Endophytic fungi are found naturally in many strains of fescue and ryegrass, and already inhabit grass seed harvested from these strains. Seed mixes selected for their high levels of endophytes are widely available and only slightly more expensive than regular blends.
Since storage under hot, dry conditions destroys endophytes in grass seed, use only fresh seed from a reputable dealer and buy only as much as you need.
Stores are full of cheaper grass seed mixtures that will give a quick green-up, but their long-term results can be disappointing. Always look for endophyte-enhanced blends that list cultivar names for individual lawn grasses in the mixture (‘Silhouette' chewing fescue and ‘Repell II' perennial ryegrass, for example).
Of course, there is no rule that lawns can only be composed of grasses. White clover is an interesting lawn seed ingredient. Long a staple in any lawn mix (about 15 per cent of the mix), it increases nitrogen content in soil, remains green during severe drought and requires little mowing. Many lawn mixtures that are termed “ecological” contain mostly endophyte-enhanced grasses and clover, as well as low-growing perennial flowers such as dwarf yarrow (Achillea millefolium cvs.), double bird's foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus cvs.), sea pinks (Armeria maritima cvs.) and English daisies (Bellis perennis cvs.).
Even top-quality, low-maintenance grass seed will falter if the soil is not properly prepared. If you're starting a lawn from scratch, pour on at least 15 centimetres of weed-free, rich, water-retentive soil. If the original soil is mostly construction debris or hard clay, you could need up to 30 centimetres. Good drainage is also essential: tiles or a bit of a slope would be ideal. Always sprinkle on a light dusting of mycorrhizal fungi, according to the suppliers' instructions, before sowing or laying sod. Mycorrhizes are another beneficial fungi, living outside the plant, acting somewhat like root extensions and improving its ability to absorb fertilizer and water.
A PRAIRIE PERSPECTIVE
Prairie gardeners will find low-maintenance lawn mixes quite well adapted to their growing conditions-prolonged drought, mid- winter desiccation and extremely cold temperatures-as they're largely composed of fescues, which are resistant to drought and cold. Jim Ross, operations manager for Prairie Turfgrass Research Centre, recommends taking a look at the varietal trials on the PTRC Web site for information about grass cultivars particularly suited to specific Prairie conditions. For example, ‘Dawson' and ‘Seabreeze' creeping red fescues and the native blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) are good choices where high soil salinity is a problem.