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Saturday - March 27, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native plants to provide nitrogen for compost in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I leave my clippings on the lawn so I don't have enough 'green' for my compost. I'd like to plant an unobtrusive area with some native that I can mow on a monthly basis. The area is in partial bright shade. So, I'm looking for a native, fast growing, high nitrogen legume or grass that will grow (but not necessarily thrive) in a somewhat shady spot in Houston. Any ideas?


You sound like someone who is serious about compost; perhaps you would be interested in reading this previous answer to a question on compost. In this article, it was pointed out that grass clippings were not sufficient for the nitrogen or "green" material a compost pile full of post oak leaves needed. The solution there was 50-lb bags of cottonseed meal, sprinkled over and mixed into the pile, which worked very well. We have also heard that alfalfa meal fulfilled the same function.

However, since you specifically asked about legumes, members of the Fabaceae or pea family, we can certainly list some for you that will do well in Houston and can be mowed for green matter. We would point out that just about any green plant could be treated the same way; the legume is noted as a fixer of nitrogen in the soil, a process which comes from the roots, or nodules, of the plant. For a scholarly discussion of this process, read this New Mexico State University Cooperative Extemsion Service article Nitrogen Fixing by Legumes. We would also point out that many, if not all, of these plants would be considered "weeds," so finding seeds might not be easy, and you might not be that popular with your neighbors. In addition to the legumes, we have selected some grasses native to East Texas that could also be mowed. Follow each plant link to the page on that individual plant for more information.

Legumes for Compost Use in Houston:

Chamaecrista fasciculata (partridge pea)

Dalea obovata (pussyfoot)

Desmodium illinoense (Illinois ticktrefoil)

Tephrosia lindheimeri (Lindheimer's hoarypea)

Grasses or Grass-like Plants for Compost Use in Houston:

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)

Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Chamaecrista fasciculata

Dalea obovata

Desmodium illinoense

Tephrosia virginiana

Panicum virgatum

Carex blanda

Carex cherokeensis

Carex texensis





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