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Lawns in Mediterranean regions

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last updated Dec 16, 2011
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Mediterranean garden. Image: ©www.gardenworldimages.com

With so many British moving to the warmer climate of the Mediterranean, we are often asked about gardening in these regions, especially in regards to lawns.

Suitable for... Back to top

Gardening in another country and climate presents unfamiliar problems, and establishing a lawn is one of the many tasks requiring a different approach. The plants on this page are suited to a Mediterranean-type climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, dry winters.

Introduction Back to top

Warm season grasses require an adjustment in expectations for the British gardener. The temperate and cool season grasses that we are familiar with in the UK remain green all winter, but turn brown during hot, dry summers. Warm season grasses, by contrast, remain green through hot summers, but turn brown in winter if the temperature falls below 10°C (50°F).

Practical considerations Back to top

There are a couple of things the British gardener needs to come to terms with when establishing a lawn in a Mediterranean climate. These are a few considerations to take into account:

  • Sow grass seed in spring; lay turf in spring or summer, with irrigation
  • Plant stolons (creeping stems) in spring, summer or autumn. Autumn-planted stolons will take, but will not establish until the following season. Pre-soak the area and then make shallow trenches 5-7.5cm (2-3in) deep across the whole area, leaving 10cm (4in) between each trench. Plant the stolons in the trenches at 10cm (4in) spacings, firming them in as you go
  • Water the lawn during the coolest part of the day, soaking the top 10cm (4in) of soil. To keep your lawn fresh and green in summer, you may need to water every three or four days. But even without water, most lawns green up quickly as soon as rain arrives
  • Routine lawn maintenance (scarification, aeration and top-dressing) is best carried out in spring (rather than in autumn, as with UK lawns), as warm season lawns recover better over summer than winter
  • Most Mediterranean lawns need to be fed more frequently than UK lawns, owing to their higher rate of growth at warm temperatures

Suitable plants Back to top

Lawn enthusiasts who are keen to select an ideal seed mix for their lawn should be aware that warm season lawns are best planted as a single species, rather than as a mix of species, as mixtures give a patchy effect rather than the smooth carpet desired.

Buchloe dactyloides (Buffalo grass)

  • Buffalo grass tolerates prolonged drought and close mowing
  • It is a fine-leaved grass with a grey-green colour, spreading via stolons
  • It can be tricky to establish from seed, so is best laid as turf

Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass), C. transvaalenvis (African Bermuda grass), C. × magennai (Megennis Bermuda grass) and C. incompletus var. hirsutus (Bradley Bermuda grass)

  • Cynodon dactylon can be established from seed, but other Cynodon species can only be established from turf, small sections of stem (sprigs), or individual stolons
  • Bermuda grass is fine-leaved and widely used for domestic lawns. It forms a dense, uniform, high-quality turf which tolerates heavy wear
  • It will yellow in dry summers if not watered regularly, but soon recovers once rain arrives
  • The recommended height of cut ranges from 1-4cm (½-1½in)
  • Bermuda grass should be kept well fed when growing on poor soils, and it is not shade or cold tolerant

Dichondra micrantha (kidney weed)

  • This is not actually a grass, but a low, creeping plant
  • It does not stand close or frequent mowing so can be tricky to maintain
  • It is sometimes introduced to warm season lawns to improve their winter appearance, as it remains green even in low temperatures

Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu grass)

  • This grass forms a vigorous, dense sward that can be mown very closely
  • It has heat and drought tolerance, but very poor cold tolerance
  • It is prone to developing thatch, so regular scarification is necessary
  • It can become invasive
  • Can be established from seed, stolons or turf

Stenotaphrum secundatum (St Augustine grass)

  • This forms a coarse, springy lawn, requiring frequent scarification, aeration and top dressing to prevent it becoming too spongy
  • The height of cut can be maintained at 4-5cm (1½-2in)
  • It spreads by runners, and can become invasive at lawn edges
  • Best established from turf, plugs or sections of stolon, it cannot be grown from seed
  • It is an excellent choice for coastal gardens, as it is tolerant of sea-spray
  • It may become chlorotic (yellow) on alkaline soils
  • It is not as drought-tolerant as Bermuda grass or Zoysia
  • It is easily damaged by low temperatures and traffic, so is not suitable for a fine lawn, but is acceptable as a low-maintenance grass for light traffic only

Zoysia japonica (Japanese lawn grass), Z. matrella (Manila grass) and Z. tenuifolia (Mascarene grass)

  • This forms a fine, if slow-growing turf which can be slow to establish and also to recover from wear and tear. Thorough weed control is therefore necessary
  • Zoysia japonica is tolerant of drought, coastal conditions and extremes of hot and cold, and is also shade-tolerant
  • It makes a good low-maintenance choice, as it grows slowly so needs less frequent mowing than other species
  • Only some varieties are available from seed, but all can be established from stolons or turf

 

Image: © GWI/Francoise Davis. Available in high resolution at www.gardenworldimages.com

Quick facts

Our top 5 grasses for Mediterranean climates:

  • Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass)
  • Buchloe dactyloides (Buffalo grass)
  • Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu grass)
  • Stenotaphrum secundatum (St. Augustine grass)
  • Zoysia japonica (Japanese lawn grass)
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