En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - October 06, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Meadow Gardens, Compost and Mulch
Title: Removing St. Augustine, replacing with native plants
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello Mr. Smarty Plants, always excited to talk to the Green Guru himself. I've recently purchased a house in South Austin and am interested in establishing a small, 500+ sq ft, prairie grass and wildflower meadow in my backyard. I've read most of the Wildflower Center materials on this as well as other references, but am still not sure of the best approach to bed preparation, in particular removing the St. Augustan grass. Any insight would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

ANSWER:

You're certainly on the right track, concentrating on native plants for their lower use of water and fertilizer, as we do at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center. And you obviously know the first step is getting rid of the St. Augustine. Very wisely, you've decided to start small and work your way up. You probably live in a neighborhood where it's expected that you will have a mowed lawn in the front yard, at least. Stenotaphrum secundatum, St. Augustine grass, is very popular for lawn grasses. The most commonly used strain is native to the Gulf, Caribbean and West African regions. The disadvantage of St. Augustine is that it requires quite a bit of water, is susceptible to disease, and spreads by stolons. The good news is that it is fairly easy to dig out. The bad news is that any St. Augustine lawn is going to have other weeds in it, including bermudagrass.

You've chosen the right time of year to begin your project. The weather eventually cools down a little, which makes it much better for both plant and planter. Seeds and plants put in the ground now will have the cooler weather of our relatively mild winters to toughen up and prepare for our blazing summers.

So, you've likely already begun, marked your bed for native plants, and begun to grub out the grass. There are actually tools designed for stripping sod off an area, but you probably will do just as well with a sharp shovel. Shake as much soil off the grass roots as you can. Try to disturb the underlying soil as little as possible, as fresh newly turned soil is welcoming to all seeds, including those weed seeds that have been lurking in the ground waiting for an opportunity to get to the light, air and water. Further preparation of the soil is a matter of individual choice. If you happen to have a good source of compost, a nice layer of that will be an advantage. The beauty of native plants, after all, is that they are adapted to grow in whatever soil there is available, with organic materials deposited in it by organic waste that is naturally there, decomposing and refreshing the soil. In a city garden, with grass sucking up all the nutrients it can get, it would be well to give the soil a little help, at least.

Now you're ready for the fun part, the planting. As you say, you've already read the materials from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, but we will provide links for some of it for others who might be reading this. First, go to the How To Articles, where subjects such as Bluebonnets, Native Wildflower Gardens, etc. are detailed much better than we can do here. Next, look at the Plant Database for information on habitat, bloom time and color and pictures of the plants you have selected. When you select the seeds you want to plant, make sure they are native to this area. A "mix" of wildflower seeds might very well have some non-native species in it that could take over and dominate our own natives.

This last question you didn't ask, but I'm going to answer it anyway. Where can I get these native plants for my new garden? Lucky you, you live in the Austin area, and can plan to attend the Fall Plant Sale at the Wildflower Center on October 13 and 14. Take a look first at the Plant List of what will be available there, and make a list. Also, the Native Plant Society of Texas maintains a booth there and can offer you seeds you can be sure ARE native to our area.

 

 

More Non-Natives Questions

Moving non-native globe willow in Ft. Worth TX
August 10, 2009 - I planted a globe willow in a small area in front of my house and it is probably going to need more space. Can I replant it in a more open area without killing it? It is about 8-9 ft tall, 2-3 ft of ...
view the full question and answer

Planting distance for non-native crepe myrtles in San Antonio
June 23, 2009 - I just purchased 7 katawba crepe myrtles and would like to know how far apart I need to space them. I am placing down on the right side of my front yard. They are in 5 gallon containers and about 5 - ...
view the full question and answer

Bastard cabbage in Austin TX
March 17, 2012 - Not sure if this is the forum to address this; but is there any effort out there to do something about the bastard cabbage taking over Austin? Especially on MoPac where you can hardly see the bluebon...
view the full question and answer

Non-native impatiens from Charlottesville VA
June 09, 2011 - Question about type of impatiens. My Alabama mother grew these and called them touch-me-not. They grow about 2 feet tall and blooms grow UNDER the leaf canopy up the stem. Colors I have are pale pink ...
view the full question and answer

Care of desert willows
September 10, 2007 - We have three desert willows. Two are doing well, but the third, which was planted at the same time as the others, is about 1/3 the size of the other two, the foliage is thin, and the leaves have dry...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center