Some California turf and seed growers have promoted water-saving Native Grasses during the recent drought. While these varieties have a “native” look when not mowed, a recent UC Riverside study casts serious doubt on the water savings claim for these varieties.
Areas were seeded and sodded with a variety of No Mow, Native and Tall Fescue varieties in October 2013. After non-limited watering during establishment, the plots were irrigated at 60% ETo starting on June 1, 2014 and 2015 until October 2014 and 2015. One month after the beginning of the study in both years, quality dropped below an acceptable level of 6 and never recovered. The highest visual quality was achieved by non-native Tall Fescues while Native mixes were rated the lowest.
Since the typical California lawn of Tall Fescue actually outperformed the Native and No Mow varieties, the study supports the conclusion these varieties actually require more water than Tall Fescue and no water savings claim should be made.
Source: Evaluation of Turfgrass Species and Cultivars Under Deficit Irrigation. Marco Schiavon and James H. Baird, Botany & Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA