Kikuyu grass, lawns made easy

Kikuyu grass gives you a solution against dry spells, foot traffic and watering.

Key Kikuyu facts

Name – Pennisetum clandestinum
Synonym – Cenchrus clandestinus
Family – Poaceae

Type – grass
Height – 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm)
Exposure – full sun

Soil – ordinary
Foliage – evergreen
Moisture – dry to swampy (all)

Extremely easy to care for and with quick growth and spread, this turf plant is perfect to replace the grass in a lawn or dress a bare patch up.

Take note, though, that you’ll need to live in a region where the climate is mild in winter.

Sowing kikuyu grass

In spring, sow in much the same manner you would any type of grass used for traditional lawns.

  • Doses to follow are about ⅓ to ½ oz (10 to 12 g) to a square yard (1 m²).
  • Even though watering will become unnecessary after a few months, you still must water regularly until seeds sprout.
  • Germination of the kikuyu grass seeds should occur in just under two weeks (10 to 14 days). Keep watering for a few more weeks.
  • Growth is slow at the start, but kikuyu grass quickly speeds up after that and will spread across the entire surface it was sown on.

Preparing kikuyu grass cuttings

Kikuyu grass is very easy to propagate through cuttings or simply by transplanting it.

  • This can be done in April or May, just as for the sowing.
  • Select a cutting from the plant by digging out a portion of the rhizome and settle it in at the desired location.
  • Water often at the beginning.

Kikuyu turf also sends runners out as it spreads, like strawberries. Planting kikuyu runners is very easy and all you need to do is ensure a grass node is layered into a nursery pot. It will sprout roots and spread from there. You can also direct the runners to maximize coverage since secondary runners will appear and make the plot denser.

Mowing kikuyu grass

  • Kikuyu grass doesn’t cope well with being mown too often or too short.
  • Mowing is actually unneeded and in any case can be spaced far apart in time.

Note that if left untouched, kikuyu grass will grow into a thick mat several inches thick (4 to 6 inches or about 10 to 15 cm).

Fertilizer for kikuyu grass

Kikuyu doesn’t absolutely need fertilizer. It will grow well in any type of soil.

  • Giving kikuyu grass nitrogen-rich fertilizer will trigger fast growth.
  • This can help colonize bare spots or places that are often trodden over.

Only fertilize spots that need support. If you fertilize your whole lawn, you’ll simply end up with much more mowing to do!

Advantages of kikuyu grass

Kikuyu grass gives you a solution against dry spells, foot traffic and watering.

Used for ages in Mediterranean regions in places where foot traffic was high, this grass native to tropical areas is slowly gaining popularity as a very interesting alternative to traditional lawn grasses.

Extremely easy to care for and with quick growth and spread, this plant is perfect for gardens located in areas where the climate is rather hot in summer and mild in winter.

Its resilient rhizomes overcome drought very easily and also cope well with otherwise difficult spots such as coastlines.

For farms and homesteads, kikuyu is a great grass for grazing animals, since it grows back quickly and copes well with trodding. Animals can walk all over it with their heavy hooves and it will bounce back quickly. Cows, goats, and lambs love eating kikuyu grass for fodder. It has been shown to be more nutritious than alfalfa. As with many grasses, it developed an affinity to the droppings of grazing animals, and this results in interesting poop mounds in fields and pastures.

To sum it up:

  • Extremely drought-resistant
  • Spaces mowing and trimming further apart
  • Great for dry and even desert-like, warm climate
  • Watering unnecessary or extremely reduced

Kikuyu grass lawn blooming with feathery seed pods.

Disadvantages of kikuyu grass

However, apart from these numerous advantages, kikuyu grass does present several disadvantages:

  • It doesn’t like being trimmed too often and too short
  • Kikuyu grass tends to turn yellowish in winter
  • Kikuyu grass tends to turn invasive because it spreads fast
  • Kikuyu grass dies off when grown under too much shade. It really needs full sun to prosper.

Note: in some places, Kikuyu is considered invasive and should not be planted. Check with your local agriculture office first.

Learn more about kikuyu grass

Native to Uganda, kikuyu grass was acclimated in North America a little over a century ago, in 1915. An interest in it was spurred by the fact that it is well-suited to golf terrains, especially the wide spans of rough. It doesn’t need much watering.

Even though it rarely produces flowers and seeds, it grows very quickly through rhizome (or root) propagation. In many mild and cool climates, temperatures never are hot enough to trigger blooming. This characteristic helps control its invasiveness a bit. Indeed, there will be no dormant seeds to sprout back, as long as all the roots and rhizomes are diligently pulled out.

Note that you might get this grass confused with St Augustine (which you’ll find under the name Stenotaphrum secundatum in horticulture stores), which is thinner-leaved and doesn’t resist drought or foot traffic as well.

Medicinal uses of kikuyu grass

Crushed blades of kikuyu grass are slightly astringent and can be applied to help stop blood flow on small cut wounds.

Smart tip about kikuyu grass

Kikuyu grass is an excellent barrier to block spread of weeds!

Kikuyu will smother any other weed that might grow on a lawn, like clover for instance.


Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Close-up of kikuyu grass by Harry Rose ★ under © CC BY 2.0
Kikuyu grass lawn by Harry Rose ★ under © CC BY 2.0