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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native grasses for traffic area in Austin

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Wednesday - February 11, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native grasses for traffic area in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What time of the year is best to plant grass seed in Central Texas? My lawn is in bad shape due to the drought and my dogs. I am considering replanting with tall fescue, do you have any comments or suggestions regarding this type of grass? What is the best grass and method of replanting or overseeding that can withstand the high traffic from dogs?

ANSWER:

Grass seeds germinate when the soil temperature reaches 65 deg. In Central Texas, this would be early Spring. The seeds can be planted through late Summer, but the early period is better.

Festuca arundinacea, Tall Fescue,  was introduced into the United States from Europe in the 1800's. Although it grows best in moist environments, tall fescue has good drought tolerance and will survive during dry periods in a dormant state. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we are committed to the use and propagation of plants native to North America and to the area in which they are being grown. Native plants, already accustomed to the environment, will need less fertilizer, water and maintenance. 

For our area, the best native turfgrass is  Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss), seldom growing more than 6 inches tall, drought resistant and attractive. A slightly taller ornamental native grass, Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) which grows 12 to 14" tall is frequently used in conjunction with buffalograss. Both  need time to get established, and will need help the first year in keeping weeds out. We're not experts in dogs and lawns, but we can tell you any newly seeded lawn is going to need protection from foot traffic, as well as paw traffic. Buffalograss can be purchased as a sod, which would have a better chance with dogs and weeds, but we understand this is a fairly expensive proposition.  You didn't say what size area you needed to redo, perhaps there would be a way of isolating certain areas of the lawn from foot traffic for a period while that area was seeded and developed, and then move on to another area. 

We found a website, Associated Content Xeric Lawn Trial: Buffalo vs. Blue Grama Grass in which a gardener describes his own 4-year experience with these grasses. We could not find out where the testing was done, but he mentioned being in a mountain valley, so not around here. We can make no claims for the expertise in this site, only that it is a narrative on replacing lawn with native grasses. He did not mention dogs. 

Another place you can go for closer to home advice is the Travis County Master Gardeners Association,  which is part of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension program. Also, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape and environment consultants in your general area. They have contact information and you could get more specific help on what to plant and how. 


Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua gracilis

Bouteloua gracilis

 

 

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