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Monday - November 24, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like, Wildflowers
Title: Possibility of replacing Bermudagrass with native grasses and wildflowers
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Are there any native grasses and wildflowers that can compete with bermuda grass to make a nativ-y wild area without removing the bermuda?


Don't we all wish? Frankly, the short answer to your question is "no." The Bermudagrass will have to be removed, and you will have to keep removing it, probably forever, to give the native grasses and wildflowers a chance. One ray of hope is that as the native grasses get well-established and taller, they will tend to shade out the Bermudagrass, but it is not the first solution. 

We suggest you read our How-To Article on "When is a Guest a Pest?" which addresses the potential damage done by plants imported for decorative or useful purposes.  Cynodon dactylon, Bermudagrass, was originally imported from Africa (not Bermuda) as a forage crop in 1751, and is listed as a noxious weed in at least 3 states, according to USDA Plants Profile on the plant. It is particularly a scourge to gardeners in the South. With the three-pronged propagation process of stolons above the ground, rhizomes below ground and seeds whenever it is not mowed frequently, it is truly a formidable opponent. 

This website from the University of California Integrated Pest Management on Bermudagrass has the most comprehensive survey we have found on what to do about controlling this pest, especially in meadow and garden situations.

First, there is cultural control, in which you dry it up, starve it, shade it out, whatever is inimical to thriving for Bermudagrass. Don't irrigate the area in the summer (obviously, you can't use this solution if you are growing other, more desirable, plants in the same area), and rake the dry stolons out. Turn over the sod to expose the rhizomes and let them dry out, too. If you are going to compost this material, make sure it goes into a very hot, thorough compost pile, to kill the seeds and vegetative structures. Or bag it up in a black garbage bag, and send it off to the dump. 

Solarization, in which a clear plastic sheet is spread over a patch of Bermudugrass in bright sun. The plastic must be anchored at least 2 feet beyond the edge of the existing grass, it should be done in the heat of the summer, and it needs to be left for  4 to 6 weeks.

Mulching, whether ground bark, gravel or whatever, is not effective, as the grass will continue to grow merrily beneath it, and soon be popping through. Landscape cloth, if it gets a cut, or a hole is put in it to plant a more desirable plant, will also fail.  Heavy shade from structures and large trees will certainly weaken it, make it more stringy and a little easier to pull out. Shade from shrubs or low plants is not sufficient, as the Bermudagrass will just climb right up to the sun, again.

If you really are beginning to feel murderous toward that grass, you might consider a sod cutter. in this site Love To Know: Garden, How to Use a Sod Cutter you get a lot of information on the shovel-type cutter and the power cutter. This is hard work, and serious business. 

Finally, there are the chemical controls. The University of California site mentioned above has information on the various ways to use herbicides. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center neither recommends for nor against herbicides, and urges anyone considering their use to read the instructions thoroughly, and apply them very carefully.  If you decide to use a grass selective herbicide, it should be applied in early spring when the new growth is less than 6" and reapplied before it reaches 6" again.

Now, we're going to assume that you have done whatever works for you to control and eradicate the invasive Bermudagrass and are ready to plant grasses and wildflowers. In Austin, both of these are better planted in winter or early spring. Since that is also the time you are theoretically going to be removing the Bermudagrass, better plan on your wildflower meadow for next year. So, you have time to read our How-To Article on Meadow Gardening.

We are going to go to our Recommended Species section, click on Central Texas on the map, NARROW OUR SEARCH by selecting on Grass or Grass-like for Habit, and find some perennial grasses that can serve as the foundation for your garden. Many wildflowers are annuals, planted best from seed, and reseeding themselves. So, next we will select some wildflowers for you to consider for your garden. Particularly with the wildflowers, we are only giving you a few examples, so use our search function to find more, even down to searching for a preferred color. Follow each link to that plant's webpage, and read about its water needs, attraction to wildlife, etc., before making your decision.


Andropogon glomeratus (bushy bluestem) - 2-5ft. tall, perennial, sun

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) - 2-3 ft. tall, perennial warm season grass, sun, part shade, shade

Bouteloua hirsuta (hairy grama) - 10-18" tall, perennial, part shade

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista) - 1-3 ft. tall, perennial, part shade

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) - 2-4 ft., perennial, sun, part shade

HERBS (herbaceous plants, wildflowers)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - 1-1/2', perennial, sun, part shade, blooms May to September

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow) - 1' tall, perennial, blooms March to June, sun, part shade

Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower) - 3' tall, perennial, blooms July to November, sun, part shade

Coreopsis tinctoria var. tinctoria (golden tickseed) - annual, blooms April to September

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) - 1-3' perennial, blooms April to September

Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel) - 1-2' annual, blooms May to August, sun to part shade

Melampodium leucanthum (plains blackfoot) - 6-12", perennial, March to November, sun, part shade

Andropogon glomeratus

Bouteloua curtipendula

Bouteloua hirsuta

Nolina texana

Schizachyrium scoparium

Asclepias tuberosa

Callirhoe involucrata

Conoclinium coelestinum

Coreopsis tinctoria var. tinctoria

Echinacea purpurea

Gaillardia pulchella

Melampodium leucanthum





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