While you probably won’t find Blue Grama grass at your local hardware store, this native North American grass makes an attractive lawn while still being incredibly drought-hardy and low maintenance.
If you’re looking for a lawn that can survive on as little as 7 inches of rainfall a year, are looking to start a pollinator-friendly prairie lawn, or just want to stop spending your weekends caring for your lawn, then Blue Grama may be your grass of choice.
What Is Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)?
|4 – 9
|Most soils that are well-draining.
Doesn’t grow well in purely sandy or heavy clay soils.
|6.6 to 8.4
Requires ⅓ the water that Kentucky Bluegrass does.
|Nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq. ft.)
|0.5 – 1; Low.
|Bunch-forming with short rhizomes
|Mow to 3 to 4 inches or leave natural (6 to 20 inches).
May only need to mow 2 or 3 times a year.
|Excellent resistance to drought, freezing/cold, and nutrient-poor soils.
Good tolerance of salt and heat.
Low tolerance of humidity and shade.
Hardy to 7,5000 ft elevation.
|7 to 10 days
|Light green, fine texture.
Blue Grama grass is the most common native prairie grass in North America and it’s starting to gain favor as a drought-hardy, low maintenance, and attractive turfgrass. Like Buffalo Grass, it thrives in nutrient-poor and water scarce regions, and even when irrigated, still takes less than a ⅓ of the water that Kentucky Bluegrass needs.
You can even let it grow to its natural length or mow it a couple times a year for a manicured look.
It’s a warm-season grass, staying green during the hottest parts of the year while going dormant during the coolest. At its northern range, that means that Blue Grama will only be green for a short time (a turfgrass like Crested Wheatgrass, Fescue, or Perennial Ryegrass may be better suited to your needs). In its more southern range, it stays green from May to October.
Unlike other drought-hardy grasses, Blue Grama has shallow roots with short rhizomes that form a sod. When it gets enough water, it grows into a thick sod that works by itself. Otherwise, it’s bunch-forming and does well mixed with Buffalo Grass and native wildflowers. It also makes for a great erosion-control grass on slopes, where you can allow it to grow without mowing.
This grass can also be found at elevations reaching 7000 feet, far above the limits of other warm-season grasses.
Pros and Cons of Blue Grama
|Excellent drought hardiness. Without water, it can survive weeks by going dormant and recover quickly.
|Limited availability. It’s a very niche turfgrass and it may be difficult to find seed locally.
|Grows in a variety of well-drained and nutrient-poor soils; requires little fertilizer.
|At its northern range, it’ll turn green for only a short time.
|Can grow either by itself or paired with Buffalo Grass and/or native wildflowers for an even more eco-friendly lawn.
|Prone to weeds if excessively irrigated or fertilized.
|Grow well at high elevations, up to 7,500 feet.
|Sensitive to herbicides.
|Mow once or twice a year or leave it to grow long.
As a warm-season grass, seeding is best done in the late spring or summer when nighttime temperatures only go down to 60F, up until 6 weeks before the first frost date. Apply 3 – 4 lbs of seed per 1,000 square feet.
Blue Grama germinates fast in only 7 to 10 days [PDF], but it takes much longer to get established. During germination and establishment, you may need to water mow frequently. Water shallowly (1 inch of soil should be damp) while the seed is germinated. Applying a shallow ground cover will help keep the soil moist for longer.
Once germinated, water deeper (2 inches of soil should be damp, but not muddy) once a day for up to 10 days. After that, continue to reduce the frequency of watering.
Two months after germination, mow your lawn to encourage it to grow thicker.
Blue Grama works both as a manicured lawn or left to grow to its natural state for a prairie/meadow lawn. Even if you plan to let it grow natural, mowing it a few times when it’s getting established (starting 2 months after planting) will help it thicken up.
If you mow, cut it to between 3 to 4 inches. As Blue Grama is a slow-growing grass, you’ll only need to mow once or twice a year.
Left to grow on its own, it’ll grow to 6 to 20 inches tall and is a beautiful grass to behold, including the seed heads.
The taller you keep Blue Grama, the less water it will need as the length shades the soil.
