phyla nodiflora is sold by some nurseries and sod farms.

i’m not at all suggesting that you go an collect seeds from local parks. my point was that if you’re trying to research what will work well in your particular area, there’s no better way to go see what’s actually growing in your area.

if you want to start instead by looking to see what your local seed suppliers have, then i would suggest looking for local native seed suppliers. for example, in my area, i could look at the Native American Seeds catalog.

whatever you end up choosing, i hope you consider a mix of plants rather than just a monoculture.

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I was just recommending that stuff to my MIL yesterday for her yard, since she’s given up on grass (drought issues). It’s really pretty, bees love it, and I see it growing even in the middle of constantly-trampled trails.

Yarrow and chamomile can also be nice options.

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I love Native American Seed!

I’ve also been shopping Roundstone Native Seed a bit lately, since they carry more ecotypes that are adapted to my area.

Roundstone Native Seed Company (roundstoneseed.com)

Warning: native mixes are going to be a lot more expensive than commercial turf seed