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Tuesday - September 01, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Turf
Title: Low water lawn for Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am interested in finding out more about low water lawns and was wondering if you have resources you might suggest. We have replanted with varying types of grass several times and my front lawn continues to have bare spots. We have sent samples to Texas A&M for testing and have consulted several grass experts. The best answer we can come up with is that we are located at the top of a hill, basically on rock with only a couple of inches of soil due to continued erosion. We have replaced grass in our back yard (terraced down several levels) with river rock and ground cover and that has worked well. Just not sure how to approach this in my front yard. Thanks for any help you could give me.

ANSWER:

There is no question that you need grasses for your front lawn. Most importantly, that will help with the erosion problem. You are probably going to need to convert to mostly grasses that do not tolerate foot traffic, or not much, and do some soil amendments first. Grasses, with their long fibrous roots, will hold the soil, as well as any water we might get someday, and prevent further erosion. We want to suggest that you do this in a gradual manner, starting with the bare spots that need it most and then expand as the need and opportunity arises. Fall is the time to be planting grasses in Central Texas, so you have some time to prepare a bed, if you will, where they can thrive. Nothing is going to bring back the soil you have already lost, so how about building up the soil into a raised bed in the worst areas?

If you have not already done so, please read our How:To Articles Native Lawns and Native Lawns: Buffalograss. Since you have obviously already done a lot of research, neither of these will have much new to tell you, but they are good background information, nonetheless.  An idea for beginning this conversion would be a raised bed over the "bald" spot, in which you could plant one or more decorative taller grasses. If you are not familiar with the process, there is a very good article from Popular Mechanics How to Build and Install Raised Beds. This goes into more construction detail that you are likely to actually need, and we would suggest native rock for an edging, mostly on the lower side to hold the dirt in place until those grass roots get going. As time goes by, and more of your front yard has amended soil and established grasses, it will become less necessary to maintain the walls to hold the soil. That's why we suggest a gradual project.

You can go to our Recommended Species section, click on Central Texas on the map, select "grass and grass-like" under Habit, the correct amount of sun under Light Requirements and probably "dry" under Soil Moisture. We consider full sun to be 6 or more hours of sun daily, part shade 2 to 6 hours of sun, and shade, less than 2 hours of sun a day. Finally, click on Narrow Your Search, and you will get a list of grasses native to Central Texas that correspond with your specifications. You can follow the plant link of each to the webpage on that individual plant and learn what size you can expect it to be, speed of growth, etc. We are going to give you several suggestions of our own, just to get you started. 

Native Grasses for Austin

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

Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) - 2 to 12 inches, perennial, spreads by rhizomes, low water use, sun

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) - 2 to 4 ft., perennial, medium water use, part shade or shade

Dasylirion texanum (Texas sotol) -perennial, evergreen, blooms yellow June and July, low water use, sun

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista) - perennial, 1 to 3 ft. tall, blooms white, green March to July, low water use, part shade

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) - 18 to 24 inches tall, low water use, sun or part shade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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