By Todd Layt
Turf, gardens and patio pots can all suffer in our hot Australian summers. Over the years, I have learnt some interesting ways to help get lawns and plants through summer. I have also found some clever techniques to help reduce the work load. Some tips are simply good horticultural practice, whilst others are a little more creative.
The best lawn types
Apart from getting a tougher lawn type, which is usually not an option, there are many techniques that can help get lawns through summer with less damage. Firstly, try raising the lawns mowing height. The theory is that the lawn will handle summer and dryer times more easily. The lawn will become healthier, more robust, and some claim the root system will grow deeper. Personally, I find this mainly true, but with one proviso; I like to mow my lawn shorter in early spring to help reduce thatch and let it get a little longer as summer approaches. I find this particularly important with a Buffalo lawn. The better varieties of Buffalo grass have superb drought resistance, and a raised summer mowing height helps this (by drought resistant, we mean they take longer to brown off). I find Palmetto Buffalo Grass has very good drought resistance. Some types of Buffalo grass, however, have very poor drought resistance, so be careful when assuming you are maintaining a buffalo lawn with good drought resistance.
Turf varieties such as Couch and Empire Zoysia have incredible drought tolerance, meaning they will survive long periods of severe drought, but they will brown off before the good Buffalo grass varieties. If a bad summer sees massive water restrictions and no rain for 2 to 3 months, provided the soil was not extremely sandy, the Couch and Empire Zoysia will survive and green up when it rains. Of the Buffalo types, only Palmetto Buffalo Grass has proved it can do this. Palmetto has survived for many years on Windsor road in Western Sydney with just natural rainfall through periods just like this. Under severe drought stress, some buffalo lawn types simply die.
The biggest problem with Couch of course is its aggressiveness at running into gardens, its poor shade tolerance and the fact that weeds invade it very easily. Empire turf has none of these problems, although Palmetto has better winter colour than Empire Turf. Empire Turf needs slightly less mowing. Kikuyu has the same invasive problems of Couch, although even worse. It is not as drought tolerant as Couch and Empire, and not quite as drought resistant as the better Buffalo grasses. Cool season grasses should be avoided all over Australia, except maybe Tasmania. Our hot summers, drought condition, and water restriction, are making them impossible to keep alive. Fescues, Rye grass, Blue grass etc. are on borrowed time in this country.
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