Thursday, August 24, 2023

Hybrid Prairie Lawns in Colorado

Turfgrass to the left, natural field to the right, in front of residential complex in Broomfield, CO. The field is actually closer to the complex, which is to the right.

One of the things that has most impressed me during my stay here in Colorado has been the way they have managed to integrate natural components into the suburban and even urban landscape.

The so-called Open Spaces is one aspect of this. but I also found smaller examples that were even more immediate and accessible to people.

Turfgrass to the left, natural field in front of residential complex to the right

In many places I've visited, including Broomfield and Boulder, landscapers have integrated traditional lawn and ornamentals with natural fields of grass and forbs around residential and commercial buildings. In the picture above for example, traditional turf grass that remain cropped close to the ground stands next to an open field. 

Turfgrass lawn backstopped by natural grass field, in front of residential building

These hybrid prairie lawns (HPL) are quite attractive, and the natural fields pull the eye away from the rather dull and relatively boring turfgrass. Unlike turfgrass lawn, the natural fields changes in appearance over the course of the season, with more green tints in the earlier parts of the year, before the golden light browns of summer and fall as the grasses senesce. Another big positive is the significant savings to the property owner, since the fields are not irrigated, and mowing of the fields is kept to a minimum.

As far as I can tell, the fields in HPLs are kept quite natural, with most of the grasses being the usual naturalized exotics such as Bromus inermis, mixed in with natives such as Panicum virgatum and Sorghastrum nutans.

Bromus inermis, which is normally a big part of fields here

I kept wondering whether the HPL concept would fly in some other states. This part of Colorado is lucky because the area is naturally high desert, where open savanna and pure grasslands are natural parts of the landscape.

In a place like New Jersey for example, which does not normally have lots of natural grasslands, any space left untended would soon become a big mess of brambles and forbs and weedy plants, which isn't as "attractive" as prairies. Energy and money would be needed to maintain a "cleaner" look, and this would probably discourage landscapers from exploring possibilities.

I did notice even here in Colorado that parts of some natural fields have a proliferation of weedy looking forbs in them, but on the whole, the system seems to maintain a nice equilibrium of small and medium tall grasses, with some forbs mixed in.

This plus the heavily maintained turfgrass next to it proves that such HPLs are a great alternative to the more boring landscapes with pure turfgrass. 

 Now, that's a "lawn" that I would love to have all year round.

Panicum virgatum, another species that forms part of the field

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