Even though Blue Grama is not a highly rhizomatous species, it forms a thick sod that does really well against weeds because it can thrive on low nitrogen and little water. So long as you don’t overfertilize or overwater, you may not have to deal with weeds at all. It’s especially competitive when mixed with Buffalograss.
But like all grasses, Blue Grama is vulnerable to weeds when getting established. When starting a new lawn, water the bare soil to germinate the weed seeds. Once the weeds have sprouted, then either use solarisation, cardboard sheet mulching, or a hoe to kill the weeds (these methods are also great for removing an existing lawn).
If weeds had overtaken your lawn, you may wish to do this twice. Once you do this, most of the weed seeds in the soil will have been removed, leaving less weeding for you while it gets established.
During establishment, one thorough hand-weeding will usually give Blue Grama enough of a head start to outcompete weeds. If you must use herbicides, use only a single application of 2,4-D that is not mixed with other herbicides, as that will stunt Blue Grama’s growth. Any herbicide labeled for use on Buffalo Grass is safe for Blue Grama.
Grama grass requires very little fertilizer and does very well in nutrient-poor soils. It only needs 0.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Applying compost once a year in June will be plenty. If you haven’t had a soil test before, get one before applying fertilizer as too many nutrients will only encourage weeds and cause problems.
You may discover you don’t even need to fertilize. If you don’t find any problems, repeat soil tests every 3 to 4 years.
As much of the West and Midwest US becomes drier, more drought-prone, and has more frequent water restrictions, you’ll need a grass that can survive and even thrive on low amounts of water. Blue Grama needs only ⅓ of the water that Kentucky Bluegrass does, and in fact, can do well with 8 inches of precipitation annually.
Once Blue Grama is established, it’s very drought tolerant. After an extended dry period, it may go dormant (brown) but will recover quickly after a few rains. You may need to irrigate once a month during a drought.
If you get less than 8 inches of rain annually, then you may need to water every 2 to 3 weeks during the summer. Watering more often will also encourage Blue Grama to form a uniform turf – so long as you don’t overwater. Blue Grama suffers when submerged in water (it’s meant for a dry climate).
In drier conditions, it’ll stay separate clumps rather than form turfgrass. If you get low rainfall and don’t irrigate, then mix it with Buffalograss and/or wildflowers to fill in the gaps.
Watering more than necessary will only result in weeds. Blue Grama outcompetes weeds in part because of its low water requirements.
Blue Grama likes well-drained soil, so compaction can be a problem. If your soil is compacted, core aerate in the late spring or summer when the grass is growing vigorously and before you fertilize.
Since Blue Grama grows slowly and does not have stolons, it rarely suffers from thatch problems.
Blue Grama Frequently Asked Questions
Is Blue Grama Grass Native To Texas?
Yes, Blue Grama grass is native to Texas. It’s a very important range grass as it can survive long dry periods and does well with moderate grazing. It’s also native to the lower 48 US states and to the Canadian prairies, although for turfgrass, it’s best grown in places with long, dry summers.
Is Blue Grama Grass Native To Colorado?
Yes, Blue Grama grass is native to Colorado and is the State Grass. Blue Grama makes a great substitute to damaging, non-native, invasive turfgrasses, and can cope really well with the long summers, cold winters, and high elevation.
Can You Mow Blue Grama Grass?
Yes, you can mow Blue Grama grass (and mowing is good for it), but keep it between 3 to 4 inches tall. Mowing Blue Grama will encourage it to spread and grow into a thicker turfgrass. You can also allow Blue Grama to grow long (between 6 to 20 inches), either on slopes that are difficult to mow or in meadow/prairie lawns.
Is Blue Grama Good For Lawns?
Blue Grama is an excellent choice for a drought-hardy, low maintenance lawn. It’s the most drought-hardy grass available, even more so than Buffalograss. It also has fine leaves and a light green color that looks fantastic. On the higher end of its low water needs, it grows into a thick mat. On the lower end, it grows in clumps with gaps easily filled with Buffalo Grass and/or wildflowers for a pollinator-friendly lawn.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.