Kikuyu grass, lawns made easy

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

Key Kikuyu facts

Name – Pennisetum clandestinum
SynonymCenchrus 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 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. It will spread across the entire surface if not controlled.

Preparing kikuyu grass cuttings

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

  • Do this in April or May (spring), 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 layer a grass node 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 mowing too often or too short.
  • Mowing isn’t actually needed. In any case, space mowing 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.

  • However, 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 decades in Mediterranean regions in places where foot traffic was high, this grass native to tropical areas is slowly gaining popularity. It is definitely 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. Nutrient analysis shows that kikuyu is 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 invasive. You should not plant it. Check with your local agriculture office first.

Learn more about kikuyu grass

History of kikuyu grass

Although native to the entire East Africa area, kikuyu grass was first studied and imported to the USA from Kenya, in the center of that region. The US Department of Agriculture acclimated kikuyu grass in North America a little over a century ago, in 1915. 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, and copes well with dry air, which made it ideal for California at the time.

Australian strands of the grass, however, were originally sourced from the Belgian Congo in 1908 (present-day Congo). Government customs intercepted a packet of unmarked seeds sent from there for quarantine. A local botanist grew the plant to identify it. He then collaborated with an australian university to make the new, amazing grass available throughout the continent as fodder and lawn material.

As a result, sometimes the plant’s origin is said to be Uganda – right in the middle of Congo and Kenya!

The “Kikuyu” people, a prominent tribe that excelled in agriculture and had deep knowledge of nature, inspired the name for the plant.

Since then, landscapers have sown it in many areas around the planet. Sometimes it even spreads so fast, it has become invasive!

Invasive kikuyu grass

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

Grasses similar to kikuyu grass

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

Medicinal uses of kikuyu grass

Crushed blades of kikuyu grass are slightly astringent. You can apply them on small cut wounds to help stop blood flow.

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