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Mr. Smarty Plants - Conversion of patch of bermuda grass to native perennial garden in Texas

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Monday - March 20, 2006

From: Round Rock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Conversion of patch of bermuda grass to native perennial garden in Texas
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

My wife and I want to take a section of our front lawn that is currently in Bermuda grass and plant some native perennials with lots of flowers. The area will be a quarter-circle in a corner of the lawn with the 2 straight sides approximately 8-10 feet long. Three related questions, what would be the best way (ecological acceptable and good for the coming bed) to get rid of the Bermuda grass. What would be the best method of improving the soil, it is typical clay for Round Rock, Texas. Third what would be some good plant choices. The site gets sun until late-mid to late afternoon.

ANSWER:

Bermuda grass is not easy to remove completely. Part of the problem is that it has multiple means of propagation—by seeds, rhizomes (underground lateral stems) and stolons (above ground lateral stems). There are essentially three choices of methods to remove your bermuda grass:

1. Dig up all the plants along with all their roots, rhizomes, and stolons. This is a daunting task for an entire lawn, but with the relatively small size of the area you want to convert to flower beds, it is not impossible. There are tools to helps you with this. You can use a sod-busting shovel or rent a sod-slicing machine. The problem lies in the fact that the rhizomes can be as deep as 6 inches and these tools may not be able to get below the rhizomes and their roots in an initial cut. You may have to dig out soil below that level. Even a small piece of rhizome left in the soil can root and form a new Bermuda grass plant. Any soil you remove in the process of removing the Bermuda grass sod could be replaced with an organic mix with the addition of course sand to alleviate the problems of your heavy clay soil.

2. "Solarize" the plot by covering it with plastic to kill the grass. This will take a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks and the problem is that solarization may not kill all the deep rhizomes and roots.

3. Apply herbicides. This is the least environmentally friendly method, but chemicals used judiciously can be very effective. It may, however, take as many as 3 or 4 treatments with an herbicide containing glyphosate (present in Roundup, Bronco, Landmaster, Ranger, Pondmaster, and Rattler) to completely kill the Bermuda grass. The Wildflower Center neither condones nor censures the use of herbicides; but, for your safety and for the preservation of the environment, we do strongly urge you to read and follow carefully the instructions in the use of such chemicals.

You may want to use a combination of the three methods above to remove your Bermuda grass. You can read articles from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program and from the Arizona Daily Star describing in greater detail these methods to remove Bermuda grass.

When you have your soil free of Bermuda grass you can incorporate coarse builders sand and organic matter into the soil to improve your bed, although it may not be necessary if you use plants native to the Blackland Prairies. Also, you will want to add a pound-in edging around your new flower bed that extends at least 6 inches into the soil to prevent the Bermuda grass from encroaching on it.

Here's a starter list for Blackland Prairie perennials selected primarily from the Andy and Sally Wasowski's Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region, an excellent book that should be easy for you to find at your local library, bookstore, or garden center. The list here is limited to plants that prefer full sun, but you can find several options in the Wasowski's book for shady beds as well.

PERENNIALS, SUN

Perennial Winecups (Callirhoë involucrata)
Sundrops (Calylophus berlandieri)
Purple paintbrush (Castilleja purpurea)
Cutleaf Daisy (Engelmannia peristenea)
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Lantana (Lantana urticoides)
Gayfeather, Blazing Star (Liatris mucronata)
Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)
Foxglove Penstemon (Penstemon cobaea)
Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea)
Four-Nerve Daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa)
Greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium)

You can look for nurseries in your area that specialize in native plants and seeds in the National Suppliers Directory.

 

From the Image Gallery


Winecup
Callirhoe involucrata

Berlandier's sundrops
Calylophus berlandieri ssp. pinifolius

Prairie paintbrush
Castilleja purpurea

Engelmann's daisy
Engelmannia peristenia

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Texas lantana
Lantana urticoides

Cusp gayfeather
Liatris mucronata

Pink evening primrose
Oenothera speciosa

Wild foxglove
Penstemon cobaea

Mealy blue sage
Salvia farinacea

Four-nerve daisy
Tetraneuris scaposa var. scaposa

Stiff greenthread
Thelesperma filifolium

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