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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - July 01, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: When to mow native prairie grasses in Florence, Texas
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Mark Simmons

QUESTION:

What is best time of year, if any, to mow a native grass prairie? 40 acre creek bottom planted with little bluestem, sideoats, prairie dropseed, love grass, switchgrass, bluegrama, sand dropseed plus lots of wildflowers and misc. grasses and forbs. Located near Florence Tx (west of Georgetown) Thanks

ANSWER:

 All of the prairie grasses you name—Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)Sporobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed)Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass)Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) and Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama)—are warm season grasses that are either blooming or getting ready to bloom now at the beginning of summer.  If you want them to reseed your plot, you don't want to mow them now. If you are seeing a lot of tall weeds in your grasses that you want to remove and you can set your tractor/mower high enough to avoid cutting your grasses, you could mow those down. 

Frequency of mowing your prairie grasses depends on all kinds of conditions. As a general rule most Hill Country native grasses can be mowed at least once a year. However, if you want the species to drop its mature seed, then the mowing should occur after flowering and seed set and at least 1/2 the seeds have fallen from the plants. The timing of this event depends on the species. You can monitor your grasses to know when this has happened. 

The short answer then for the grasses you name—if you want your grasses to reseed—is that December through mid-February is the best time to mow to avoid losing seeds.  If you don't care whether they reseed (they are all perennials), then you could actually mow anytime.

There are two entries in our How to Articles that should be useful to you:  1) Recreating a Prairie and 2) Meadow Gardening.

 

 

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