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Wednesday - May 19, 2010

From: El Paso, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Mixed non-native sod in El Paso, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Hello, My family and I just finished laying sod in our backyard. We thought we could save some money by buying scraps from a sod farm nearby. It never dawned on us to ask if the sod we were buying was the same type. I just assumed (as we were driving back home with the stuff) that the variation in color and texture was due to some of the pieces drying out. It wasn't until halfway through the installation that we noticed that they in fact are different. My question is at this point do we just leave it alone and hope that one kind of grass will out-power the rest? Or do we take it all off, bite the bullet and pay a landscaper to do it right? I believe we now have Bermuda, Bluegrass and Fescue in no specific patterns.


You present us with an interesting dilemma, both for us and for you. The three grasses you now have in your back yard consist of one native to North America, but not necessarily to the El Paso area, and two non-natives to North America, one of which is also invasive. We don't know what the situation is with the sunlight in your yard, but one of the grasses really only does well in full sun, which we consider to be 6 hours or more of sun, while the other two do okay with part shade, 2 to 6 hours of sun daily. 

First, read our two How-To Articles; Native Lawns-Buffalograss and Native Lawn-Multi Species, and from our Conservation Section Native Lawns.

So, we're going to tell you what we know about each grass, what conditions each one prefers to grow in and whether any or all of them will grow well in El Paso County on the farthest west tip of Texas. One of the problems here is that all of these grasses have numerous hybrids and selections, and you can't always be sure which one you are looking at, so the information we have is pretty general. 

The first grass is  bermudagrass, which is not only non-native to North America but extremely invasive, having become one of the worst weeds in the South. It needs full sun and, while it can tolerate some drought, really loves to be watered and will happily invade flower beds, climb up into shrubs, and crowd out any weaker grass.  See this website Cynodon dactylon, from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program. It spreads by both stolons (above-ground stems) and rhizomes (below-ground) which makes it very difficult to eradicate. Like many invasives, the best way to get rid of it is don't plant it.

From Texas Cooperative Extension information we learned that Festuca arundinacea, Tall Fescue, is native to North Africa and Europe, although it is introduced and grown widely in North America.  It has good shade tolerance in the South, and remains green year round if it is being watered. It is a deep-rooted cool season perennial grass; early Fall is the best time to plant seed or sod. From Invasives.org, we learned that this grass can also be invasive. 

And, finally, Poa arachnifera (Texas bluegrass) listed in our Native Plant Database. This USDA Plant Profile shows it as native close to El Paso County. From our database page on this plant, here are its Growing Conditions:

"Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil Description: Loams. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: This Texas cool season native forms clumps with narrow blue-green leaves. In spring the showy 2-3 ft. fluffy silvery flowers rise above the foliage. Good in most well drained soils. Can tolerate some shade. A good groundcover unmowed or mowed. Unlike most grasses, male and female flowers are borne on separate plants."

So, there you have it. Because of the often differing common names on plants in retail, you may not have sod of the exact species we have given you. The bermudagrass does not tolerate much shade, the fescue and bluegrass "some" shade. Obviously, we would prefer you chose the native, non-invasive Texas Bluegrass. However, it's more likely the three plants are going to duke it out, and if there is a lot of sun, the bermudagrass is going to win. In you choose to follow the information in the articles we referred you to, and take out the weeds (including the non-natives) and plant afresh, we would definitely recommend using one of the grass mixes, including Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss), remembering that it needs sun. 

Pictures of Cynodon dactylon from Google

Pictures of Festuca arundinacea from Google

From Our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua dactyloides






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