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Thursday - May 29, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Most ecological grass to grow in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What kind of grass is most ecological to grow in a neighborhood community in Austin? Is Bermuda good? Is Buffalo good? I live in a rental house and there are some bare spots in the yard that I'd like to fill in. The yard is mostly St. Augustine, which I would never plant myself, but it came with the house. I'd appreciate your suggestions.


That depends on what kind of effort you want to put in, including how long you think you'll live in that rent house, and whether your landlord is agreeable to your ideas. Beginning with Bermudagrass, it is a native of Africa (not Bermuda) and has become a highly invasive weed. See this University of California Integrated Pest Management site on Bermudagrass to get some idea of why we don't like it. It grows with aboveground stolons and belowground rhizomes and is virtually impossible to get rid of, invading flower beds, cracks in the pavement and other types of lawns with impunity. The grass presently in your lawn, St. Augustine, is really not suitable to our dry conditions and rocky soil. It is native to the West Indies and Western Africa, as you'll see in this Texas Cooperative Extension article by Richard L. Duble on St. Augustine grass. It does better in moist coastal areas, and will tolerate some shade. Both of these grasses, of course, are non-native to North America, and since the work of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the care and protection of plants native to North America, you can understand why we do not encourage planting either grass.

We are in favor of native plants because planting anything in its native area will mean it is already adapted to the conditions there, not needing excess fertilizer, watering or maintenance. So, yes, we think Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) is a very ecologically sound alternative to the non-native grasses. If your landlord wants a pristine mowed lawn or you live in an area with neighborhood rules on lawns, you may run into some resistance on this. Read our How-To Article on Native Lawns to give you some starter ideas. Then, picking up on a suggestion from that article, how about filling in some space with a meadow garden? Yet another useful article in our How-To section is Meadow Gardening. There's a great opportunity for creativity, and you can plant at your own speed, letting things fill in as they can. As if you slowly expand outward, taking up more of the empty spaces and taking out more of the St. Augustine, you may find that you, your landlord, and your neighborhood all agree that it's a great idea.

Packera obovata

Salvia roemeriana

Bouteloua dactyloides

Phyla nodiflora




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