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Thursday - August 11, 2005

From: Austin , TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Smarty Plants for Mission, TX
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Last week I visited my uncle who is head of a church in Mission, TX. The church owns an empty 2 to 3 acre lot, where they hope to build a school someday. However, that day is at least 10 to 15 years down the road. I was thinking that it would be a great opportunity, in the meantime, to restore the lot to native grasses and wildflowers. It would beautify a space that would otherwise remain empty and weedy, provide wildlife habitat, and educate the congregation on native ecology. I've taken a permaculture course and am interested in native plants, but I have very little practical experience with restoration projects, and resources are pretty limited (probably around $500). Any advice you could give me would be very much appreciated. Where to start is the biggest problem I suppose... what to do with the existing vegetation, if anything, and what seeds to buy. Site specifics: I would estimate that the lot is about 40% bare dirt (sandy loam). The other 60% contains lots of what I think is Buffel Grass, small patches of Bermuda Grass, lots of Purple Nightshade, a few sunflowers, and a few Retama and Acacia seedlings. The only wildlife I saw were a couple of jackrabbits and sandpipers. I really hope I can pull this off because the space has a lot of potential.

ANSWER:

This sounds like a wonderful project and an opportunity to involve members of your uncle's church in implementing the project.

First, I would like to recommend several articles on the Wildflower Center web page that will give you some useful information on how to begin. First, there is an article by the Director of the Wildflower Center's Land Restoration Program, Steve Windhager. This article, "Restoration: The basics on how to repair you land", is available to read online or to download as a PDF file.

Next, there are several articles that give you guidelines for carrying out the project. Three titles should be particulary helpful: "Wildflower Meadow Gardening", "Landscaping with Native Plants", and "Large Scale Wildflower Planting". They are available on the Native Plant Library page to be downloaded as PDF files.

It sounds as if you have some species that you definitely want to try to eliminate (e.g., the non-native bermuda and buffel grass) and some that you want to retain (retama, acacia, sunflowers, and even some of the purple nightshade). You are probably going to want a mix of grasses, shrubs, small trees, and wildflowers. There are three books I would recommend that would help choose wildflowers and shrubs for the area. These are:

1) "A Field Guide to Common South Texas Shrubs" by Richard B. Taylor, Jimmy Rutledge, and Joe G. Herrera. 1999. Texas Parks and Wildlife and University of Texas Press,
2) "Plants of the Rio Grande Delta" by Alfred Richardson. 1995. The University of Texas Press, and
3) "Trees, Shrubs & Cacti of South Texas" by James H. Everitt, D. Lynn Drawe, and Robert I. Lonard. Revised edition. 2002. Texas Tech Univeristy of Press.

For grasses that should do well in the area, I would recommend:

1) Purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea), 2) Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), 3) Silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides); 4) Sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus).

You can search for suppliers of seeds and plants by visiting the National Suppliers Directory on the Wildflower Center webpage. Both Native American Seeds in Junction and Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg carry extensive stocks of native grass and flower seeds. There are several nurseries in Mission and nearby towns in the Rio Grande Valley that specialize in native plants.

Finally, the Wildflower Center does offer consulting service for land restoration projects. You can contact one of the staff of Land Restoration Program to learn more about this service.
 

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