Turfgrass Options

By Sally Cogdill

       The drought in Colorado has sparked interest in finding alternatives to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass lawns. 

       Should you tear out an existing Kentucky bluegrass lawn and replace it with an alternative turf?  Maybe yes, or maybe no.  Keep in mind that it takes a lot of water to establish a new lawn. Also, because it goes dormant when it receives a limited amount of water, Kentucky bluegrass tolerates drought well.  That is, it is able to recover from drought conditions.  

       If your lawn is healthy, you may want simply to reduce the amount of turf that you have.  These are some possible options.

  • Add or enlarge flower and shrub beds and borders.

  • Increase the size and number of patios and walkways.

  • Replace portions of the lawn with a groundcover, especially on slopes and areas where the lawn does not thrive.

  • Add a gazebo, garden shed or other structures.

  • Install a play area for children on a sand or padded base instead of on turf.

If you decide to replace your lawn, you are more likely to have success if you improve the soil prior to seeding or laying sod.  You should determine how much traffic the lawn will have and whether it will be in the sun and/or shade.  These factors must be taken into consideration when selecting the type of grass that is best suited to your site.

Because the appearance of alternative grasses differs (sometimes considerably) from Kentucky bluegrass you would be wise to look at samples.  Garden centers and demonstration gardens often have sample plots.  For those who prefer the look of Kentucky bluegrass, drought resistant cultivars such as SR2000 and Livingston are available.  The drought resistant cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass develop much deeper roots than other cultivars.  The following grasses are water-wise options.

Type: Turf Type Tall Fescue

Advantages: Fescues develop deep root systems if soil conditions allow, which makes them drought resistant.  They perform well in both sun and shade.  Fescues tend to have few problems with insects and diseases.  They are a good choice where there is some traffic or where children play.  Fescue is a cool-season grass, meaning it greens up in early spring and stays green well into fall.

Disadvantages: Because fescues are a bunch grass, they do not spread to fill in bare spots.  Bare areas must be over-seeded.

Type: Buffalograss

Advantages: Buffalograss, a native grass, requires a minimal amount of water and needs only occasional mowing.  It has very few disease or insect problems.

Disadvantages: Buffalograss is a warm-season grass, meaning it is green only from mid-May until there is a hard frost in fall.  Most varieties require full sun.  It has limited tolerance to foot traffic.

Type: Blue Grama

Advantages: This native grass requires a minimal amount of water.  It has few insect or disease problems.

Disadvantages: Blue Grama is a warm-season grass and is green only from May to September.  It does not tolerate shade or traffic.

Type: Crested Wheatgrass

Advantages: Crested Wheatgrass is a drought tolerant, cool-season grass.  It tolerates sun and shade.

Disadvantages: It has medium tolerance to traffic.  A bunch grass, it does not form a thick sod.

Type: Smooth Brome

Advantages: A cool-season grass, Smooth Brome is a drought tolerant species that performs well in sun and shade.  It grows rapidly and tolerates traffic.

Disadvantages: Smooth Brome has wide, coarse blades.  It can be invasive.

For additional information contact the Rocky Mountain Sod Growers Association at 303-690-4400 or see  You can also contact your county’s CSU Extension office or visit the CSU Turf Management website at