Lay off the (Native) Grass

This year the HOA received some questions concerning how to best manage the native grass areas that surround homesites throughout the property. We directed a few of the most common questions to our resident expert on all things grass, Director of Agronomy, Pat Christoffer. 

Why do we have these native areas? 

Native grass areas are the best thing we can do for the environment in and around Red Ledges. We are trying to create a very natural stand of native grass that looks a bit like the wild country that surrounds Red Ledges. We want our native areas to complement the land and create a corridor for wildlife. The great thing about these naturalized areas is that once established, they require little or no supplemental irrigation water! Water conservation has always been important to Red Ledges.  

How should we manage our native areas? 

Simple – the goal should be to do very little. Native grass areas are a lazy person’s dream. The grass types that were selected by experts for Red Ledges are extremely hardy and will do well under drought conditions without fertilizer. The hope is that the grass stand should become self-sustaining, creating a naturalized population of grass plants that are extremely competitive against weeds.  

What type of weeds should we control?

In the academic world a weed is defined as any plant out of place. That definition is fine, but a more useful definition is to note that any plant that is pokey, rolly, sticky, smelly, gnarly, buggy, grabby, or generally scary looking isn’t what we want in our naturalized areas.  

How do we control weeds in the native? 

There are many different techniques for controlling these problematic weeds. But, the most efficient is often the use of a well-timed herbicide application. Broadleaf weeds (remember the pokey and rolly things), tend to be controlled using well timed herbicide applications in the Spring. I would suggest working with a professional herbicide applicator, licensed by the Utah Department of Agriculture, to develop a well-timed herbicide program that provides the best combination of environmental safety, excellent weed control and cost to fit the specific needs of your homesite.  

What about cutting down these native areas?

Please don’t mow or weed-eat your native! It makes me cringe when I see a homeowner destroying very good native grass by mowing in July and August. In fact, mowing during the summer months is likely the worst thing we can do to our native areas. A solid, thick, brown stand of native grass is the best defense we have against weeds. However, mowing it down will instantly create an area where weeds will thrive. Mowed native in the summer months looks awful, makes your native weedy and is expensive. If you must mow only do it in late October/early November. But remember, the goal for the native areas is to have very limited maintenance and mowing of established native areas simply isn’t needed.  

My native is brown – is it dead? 

Nope – your native is dormant – and that is good! A dormant grass plant basically goes into hibernation and waits for conditions to get better. Dormancy is a drought survival technique. Brown native grass is good native. 

How much should I water my native? 

Again, the native should be brown during the hot, droughty summer months. A better question is do you need to irrigate established native areas at all? Each site is different, but I can tell you on both golf courses we do not irrigate any established native areas and the native is doing great. The golf course native, which uses the same seed blends that the HOA and CC&R’s use and require, has found an equilibrium that does not require any supplemental irrigation, period.  

Pat Christoffer has a B.S and M.S. in Agronomy from Washington State University, has been in the golf course industry for almost 25 years and with Red Ledges since the very beginning, in 2007. Interestingly, during graduate school Pat led a team researching how fire and engineered plants affect native grassland ecology and genetics. Pat lives in the Heber Valley with his beautiful wife, two wonderful young children and an awful dog.