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Friday - March 27, 2009

From: Kyle, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Turf
Title: Replacing non-native lawn grasses in an HOA in Kyle TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We just rounded out our first year with our first lawn here in Central Texas. I was stingy with the water and needless to say our non-native, Bermuda grass and St. Augustine lawn did not fare well. Ideally I would like to replace the whole lawn with a native mix such as the "Native Sun Turf Grass" from Native American Seed that I have seen recommended here. Unfortunately, with city-wide mandatory water restrictions I do not think that I could water them frequently enough to establish an entire new lawn properly. I, quite frankly, am also intimidated by that level of gardening.I am considering expanding the existing beds with native plants to cut down on grass, but this cannot completely solve the problem as the HOA regulations require that the majority of our lawn be grass. Would spreading the seeds of a native grass be at all effective in rounding out those less successful areas of my lawn? Or is there some other solution that I have missed in my complete lack of gardening knowledge?

ANSWER:

Homeowner's Associations are not amused by attempts to replace the non-native grasses that can be mowed to 3" with natives that sometimes grow up to 6' tall. What would look to one person like a lovely wildflower meadow would definitely be classified as "weeds" by another. While we couldn't agree more with your desire to have a native, low water, low maintenance lawn, you will have to deal with the HOA's rules, and hope to change them gradually by setting an example. First question: Do the mowed grass rules apply to both front and back yards? If you can have a little more leeway in your back yard, you can begin there with the native grasses, while leaving the approved lawn grasses for the front, for the time being.

So, we'll start with the front. Do you know what percentage is required to be in lawn? If no one is out there with a calculator and a tape measure, you can probably gently ease into more natives in the front. Begin by, as you say, enlarging the "garden" or "flower bed" (and non-lawn) area of your front with attractive native flowering plants and ornamental grasses. If you have a choice between non-native St. Augustine and bermudagrass, we would recommend you try to get rid of the bermudagrass first. Although it will do well in dry conditions, it is a very invasive weed, especially in the South. It doesn't do well in the shade, and St. Augustine will, if that is a consideration. While St. Auugustine is not as invasive, it is a water hog. If there are concerns with your HOA about the amount of water that is being consumed, they should be recommending you get rid of the St. Augustine, which is also prone to several diseases, mostly fungus-related.

The Native Sun Turfgrass from Native American Seed that you mentioned is 34% Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and 66% Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) both of which are low dry prairie grasses. They will reseed themselves and should probably only be mowed about twice a year. They will need a reasonable amount of water while they get established, and then can survive drought very well. They are both full sun (6 hours or more of sun a day). If you have more shade than that, there are native grasses, like Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats), that will flourish in shade and are very attractive year-round, but they grow taller than the two grasses above. 

Without knowing what the dimensions of your yard are, or the precise rules of the HOA, we would, again, recommend that you ease into the natives slowly and gently. With smaller yards, the seeding and weeding the Native Sun Turfgrass should not be so overwhelming for your back yard. The next year you can continue to expand the beds of attractive native blooming plants (read: wildflowers) and ornamental grasses. And the year after that, especially if the drought continues, there may be a lot of people in favor of going to drought resistant, seldom-mowed native turfgrasses. 

To give you some talking points as you become a pioneer in your neighborhood, let us give you some of our "How-To" articles to read for ammunition. The first, "Using Native Plants," is a wonderful introduction for the many, many people who have never thought in terms of native vs. non-native. The second is "Native Lawns: Buffalograss" which helps make it really clear why this is to the homeowner's benefit to adopt a native garden style. And the Homeowner's Association.

 

 

 

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