Ideas That Matter

Native Grasses and Mow-Free Sod

Lisa Gimmy
Native Grasses and Mow-Free Sod

Still Great Lawn Alternatives
By Jeff Graham, ASLA

While rains have left our region looking lusher and more refreshed than they have in years, one thing is certain: here in Southern California the welcome reprieve will only be temporary. With our Mediterranean climate we must look to plantings that can take advantage of the hot, dry summers. Succulents, native grasses, evergreens, and fruit trees such as olives, figs, walnuts and grapes almost always do well. But what about the lush green lawns, for which Los Angeles has become famous? They’re not exactly climate-appropriate. So what is a suitable alternative? As landscape architects, we are inspired by the biodiversity that a living landscape can provide. What we don’t want to see is artificial turf.

Artificial turf enjoyed a surprising resurgence in popularity as an alternative to water-thirsty lawns. However, synthetic turf is often composed of recycled tires and polypropylene. A Yale University study found 11 chemicals used in these materials are likely to be carcinogenic, while 20 are skin, eye and respiratory irritants. Additionally, the surface temperature of artificial turf on a 98-degree day can reach 170 degrees—which is hotter than asphalt. This “heat island” can increase energy costs, and damage adjacent plants and trees.

We’ve employed two types of natural alternatives to high-water lawns. At the Richard Neutra-designed Hafley House we installed Native Bentgrass (pictured above). This medium leaf sod thrives in full sun and partial shade, is drought tolerant, and its strong sod mat provides an effective weed barrier. The texture and bright color of the Native Bentgrass at the Hafley House (pictured above) provides a nice contrast.

At the historic Hindry House in Pasadena, we opted for something different: Native Mow Free sod, a versatile grass that is beautiful either as a traditional turf lawn or as a short meadow grass, reaching 18.” It’s a mixture of Festuca rubra (Molate fescue), Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue), and Festuca occidentalis (Western Mokelumne fescue).

One week after installation, we were excited to already observe new growth.

Selected it for its reputed shade and cold tolerance (said to be greater than Native Bentgrass), it does well in full sun, and can endure light foot traffic. While it’s a slow grower, if you do decide to mow it, cut no shorter than 4.”

Two weeks after installation at the Heineman and Heineman-designed Hindry House, the grass is greener and longer.

Once it’s established, Native Mow Free should require half of the water that sod typically demands. And if it turns to a straw-like color in the summer, low supplemental water will bring back its deep green hue.

One month after installation, it’s ready for its first mow.

Gagnier Landscape, the contractor (who sourced the sod from Soils Solutions in Los Angeles and through the grower Delta Bluegrass), did a great installation. LGLA is excited to continue watching how this grass transforms through the coming months.

Hafley House
Hindry House at KSM Architecture
Hindry House at LGLA


Writer and Media Management Consultant Taylor Van Arsdale provided research and contributed to this article.

Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture

Helms Bakery Building
8800 Venice Blvd., Suite 216
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Phone: (310) 202-8320
Fax: (310) 202-8350

Creating landscapes for California living


Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture is a professional consulting firm offering master planning, site planning, and landscape design. Since its founding in 1992, LGLA has designed landscapes for schools, campuses, boutique hotels, buildings, public parks, estates, and private residences. At LGLA each project is viewed as an opportunity to explore a series of relationships: between the site and the region, architecture and landscape, and most importantly, between the landscape and the people who will use and enjoy it.

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