San Fernando Valley conditions can be tough on turf grass. The heavily urban area straddles U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b through 10b, where winter lows range between 25 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and summer temperatures soar. Choosing grass seeds for Valley lawns requires balancing beauty with resilience, and not all grasses are available as seed. Aesthetics, seasonal dormancy and tolerances to drought, heat and saline all influence Valley grass selections.
Grasses fall into two main categories, based on their growing seasons. Warm-season grasses flourish during summer, but they go dormant -- and turn brown -- once temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses grow actively from fall into spring. They stay green in winter where temperatures stay above 32 F. But in hot San Fernando Valley summers, they turn brown without near-constant watering. Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), which grows U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7, is a cool-season grass seed best suited to cooler climates, but it tolerates Valley conditions if grown in shade. It's often mixed with other grasses to keep Valley lawns looking green in winter.
With hot summers and the high cost of watering lawns -- both financially and environmentally -- grasses that drive roots deep hold up better under searing Valley sun. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon, USDA zones 7 through 10) suits the rigors of Valley lawns. The all-round, warm-season grass flourishes in hot, low-water conditions. Even in lawns, its drought-fighting roots reach up to 6 feet deep. They also help surrounding soil hold onto to existing water. Bermuda grass seed establishes quickly, and the dormant grass recovers fast come spring. Seed-grown Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides, USDA zones 5 through 9) also tolerates extreme drought, but it goes dormant early and stays brown late. Bermuda grass is considered invasive and can also creep into flower beds.
When cool-season grasses curl up from heat, warm-season types thrive. Zoysia grass (Zoysia spp., USDA zones 6 through 10) combines outstanding heat tolerance with the ability to withstand heavy foot traffic. Zoysia seeds establish slowly, but a dense, finely textured lawn results. It outcompetes weeds, holds up to children playing on it and handles pets, too. Deep, rich green in warm seasons, zoysia turns a pleasant, distinctive beige shade during winter dormancy. Zoysia seed can be interseeded with tall fescue for a Valley lawn that retains green color through hot summers and cool winters.
Valley grasses deal with saline conditions from water used in irrigation and from soil. When soluble salts accumulate around grass roots, they draw away water in a salt-created drought. For homes that use recycled graywater or have household pets, salt-tolerant grass seed is a smart choice. Seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum, USDA zones 8 through 11) is a vigorous warm-season grass with exceptional salt tolerance. An attractive bluish-green, the grass handles Valley heat and offers relatively brief winter dormancy. Bermuda and zoysia seeds offer excellent salt tolerance, too.
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Turfgrass Selection for the Home Landscape
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Managing Turfgrasses During Drought
- Los Angeles Times: Drawing a Line on the Lawn Amid Water Conservation and Drought
- UC Statewide IPM Online: Turfgrass
- UC Statewide IPM Online: The UC Guide to Healthy Lawns
- OutsidePride.com: California Grass Seed
- OnlinePlantGuide.com: Oneline Plant Guide Search
- Valdosta State University: Bermuda Grass
- ZipcodeZoo.com: Plant Search
- Photo Credit Noppharat05081977/iStock/Getty Images
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