The third way, establishing lawns in the UAE
Speak to almost any gardener, professional or otherwise in the UK and they will tell you there are two methods to establish a lawn, laying turf and sowing seed. When working in the United Arab Emirates I learnt a third way - sprigging or stolonising.
During my time in the country, I drove past workers undertaken various and unfamiliar stages of lawn creation, but on each occasion, it was beside a motorway or busy junction where it was impossible to stop safely and take a closer look. Fortunately, a friend, Peter Barlow, was establishing a new institute, the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy (SPAA), and alerted me to the start of lawn preparations early one September morning. I immediately changed my direction of travel and headed over to SPAA in University City, Sharjah.
On route I spotted a tractor-mounted heavy duty scarifier (SISIS Veemo MK2) scarifying the long grassy avenues lined with date palms. I was able to pull over safely and observe this first stage of the sprigging process. Scarifiers were used to cut and remove thatch, the matted layer of stalks, stolons (creeping stems) and dead grass that gradually accumulates in lawns. The thatch is deposited on top of the grass ready for a tractor-driven rotating brush (SISIS Litamina) to throw it into a hopper, which in turn is loaded onto a truck. The vital element of the thatch for developing a new lawn are the stolons. Once the truck is full, it moves to the site where the new lawn is to be prepared. This process is time critical, as anyone who has heaped grass into a pile will know, because it soon heats up (especially in the desert sun) leading to stolon death.
Different stages of collecting thatch from established grassland.
The thatch is deposited in a heap on the site of the new lawn, where curious, evenly distributed, piles of sand, had been distributed that resembled small termite mounds. Then an 80-strong team of labourers grabbed armfuls of the thatch scattering it evenly across the site.
Once done, other labourers took sand from the piles and lightly covered the thatch, this process continued until the area was complete.
A hand operated roller is then pushed over the area to firm the sand and the thatch. Finally, an underground irrigation system popped up and watered the site.
Within a few weeks, and with frequent irrigation, this area of desert transformed into a soft green baize. The grass used in Sharjah is Paspalum grass (Paspalum vaginatum). It has several traits that make it perfect for ornamental lawns in a hot climate. It produces stolons suitable for sprigging, tolerates temperatures into the mid 40 degrees Celsius without problems and has good tolerance to high salinity allowing municipal grey water to be used with minimal pretreatment. Lawns of buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) are occasionally created by sprigging, but this species is less tolerant to heat and better suited in shadier areas in the UAE. The process of sprigging is a very labour-intensive undertaking; I suspect seed sowing would be a more cost effective solution for developing new areas of turf in Sharjah.