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Ecolawns for the Pacific Northwest




              Tom Cook
           OSU Horticulture
                2007
What should lawns be?
• Do all lawns have to be pure grass?
• Do lawns have to be a mono-culture?
• Are there good broadle...
The evolution of ecolawns

After looking at lawns throughout the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades for many years, it...
Naturally occurring ecolawns




This is an old lawn that has evolved on its own to a fairly steady state climax. It is ch...
Veronica chameadrys ecolawn flowering in spring


                        All Veronicas have beautiful flowers in
        ...
Naturally occurring bentgrass/lawn violet ecolawn




Lawn violets are another plant well suited to ecolawns. They don’t b...
Naturally occurring bentgrass/ Galium ecolawn




One of the most intriguing plants with potential as part of an ecolawn i...
This site is extremely dry with only False dandelion and Galium verum
managing to stay green by late summer. The grass in ...
This stand of Galium is dense and green even without any irrigation. The
yellow flowers develop in summer, but rarely cove...
Constructed Ecolawns
             1.Base of Perennial ryegrass

             2.Common yarrow

             3.Clovers

    ...
Common Yarrow                                Achillea millefolium




Yarrow is fairly common in lawns and gardens where i...
Strawberry clover                                    Trifolium fragiferum




In our early trials we used a variety of Str...
English daisy                             Bellis perennis




English daisy is a common component of drought stressed
lawn...
Daisies in spring




                    T Cook photo
Yarrow and White clover in summer




Clver and yarrow are the most drought hardy components in commercial mixes. They
wor...
Yarrow vs Ryegrass after 5 weeks without water




                                           T Cook photo
Performance at Corvallis on clay soil

Mowing goal: 1 per 3 wks        2” with mulching rotary

Mowing reality: 1 per 2-4 ...
Corvallis

                                         4 irrigations
                                         per summer
    ...
Ecolawns in practice




This is a commercial mixture planted around the renovated Weatherford Hall on the OSU
campus. Thi...
Ecolawns in practice




Spring is the time to see the flowers. In summer, ecolawns look
more like conventional grass lawn...
Ecolawns in practice




After nearly a month without water, the grass lawn planted to hard fescue is partially dormant an...
Where do ecolawns fit in the big picture?

So far we have done little more than assemble mixtures based on plants we thoug...
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Ecolawns for the Pacific Northwest

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Ecolawns for the Pacific Northwest

