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Lawns For Subtropical Regions

( Originally Published 1906 )

The difficulties of southern climates—Heat resistent grasses and substitutes—A hardy Bermuda grass—Perfect lawns for the South, California and Arizona.

IN THE Southern States, and where sub-tropical conditions prevail, the problem of lawn making differs from that which is met in the Northern States. In the latter region the Kentucky blue grass is the basis of all good lawns, and indeed there is no better grass for making a permanent green sward. But, unfortunately, while it is adapted to a very great variety of soils and situations, it cannot stand the excessive heat of the Southern summers. South of the latitude of Washington D. C., except in the Alleghany Range, where the blue grass will grow as far south as north ern Georgia, some substitute for Kentucky blue grass must be sought. On the lighter soils white clover, red top, and one or more of the bents are more to be relied upon, and they make a beautiful soft lawn, but they lack the permanent character of the Kentucky blue grass.

South of Washington white clover forms an important feature of all lawns and as the subtropical regions are approached, the grass gradually gives place to the clover. As one proceeds south, and as the region of the Kentucky grass ends, the region of Bermuda grass (Capriola, or Cynodon, Dactylon) begins. This may be regarded as the permanent lawn grass of the South. It is a rapidly creeping grass, makes a substantial growth in warm weather, but unfortunately suffers from cold and turns brown as soon as frost touches it. Though the roots are permanent and will survive the winters the top dies, and in the northern regions of the southern section of the country, some substitute or rather companion grass is necessary to give the green appearance during winter. It is particularly adapted to the sandy soils of the Atlantic coast plain, standing heat and drought, and it may be mown over frequently.

A system of double seeding is resorted to where Bermuda grass lawns suffer from frost in the winter. In order to keep the green colour all the year around, English rye grass is annually scattered over the lawn at the rate of about fifty pounds to the acre. This is done about the end of September or the beginning of October, first raking over the surface of the soil and applying a top dressing from the compost heap. This seed will germinate in a week, and by the middle of November will have formed a perfect lawn, which will remain green all the winter. By the following May it will have died, just at the time when the Bermuda grass is again starting into growth. It has been found that ploughing in from seven hundred and fifty to a thousand pounds of cotton seed meal to the acre before sowing or planting the Bermuda grass (which work is done in January at the rate of six pounds to the acre) puts the soil in excellent condition. Surface dressings of cotton seed meal may also be given after scarifying in the fall, previous to broadcasting the rye seed.


There is a specially hardy form of the Bermuda grass which was introduced into Oklahoma some years ago, and seems to be well adapted to that latitude, although it may be of doubtful value in the northern parts of the state. This grass, after many years of experiment and observation, was proved to be better adapted for lawn purposes in this state than is the commoner form which freezes black in winter and remains as a disfigurement on the ground until late May. The hardy form begins its growth during the last days of March. As an illustration of its suitability it may be stated that on the College Campus, at Stillwater, where Kentucky blue grass failed—as did all kinds of mixtures, including the fescues and the clovers—this hardy Bermuda grass formed a complete lawn in three seasons. It re-mains green from April to October.

Bermuda grass is generally propagated by cuttings or rather, to be more correct, by small pieces of turf which are planted a few inches apart and will eventually grow together to form a perfect turf.


Still farther south, in Florida, where still different conditions prevail—a much warmer climate and greater humidity—there is opportunity for yet other grasses to be used for lawns, and the St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum also known as S. Americanum) is the grass relied upon for lawn purposes. It has a coarse and very upright leaf but a creeping root stock. It remains in a green condition practically throughout the whole year, and, so far as giving the green colour so desirable for landscape effects is concerned, answers every requirement. It is not, however, a perfect lawn grass. It is adapted to a wide area and succeeds in the West Indies displacing the Bermuda grass even in the Island of Bermuda.


From Charlestown, south along the sea-coast, very satisfactory results have been obtained by the use of the Korean lawn grass known to botanists by the name of Osterdamia matrella. This is a creeping or stoloniferous grass with rather rigid often sharp pointed leaves and tapering tender spikelets. Two or three other species of the genus have been introduced but the one named is reported upon by Professor L. C. Corbett (Farmers' Bulletin No. 248) in these words: "It thrives well in the latitude of Washington, but the leaves are not hardy and assume a straw colour in winter. It will, however, undoubtedly be a decided acquisition for lawns near the sea-shore in latitudes south of Washington."

In the Gulf Coast country, what is known as carpet grass (Paspalum compressum) has been receiving extended favour and appears to be a very suitable companion to the Bermuda grass. It is readily propagated in the same way as the latter, but it also seeds. This is one of the best pasture grasses of the low moist country along the Gulf Coast, and it is here that it may be expected to find its chief use as a lawn grass, although its range of distribution is from Virginia to Texas. In the dryer regions of our western prairies the Buffalo grass (Bulbilis dactyloides) is becoming established.


But perhaps the most promising of all the lawn grass substitutes for southern and dry regions is the fog plant (Lippia nodiflora).

Dr. F. Franceschi of Santa Barbara has given most favourable reports on its behaviour in southern California, lawns having been successfully established where otherwise no sort of success has been achieved.

Dr. Franceschi gives this account of its introduction:

"It was in 1869, barely one year before the fall of the second Empire, when the centennial of the first Napoleon was celebrated with great festivities at his birthplace, Ajaccio, in Corsica. The Superintendent of Parks of the City of Florence, Signor Pucci, to whom the floral decorations had been entrusted, was quite struck with Lippia, as it had been used in the public garden of Ajaccio. He took some with him to Florence, and put it on trial in one of the public gardens. There it did so well that it soon spread to other parts of Italy, and particularly along the Riviera, where the climatic conditions are very much like southern California.

"In the year 1898 my daughter who had recently come from Italy, called my attention to the fact that for several years already Lippia had been used to carpet the esplanade at the Naval Academy at Leghorn, where 500 boys had their daily drilling, and all sorts of games. It was obvious to think that if Lippia had done so well in Italy it ought to do the same in California. From the Director of the Botanic Garden in Rome I secured by mail a small tin box of Lippia plants (less than 12 ounces weight). Now, after six years, there are hundreds and hundreds of acres planted with Lippia, between California, Arizona, Mexico, and Australia, and it all came out of that small tin box. And had it not been for the celebration of the centennial of the great Napoleon, probably this humble plant would still grow, little known and unappreciated, only on the coast of Corsica and other points along the Mediterranean."

The following are the cultural directions for establishing lawns of this plant:

Have your ground well worked and pulverised, levelled, and rolled if possible. No manure recommended.

Lippia seeds very sparingly or not at all. Anyhow, the best and quickest way to propagate it is by planting small sods (two square inches) at a distance of about one, or two, or more feet apart. The closer it is planted the sooner the ground will be carpeted. Each small sod contains many joints, and from each joint runners and roots will soon appear that will branch in every direction, and will anchor it in the ground, rooting again as they run.

Press and well firm the sods in the ground and give sufficient water to start growth. Occasional rolling will be of advantage. Frequent walking over it will have the same effect.

If the tiny lilac flowers (much sought after by the bees) are not desired, they can easily be removed by an ordinary lawn mower.

During the dry season water must be given with a lawn sprinkler or otherwise, at intervals as the local conditions will suggest.

Much experimental research is still being carried on by the Department of Agriculture, with a view to discovering a practical substitute grass which will be for the South what the Kentucky blue grass is for the North. Among subjects of recent investigation are various species of clover and grasses imported from Asia and Australia. It is unfortunately too early at this time to state definite results concerning these imported lawn substitutes, but attention is called to them so that the inquiring reader may follow up the lines of investigation.

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