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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - November 26, 2003

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Best of Smarty, Turf, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Mixture of native grasses as opposed to buffalo grass monoculture
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Stephen Bruegerhoff

QUESTION:

My husband and I just built our home on Lake Travis. Our lot is very rocky and is on the side of a hill. We would like to plant something on the incline at the front of our home that doesn't need a lot of maintenance (water, weeding or mowing). We have heard of buffalo grass, but understand there may be a weed control issue involved in raising it. We are planting bermuda tiff grass immediately around the house and are concerned with bringing more weeds in than necessary. The area we want to plant in buffalo or a similar grass is over our leach field. What do you suggest?

ANSWER:

Buffalograss ( Bouteloua dactyloides) does well in full sun and little water. The fact that the area you want to plant it in is your drainfield may mean that there would be an over-abundance of water for the buffalo grass to do well. An over-abundance of water will encourage weeds to grow and take over the area from the buffalo grass. However, if there is little water with great drainage and there is plenty of sun, buffalograss should do well.

There are several ways to establish buffalograss--seeds, turf or plugs. You can download a 3-page PDF article, Native Lawns, from the Native Plant Library on the Wildflower Center web page that will give you more information about establishing and maintaining your buffalograss lawn and native lawns in general. The article also describes ways to fight weeds in your lawn. By the way, buffalograss is a warm weather grass and will not start sprouting from seeds or putting out runners from plugs until spring. If you want immediate growth on the area you might also consider seeding it with a cool grass variety such as Canada Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis var. canadensis).

As an alternative to a buffalograss mono-culture you might consider planting a mixture of grasses on the drainfield site. Native American Seed in Junction, Texas has a mixture specifically produced to be used on drainfields. If you wish to purchase seed from them, you can do so directly from the Wildflower Center website. Just scroll down to the prompt at the bottom of the page entitled "Buy Seeds". This will not cost you any extra for the purchase, and will help to benefit the Wildflower Center as well. The good folks at Native American Seed will aid with recommendations specific for your needs, and should also cover the issue of spreading cool season grass seed during these Fall/Winter months, as well as a follow-up with warm season grasses in the Spring.

This drainfield mixture contains: big bluestem, cereal rye grain, eastern gamagrass, green sprangletop, prairie wildrye, and switchgrass. However, some of these are tall grasses and may not be what you had in mind for your drainfield area. You can read about these grasses and others.

The bermuda grass turf you are laying is likely to have some other things (weeds) with it. Being especially careful to either mow or remove by hand the unwanted plants before they seed is one of the most important means of controlling them. Please see the "Native Plants" article cited above for more information.

 

From the Image Gallery


Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

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