  1. 1. Ecolawns for the Pacific Northwest Tom Cook OSU Horticulture 2007
  2. 2. What should lawns be? • Do all lawns have to be pure grass? • Do lawns have to be a mono-culture? • Are there good broadleaf weeds? • Are there niches for different kinds of lawns? • Who decides what is appropriate?
  3. 3. The evolution of ecolawns After looking at lawns throughout the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades for many years, it has become clear to me that most homelawns, parks, cemeteries, school grounds, etc. are in no way pure stands of grass. Most are a mixture of a fairly wide array of grasses and a fairly predictable list of dicot plants (broadleaf weeds) that are well suited for the conditions under which the lawns are being maintained. In the worst case scenario, the result is an ugly, weedy mess. Often, however, I see very attractive and apparently stable mixtures of plants that seem to perform well with minimal water, fertilizer, and mowing. The idea of ecolawns is to try to simulate this ultimate climax vegetation to produce a lawn that is functional, reasonably attractive, and requires fewer rather than more inputs to produce an acceptable lawn. There are many roadblocks in pursuing this goal. The biggest one (as noted on the slides that follow) is that many desirable components for an ecolawn are not in the commercial trade. The ecolawns described below are based on components that are available for purchase. With concerted effort, a host of new species may one day be available, resulting in much more sophisticated mixtures that are truly self sustaining.
  4. 4. Naturally occurring ecolawns This is an old lawn that has evolved on its own to a fairly steady state climax. It is characterized by partial shade, heavy soil, excess winter moisture, low fertility, and regular mowing with clippings returned. The components include bentgrasses, rough bluegrass, white clover, and Veronica chameadrys. All components are well suited to the site and tolerant of mowing. T Cook photo
  5. 5. Veronica chameadrys ecolawn flowering in spring All Veronicas have beautiful flowers in spring. The rest of the year the plants blend in nicely with the grass to produce a lawn that is easy to care for. T Cook photo
  6. 6. Naturally occurring bentgrass/lawn violet ecolawn Lawn violets are another plant well suited to ecolawns. They don’t blend as well with grass as some other plants, but the flowers more than make up for that in early spring. Like many compatible lawn plants violets can self seed and spread vegetatively. T Cook photo
  7. 7. Naturally occurring bentgrass/ Galium ecolawn One of the most intriguing plants with potential as part of an ecolawn is Galium verum. As this photo shows, Galium is extraordinarily drought tolerant and can stay green without any irrigation at all in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It mixes well with grass and looks very much like a conventional lawn for most of the year. It produces small yellow flowers in summer, but they are not very showy. It’s weak link is poor seed production. It can spread by seed or vegetatively by rhizomes. If seed were available, it would be a great addition to an ecolawn mix. T Cook photo
  8. 8. This site is extremely dry with only False dandelion and Galium verum managing to stay green by late summer. The grass in the foreground is Rat-tail fescue, which is a winter annual. Galium verum typifies desirable plants that are not commercially available. T Cook photo
  9. 9. This stand of Galium is dense and green even without any irrigation. The yellow flowers develop in summer, but rarely cover the entire stand. Lady’s Bedstraw, Galium verum T Cook photos
  10. 10. Constructed Ecolawns 1.Base of Perennial ryegrass 2.Common yarrow 3.Clovers 4.English Daisies 5.Others? The first step in developing commercial ecolawn mixes is to find dicot and grass components that can be purchased in the trade. Our initial trials were based on the ingredients listed above.
  11. 11. Common Yarrow Achillea millefolium Yarrow is fairly common in lawns and gardens where it has demonstrated excellent drought tolerance. It blends well with grass and is well adapted to regular mowing. Best of all it is very persistent. T Cook photo
  12. 12. Strawberry clover Trifolium fragiferum In our early trials we used a variety of Strawberry clover called ‘Fresa’ developed at New Mexico State University. Shown here it is dense and persistent and well adapted to mowing. It has excellent drought tolerance. Unfortunately, it was not a commercial success due to poor yields in production fields. Now most strawberry clovers used in ecolawn mixes come from the forage trade. They tend to be ranker growing, but still work okay. A new micro-white clover is now available that will likely fill the void created by loss of ‘Fresa’ strawberry clover. T Cook photo
  13. 13. English daisy Bellis perennis English daisy is a common component of drought stressed lawns throughout western Oregon and Washington. The wild types are very hardy and tolerate summer drought by going dormant. They can spread by seed or vegetative propagation. For our mixes we have had to use daisies out of the flower trade. These are not as hardy and the stand tends to fade out over a three to five year period after planting. T Cook photo
  14. 14. Daisies in spring T Cook photo
  15. 15. Yarrow and White clover in summer Clver and yarrow are the most drought hardy components in commercial mixes. They work well in summer to obscure the now dormant ryegrass, while presenting a green cover. Normally, we irrigate once per month starting in mid June. T Cook photo
  16. 16. Yarrow vs Ryegrass after 5 weeks without water T Cook photo
  17. 17. Performance at Corvallis on clay soil Mowing goal: 1 per 3 wks 2” with mulching rotary Mowing reality: 1 per 2-4 wks Irrigation goal: 1 per mo. June, July, Aug, Sept 4 total Irrigation reality: 2-4 total per year Pest control goal: no treatments Pest control reality: no treatments on clean sites one treatment sequence in year two on dirty sites
  18. 18. Corvallis 4 irrigations per summer Mowed every 3 weeks Wilsonville No irrigation 3 mowings? With modest water in summer ecolawns have stayed green. Without any water they go dormant like most other lawns. T Cook photos
  19. 19. Ecolawns in practice This is a commercial mixture planted around the renovated Weatherford Hall on the OSU campus. This is typical of a young ecolawn in mid spring in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. T Cook photo
  20. 20. Ecolawns in practice Spring is the time to see the flowers. In summer, ecolawns look more like conventional grass lawns from a distance.
  21. 21. Ecolawns in practice After nearly a month without water, the grass lawn planted to hard fescue is partially dormant and generally unattractive. The ecolawn mixture dominated by yarrow and clover still looks green. This is the major strength of the ecolawn mixtures, the ability to look green under droughty conditions.
  22. 22. Where do ecolawns fit in the big picture? So far we have done little more than assemble mixtures based on plants we thought might work and knew were commercially available. The interest on the part of the public has been surprisingly strong and has come from all over the USA. There are obvious short comings with current mixes. They contain a limited number of species, the daisies tend to disappear over time, users don’t seem to understand that reduced input doesn’t mean no input, etc. Still, people do continue to plant them and many are very pleased with the results. To move beyond this ‘first try’ stage, a lot of work needs to be done. We need to continue searching for new and better components. We need to figure out how to grow and produce seed from the promising components and the production process needs to be commercialized. Since ecolawns need to be regionally specific if they are to persist over time, researchers in other parts of the country need to begin the process of evaluating potential mixes for their regions. Before that can happen, turf people have to buy into the concept as one more piece of the puzzle as far as sustainable lawns are concerned. Right now there is a powerful bias toward pure grass turf in the turf research community and the public. I don’t ever see ecolawns replacing conventional grass lawns but I hope to see more options for lawns than we have at the present time. My goal is to see people have acceptable lawn groundcovers that don’t require intensive applications of water, fertilizer, or pest control products. Expanding our concept of lawns beyond just grass may increase the chances of that happening.

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