Kikuyu - Friend or foe?

Author: Stefan Palm   Date Posted: 19 January 2023 

On one hand, Kikuyu is often considered an uninvited pest and trying to eradicate it can seem like an uphill battle. On the other, many people choose to plant it for its drought tolerance and durability.

This tension is one we experience often when talking to people about lawns. It seems that you love it or you hate it, and for good reason - If you have it and don't want it, it's tricky to remove. If you have it for its enduring qualities, you'll sing its praises all day long!

Why would you plant it?

Surprisingly, our kikuyu varieties of turf are our most popular, and it's also the lawn you are most likely to encounter when walking around your neighbourhood - this is because it is perfectly suited to our warm, temperate climate. It can survive on Adelaide's average rainfall and is more durable than any other variety of turf available in South Australia. If you were looking for a lawn that has the capacity to deal with high amounts of traffic (for example, pets, kids and sports), then kikuyu is a great type of lawn to consider. It takes a lot of punishment to wear out in the first place, and even if you were successful at that, it recovers quickly. Kikuyu is soft and maintains great colour all year round, and if that wasn't enough, it's a miser when it comes to water consumption. There are a couple of types to choose from, the first being our fine leaf variety which is perfect for most circumstances. Where you need something that is extra tough, we have a variety called Kenda kikuyu. It's the most durable and hardwearing variety around. 

What gives kikuyu its reputation? (both famous and infamous!)

Kikuyu is an invasive variety, and it has an uncanny knack for growing where it wasn’t planted. Kikuyu spreads by both seeds and by runners meaning it can literally blow into your yard or get dropped in by a bird flying overhead. It can be transported by a lawnmower, or it can spread across from your neighbour's property via its underground runners.  Being more aggressive than any other type of lawn, it has the capacity to dominate its environment. While this can be frustrating for the person who didn't invite it, these characteristics are also the reasons people plant it. Kikuyu can be described in the following way:

  • Highly invasive
  • Incredibly drought tolerant
  • The most durable variety available
  • Evergreen (except in frosty areas)
  • Soft to touch
  • Very forgiving - if it does get neglected or is damaged, it recovers quickly. 

Its reputation as a good-looking, hardwearing and drought-tolerant variety makes it the choice for councils, schools and homes where durability is paramount. While it does need extra cutting and edging during the warm seasons, it delivers beautiful and consistent performance without a lot of fuss. 

What do you do to remove it if you don't want it?

There are plenty of instances where people have kikuyu and don't want it. While there are some instances where you can weed it out, there are also plenty of circumstances where it becomes so established in your lawn that it is virtually possible to remove it.  If you have small patches of unwanted kikuyu in your lawn, then by all means, have a crack at removing it, but if there is more than that, then there is a fair chance that you may have to learn to live with it. If your lawn is more than ¼ kikuyu, then you virtually have no chance of removing it. Once kikuyu becomes entrenched in your lawn, even if you go to the effort of completely removing it with a non-selective herbicide, then there is still a high chance it will return. Have a read of my blog on removing kikuyu for more information

What if you can't remove it?

If you discover that you can't remove it,  it's not all bad news. While kikuyu is invasive and fast-growing, it has some really good qualities.  My advice to you is this – if your lawn is becoming dominated by kikuyu, then your best course of action is to embrace it and make it work for you. Here are some tips for making kikuyu a good-looking and practical lawn:

  • Keep it mown regularly during the warmer months. The warmer it is, the faster it grows, so I would recommend a maximum of 14 days between each mow. (weekly is better)
  • Keep it no longer than 40mm tall (around setting four on your lawnmower). The shorter, the better.
  • While it is drought tolerant, it will keep its best colour and presentation if it's watered with around 25mm of water once per week during the warmer months. If you water it less, it will survive, but it will go hunting for water which is where it starts to aggressively invade garden beds.
  • Keep a trigger bottle of non-selective herbicide on hand. If you notice it creeping into garden beds, spray it out. In this way, it won't get a foothold.
  • Fertilise it three times per year, mid-season except for winter.

Kikuyu lawns, like in this photo, can be a beautiful addition to any home. If you keep up these routine and simple maintenance measures, you’ll find yourself with a  largely trouble-free lawn. Ultimately, a happy, well-watered, well-fertilised kikuyu will be less aggressive, will look better and will provide you with a green tough surface.  Treat it right, and you soon discover it’s not as bad as you think. You might even come to like it!

Comments (4)

Which lawn to plant in yard containing kikuyu

By: on 22 July 2019
Hi Stefan, we are planning to place turf in a 10m2 section of our yard, full sun, that is separated from the existing lawn by deep concrete footings. I was going to lay buffalo, but given that the existing lawn is being taken over by kikuyu and obviously the same mower will be used for both areas would we be better off just to sow kikuyu in this area to start with? We haven’t had any problems with the it spreading to other isolated areas, such as the front (which has fairly heavy shade) and the middle strip of the 40 m long driveway (which is in full sun but never gets any attention except rainfall and mowing)

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hey Trina, Thanks for your post. What you plant will largely depend on what you plan on doing with the lawn. Being such a small lawn, If it will get some traffic (pets, kids etc) then I would go with the Kikuyu. Like you have suggested, if you have kikuyu in other parts of your block, there is a high chance it will invade anyway it has a knack of getting under footings, even when they are deep!

Spiky kikuyu lawn

By: on 21 April 2019
Hi Stefan I recently purchased a new house and went from a nice couch to kikuyu lawn. So I have yet to figure out my lawn. When I mow my kikuyu lawn, it is just full of woody spiky stems. These form a network across the entire lawn surface and is not fun to walk on at all. I am not sure why I have this problem- all your photos show a nice leafy lawn while mine is runners with a bit of leaf. It gets watered twice a week but only fertilised once in 3 months. I mow it on average once a fortnight at the moment. Am I mowing it too low or not fertilising it enough or watering it too much? Thanks for the help.

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hey Charlene, Thanks for your post. What you are describing could the result of a number of problems including soil related issues, kikuyu mites or even maintenance issues. Kikuyu is very resilient so once you understand the problems, it more than likely wont take much to resolve them. To know for sure, I'd need to bring down a core sample of your lawn and soil to our shop. If you live too far away from us, then we may be able to help you by seeing some photos and having a conversation with us. Give us a call on 08 8298 0555 to discuss this further. We'd love to help. Regards, Stefan

Mowing Kikiyu

By: on 17 March 2019
Hi Stefan, I cut my kikuyu at level 6 on my mower. My question is to reduce that to 4 now, would it be detrimental or should I wait til September before dropping down to the 40mm.

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi John, Good question. Starting from the basis that your lawn is in good condition, is fertilised and growing well, you will need around 4 weeks of temperatures over 23 degrees to get a recovery after scalping your lawn. Kikuyu is a warm season grass meaning that it goes dormant during the winter months- ie, soon as the weather cools off, it stops growing. It is late in the season to be scalping your and while it is probable that we will get enough warm weather to get a recovery, I would wait till Spring to do it.

Spongy Lawn

15 February 2019
I have a kikuyu lawn which is extremely spongy in places-it stalls the mower! Should I scalp it, and if so, when?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Yes - scalping is a good idea for thatchy kikuyu lawns. You'll need about 4-6 weeks of temperatures over 25 degrees to get a full recovery so the optimum time of year is from October through to March.

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