Tomorrow's lawn? Think buffalo grass

Imagine a lawn of broad stripes that rival those of Wrigley Field. Picture emerald gravel glistening beneath a cactus plant. Or robotic, solar-powered mowers racing across a small patch of fescue.

As the lush, "front porch" of suburbia, evolves, lawn experts predict that these ideas - and others - will sprout as tomorrow's slice of savanna.

Small is beautiful

The size of lawns will shrink as new houses crop up on smaller plots. But there won't be less grass overall. As the population increases, so too will the total acreage of turf, says Bob Andrews, past president of Professional Lawn Care Association of America in Atlanta. He adds: "Almost every new commercial structure has certain green requirements. The [lawn-care] industry [will continue to] grow."

Your own front palette

While "we may become more obsessed with" and will "always love" our grassy swaths, we're already moving beyond a simple patch of green, says Warren Schultz, author of "A Man's Turf: The Perfect Lawn." Conformity is out. Individuality is in. Some homeowners are already replacing traditional landscape with flowering meadows, prairies, woodlands, or hardscaping (adding gravel or bricks to plots).

"People are being more inventive and creative," Mr. Andrews says. "They'll look for more creative [options] to help offset what I see is a trend toward cookie-cutter housing."

For example, there's emerging interest in the ballpark "striped lawn," Schultz says. Landscapers use a mower that has a roller, so when you drive back and forth, lines form.

In the south, "desert lawns" of green and blue gravel are blooming. The stone turf acts as filler instead of grass and often borders gardens or cactus trees.

Low-maintenance fescue

As we work more and have less time to pull weeds, Schultz predicts we'll plant lower-maintenance grasses such as hard fescue, sheep's fescue, or buffalo grass - which requires less water. Scientists will continue to tinker with grass growth-inhibitors, which so far have proven difficult to apply properly. In warmer climes, heat-resistant grasses will rise.

Not a riding but a robo-mower

New gizmos will make lawn care easier, too. Robotic mowers will take over for those who loathe cutting grass. They'll navigate from side to side using buried electronic "guides," says Georges Teyssot, who edited "The American Lawn" (Princeton Architectural Press). We'll use solar-powered mowers. Already, battery-powered mowers are catching on.

Artificial turf

Clearly pass in the next millennium.

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