How to Have a Flowering Lawn

Last week I spotted the first snow crocuses (Crocus chrysanthus) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) opening their flowers in my lawn — they are just one of the benefits of the fine fescue grasses that I grow as turf. These grasses are the basis of the “no-mow” lawns that you see advertised by various companies, especially Prairie Nursery and Wildflower Farm (which sells its seed mix as “Eco-Lawn”) .   I actually make up my own mix of half a dozen different cultivars of hard, Chewings and creeping red fescues, buying the seed from a local retailer and blending it myself.

If your conditions suit these grasses – you need a well-drained, preferably not-too-rich soil – they offer a number of advantages. They are drought and shade tolerant and they are naturally short so they can be kept neat with just 3-4 mowings a year, or even allowed to grow un-cut if you don’t mind a more tousled look.

This last point brings us back to my early spring bulbs. These are difficult to naturalize in a conventional lawn, as the constant mowing shears off the bulbs’ foliage so that they cannot make and store food for the next year’s growth. As a result, early spring bulbs planted in a conventional lawn rarely perform as true perennials, but instead tend to peter out after a couple of seasons.

Because my fine fescue lawn doesn’t require a mowing until late in the spring, however, there is plenty of time for the bulbs’ foliage to make food; for the most part, the early spring bulbs have gone dormant before I bring out the mower for the first time.

Indeed, my crocuses have not just survived, they have thrived, multiplying year by year. Likewise, my snowdrops have increased slowly but steadily. I started with a single clump that I dug as a remembrance from an elderly friend’s lawn on the day of his funeral; this single clump took so well to my lawn that I have divided it many times and I now have snowdrops dotted here and there all over my small front lawn.

I planted my front lawn to fine fescues as a gesture of sustainability – these grasses need no irrigation once established, thrive in conditions of low fertility, and are naturally weed-resistant — but I’ve found that they have aesthetic advantages as well.


Posted by

Thomas Christopher
on March 7, 2016 at 7:44 am, in the category Lawn Reform, Shut Up and Dig.

Comment List

  • Pam Penick 01 / 01 / 1970

    I love this look and tried it myself with Berkeley sedge and oxblood lily bulbs, but the deer ate my bulb flowers and foliage. The sedge lawn still looks great though! I mow it once a year, on a high setting, and it needs much less water to look great through our hot, dry summers in Austin.

  • skr 09 / 10 / 1980

    What time of year does mowing typical lawns start in the area? Is it typically Kentucky Bluegrass that people have for lawns there? When does the crocus and galanthus foliage typically finish up? Do you think you could pull this off with a standard lawn if it were in the backyard and the grass could get a little long waiting for the foliage to die back?

  • Thomas Christopher 08 / 08 / 1990

    I typically start mowing my lawn in mid to late May, whereas the typical Kentucky bluegrass lawn around here needs mowing by early April. You could let your bluegrass lawn grow long in the spring so that bulb foliage will mature, but it wouldn’t be good for your lawn because you’d shock the grass pretty severely when you cut it back from meadow to normal mowing height. Converting your lawn to slower-growing bunch grasses such as the fine fescues isn’t too hard and doesn’t take long. Plus the fine fescues need less fertilization and are relatively drought-proof once established.

  • skr 26 / 09 / 2013

    When do your crocus and galanthus foliage yellow up? How tall are they? Could you mow at like 6″ so the KBG doesn’t get out of hand while still allowing for the bulb foliage to keep going?

  • Thomas Christopher 07 / 10 / 2013

    The idea of mowing at 6 inches is a good one — sounds like it should work. I don’t know when exactly my crocus and galanthus foliage yellows; just know that it does so in time for the bulbs to go dormant before I mow.

  • skr 31 / 05 / 2014

    Great thanks. I think I’ll give it a shot.

  • Tara Sayers Dillard 01 / 03 / 2015

    Have been doing Tara Turf for 20+ years. Studying historic gardens across Europe the first lesson was their lack of lawns. Historic gardens have meadows. Mostly what the wind blows in but choices of bulbs, low herbs, low perennials, groundcovers. Hence, Tara Turf unique to each area.

  • Thomas Christopher 01 / 11 / 2016

    What grasses do you include in your “Tara turf”?

  • admin 02 / 11 / 2016

    This is a good video from British meadow fan Chris Packham:

  • GLT 20 / 11 / 2016

    I’ve never heard of the ‘Eco-Lawn’ seed mix before. A growing demand for natural looking lawns is something I’m seeing more and more though. Thanks for sharing this.

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