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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native grass to replace St. Augustine in Houston

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Saturday - July 18, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native grass to replace St. Augustine in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I read your answer to the question on the Houston Chronicle's website in relation to watering St. Augustine grass. You referred to St. Augustine as non-native, but from what I can gather St. Augustine is native to the Gulf Coast. While it may not naturally have been as pervasive as it is in people's lawns down here, it is in 99%+ of well kept lawns, so difficult to eschew it as trivial. That being said, I hate St. Augustine grass and have been searching for a replacement for years. You suggest a good "native" grass that is drought and heat tolerant, but you did not name any varieties that I might be able to use. Do you know of any native varieties that will work well in a yard in Houston, especially one that will tolerate moderate shade as well as sun?

ANSWER:

We found our previous answer and you are correct, St. Augustine is native to the Gulf Coast, just not the Texas Gulf Coast, but that is neither here nor there. You are again correct that it is widely used in well-kept lawns, especially in the Houston area where you normally get more rain than we do in the Austin area. Right now, a teacup-full would be more than we are getting. 

We can certainly make some native grass suggestions, including some that will tolerate some shade. However, if you belong to a Homeowner's Association, you are probably bound to having a certain area, at least of your front yard, in a closely-mown lawn, which in Houston would be St. Augustine. In West Texas, you have a better chance with bermudagrass, also non-native, but it is aggressive and has become an invasive weed in parts of the South.

You might read our How-To Article Native Lawns to get an idea of the research that is being done on this very problem. Our favorite native lawn grass is Native Sun Turf, from Native American Seed, which is 34% blue grama and 66% buffalograss. However, the key word here is "sun," which you apparently do not have, or not full sun, which we consider 6 or more hours of sun a day. 

Since we don't know your exact situation in terms of Homeowner's Association rules or how much sun you have, we are going to make some suggestions which may not be practical in your situation, but at least we tried. This probably sounds fanciful, but would you consider a meadow garden? Read our How-To Article on Meadow Gardening and see if it is something you would be willing to do. Let us explain that we are suggesting you do this on a small scale, planting some grasses and perennials native to the Houston area (and we will give you some suggestions), and, if you have to satisfy a Homeowner's Association, just keep making your lawn area smaller and smaller as you increase the amount of decorative grasses and flowering plants. None of these native grasses will be mowable, but just need to be cut down to about 6 inches early in the Spring every year. 

We will find our suggestions, and you can find many more, by going to Recommended Species, clicking on East Texas on the map, and selecting first on "Grasses" under General Appearance, and "Part shade" under Light requirements; then do the same with "Herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants). You can add in any other requirements, different amounts of light, soil moisture, etc. as you build your own list.

Grasses for the Houston Area:

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) 4 to 8 ft. tall, warm season perennial, sun or part shade

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) - 1 to 3 ft. tall, sun or part shade

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats - 2 to 4 ft., part shade or shade

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) - 3 to 6 ft. tall, sun or part shade

Perennial Blooming Plants for Houston Area:

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - 1 to 3 ft. tall, blooms orange, yellow May to September, sun or part shade

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - 1 to 2 ft. tall, evergreen perennial, blooms yellow April to June, sun, part shade, or shade

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) - 2 to 5 ft. tall, perennial, blooms pink, purple April to September, sun or part shade

Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) - 2 to 5 ft. tall, perennial,, blooms white, pink, purple May to September, sun or part shade


Andropogon gerardii

Bouteloua curtipendula

Chasmanthium latifolium

Schizachyrium scoparium

Asclepias tuberosa

Coreopsis lanceolata

Echinacea purpurea

Monarda fistulosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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