Homeowner’s Guide To No Mow Grass
Hate mowing your lawn? Plant a no mow lawn and reduce that chore to once or twice a year while conserving water and creating an inviting, lush lawn.
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Some people look forward to lawn mowing as an opportunity to get exercise and spend time in nature. Other people dread it, and for them, no mow grass sounds like a dream come true. Unfortunately, there’s no type of grass that never needs mowing (except artificial turf), but no mow grass comes close. It thrives with one — maybe two — mowings a year.
As you struggle to start your stubborn lawnmower, you may ask yourself, what was that no mow grass I read about? It’s a native grass that uses less water and grows in mounds,” says Oakland, California-based landscape contractor Stephen Capper. More precisely, it’s a blend of fine fescues sold under a number of brand names, and it’s available at seed and feed stores. Capper gets his from Delta Bluegrass Company in nearby Stockton.
Any lawn can be a no mow lawn if you don’t mow it, but along with tall, unruly grass, you’ll end up with just as many weeds if you don’t use the right seed combination. Tall grass invites wildflowers, pollinators and other critters, and to promote this increase in biodiversity, residents of Appleton, Wisconsin started an experimental movement called No Mow May, and they let their lawns grow for the month of May. Results were both positive and negative and may have been different if they had grown an actual no mow seed mixture.
What Is No Mow Grass?
No mow grass is a blend of hard fescue and fine fescues designed to create a lush green lawn that is essentially weed-free once the grass matures. Fescue is a cool-season grass that thrives in sun but can tolerate partial shade, and it grows in most parts of the United States except in the hot, sunny climate in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 10 (basically the South and Southwest). A drought-tolerant strain, fescue prefers sandy, loamy soil and requires little or no fertilizer.
Blends differ according to regional growing conditions, but most contain five types of fescue:
- Hard fescue: Bunch grass that is tolerant to heat, drought and foot traffic. It grows slowly and doesn’t need regular mowing.
- Sheep fescue: Another drought-tolerant bunch grass that grows slowly. Like hard fescue, it can subsist on little to no nitrogen and doesn’t need to be fertilized often, if at all.
- Chewings fescue: Also bunch grass, but it’s a higher quality strain that adds a deep green coloration to the lawn. It’s the most competitive of the bunch grasses and helps to crowd out weeds, but it’s less tolerant to foot traffic and tends to form a thatch layer that must be periodically removed.
- Red fescue: A creeping variety that serves to fill in the spaces between the bunches and forms a dense sod. It’s extremely shade-tolerant, and its salt tolerance, makes it a good coastal variety.
- Creeping red fescue: Helps fill in the spaces between the bunches, and it’s one of the most all-around tolerant of the fescue strains.
Working together, these fescues create a dense, green lawn that requires only occasional mowing. Most people with no mow lawns mow once in the spring, when the seed heads appear, and once in the fall. Capper cautions to keep the mowing height to 4 inches or more to prevent damage.
Alternatives to No-Mow Grass
Fescue isn’t the only plant or grass variety that can work as a no mow lawn. Others include:
- Buffalograss: A warm-season alternative for southern and plains states that is also drought-tolerant and slow-growing. It isn’t as weed-resistant and may require weed control. It can thrive with little fertilizer, but it doesn’t grow well in sandy soil.
- Zoysia tenuifolia: Another slow-growing, warm-season grass for sunny or partially shaded locations. Unlike Zoysia strains in general, this particular strain — AKA temple grass — grows slowly and doesn’t need regular mowing. It establishes slowly, however, and needs well-drained, loamy soil and bi-yearly fertilization.
- Ground cover: Carpet sedum (stonecrop), hosta and Dutch white clover are popular no mow alternatives to grass. Ground cover hardiness varies by region, so check with your local garden center for the best one to use in your location.
Pros/Cons of No Mow Grass
The main advantage of no mow grass is that it reduces mowing to once or twice a year. No mow grass also:
- Needs little fertilizer and water.
- Establishes quickly.
- Forms a thick carpet that attracts insects and wildlife.
- Inhibits weed growth.
- Makes walking comfortable.
On the flip side, the negatives of no mow grass include:
- When you do mow, the job is more difficult. You have to mow slowly and plan for removal and disposal of a large amount of clippings.
- You have to periodically clip overgrowth from walkways and edges where grass intrudes into garden areas.
- And, although a no mow lawn is generally comfortable for walking, it will soak your shoes and pant legs when you walk on it after a rain.
Where To Buy No Mow Grass
No mow seed blends are available under a number of brand names, including No-Mow-Lawn, Eco-Lawn and Let It Grow. You can find these blends and others like them at local seed outlets, because they sell blends appropriate for the area in which they are located. If you’re looking for an instant lawn, you may also be able to find no mow turf (sod). Online, purchase directly from the producers or from third-party suppliers like Prairie Nursery.
Establishing a new no mow lawn isn’t much different than establishing other types of lawns. If you have existing grass or weeds, you need to kill them by solarizing with black plastic or using another method.
You generally don’t need to fertilize when sowing no-mow seed, although extremely sandy soil might benefit from a little turned-in topsoil. Water twice or three times a week until the grass emerges and becomes established, at which point the lawn should be able to survive on whatever rain falls during the season.