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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native lawn grass for El Paso

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Sunday - April 24, 2011

From: El Paso, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Turf
Title: Native lawn grass for El Paso
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson

QUESTION:

I am new to the El Paso area and my front and back yards are currently mostly dirt with a tiny bit of dying (thank goodness) bermuda grass. I want to seed both yards with something that will grow well in mostly full sun and not cause a neighborhood water crisis to maintain. Everyone seems to be zeroscaping now and while I'm sure that is great for conserving water, my family LIVES to be outside. I have a baby and one on the way. A gravel yard is simply not something they can crawl around in. I'm considering sectioning off part of the yard with pavers in order to conserve some water and still have grass for most of the yard. Please help! What should I plant?

ANSWER:

  I hope you mean Xeriscaping. If you wanted to zeroscape, you would not be writing to Mr. Smarty Plants!

  Be very careful of Bermuda grass.  Cynodon dactylon (syn. Panicum dactylon, Capriola dactylon) is mentioned in Wikipedia as a grass native to north and east Africa, Asia and Australia and southern Europe. Although it is not native to Bermuda, it is abundant there as an invasive species, and presumably was thought to have arrived to North America from there, resulting in its common name. It is also known as Dūrvā Grass, Bermuda Grass, Dubo, Dog's Tooth Grass, Bahama Grass, Devil's Grass, Couch Grass, Indian Doab, Arugampul, Grama, and Scutch Grass, My point to be careful of bermuda is that they look like they might be dead in the winter or high summer, but they are actually gathering their forces to go full blast in your yard as soon as the weather is favorable.

  Its tough to kill Bermuda; my favorite method is solarizing - a good reason to be happy for your summer! Solarization is described well in this document from UC Davis. Here is a different webpage from UCDavis that seems to have a good balance between chemical and natural control methods.  There are also several chemical products aimed at Bermuda control.  Here is a link to the Utah State University Extension that has a list. 

  Your main question though was what to seed the yard with to make it liveable and still have a reasonable conservation ethic for the sake of the neighborhood and also for the sake of your water bill.  This is a great application for the native short grasses [after you solarize out the Bermuda!].  The native short grasses are Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss) Bouteloua gracilis (Blue grama), and Hilaria belangeri var. belangeri (Curly-mesquite).  These grasses and several appropriate mixes of the grasses are available from Native American Seed.  Even if you don’t purchase their seed, I’d highly recommend getting on their mailing list. There is much useful information on growing grasses in their latest spring/summer 2011 catalog.

The Wildflower Center has several "how-to" articles on growing Native grass lawns.  This article highlights a study done by Wildflower Center ecologist Mark Simmons.  This  research on a mixture of drought-adapted native grasses showed that they cut down on mowing, watering, weeding and feeding.   This is a "How-to" article that deals with a pure buffalograss planting and this one for a multi-species mix as noted above. 

 

                       
Bouteloua dactyloides
        Bouteloua gracilis             Hilaria belangeri var. belangeri

 

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