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Mr. Smarty Plants - Environmentally friendly native erosion control plants for arid hillside in Austin

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Saturday - July 15, 2006

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Environmentally friendly native erosion control plants for arid hillside in Austin
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hi, I'm moving into Agave, the new east side development in Austin. It's currently an arid hill with almost no trees and a steep (by gardening standards) hill. As a community, we'd love to find an inexpensive and environmentally friendly option for the west-ward facing hillside. I'm not sure how to seed a hillside - the rain will wash seeds away. But there is probably too much land to buy plants for. Any recommendations?

ANSWER:

Grasses are your best bet to start with. If there are no trees, there is bound to be lots of sunshine. One turf grass that does well with lots of sun and little water is Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). After you have it started, it will serve to keep erosion from occurring and you can then seed it with various wild flowers. It requires little or no mowing and very little water. Here is a quote from Sally and Andy Wasowski's Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region:

"One August Andy saw a 'Prairie' buffalograss lawn in Plano that had been watered just twice all year. It was green. The neighbor's bermudagrass lawn next door had been watered 33 times and looked stressed."

Other grasses (more ornamental) to consider are Prairie or Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) and/or Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus), Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and the state grass of Texas, Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). Native American Seeds in Junction has all these grasses for sale as seeds and some as plugs (roots). They also have a Blackland Prairie Mix which includes grasses and wildflowers that are appropriate for your area.

There are several articles in our Native Plant Library that should be helpful for your project: "Native Lawns", "Wildflower Meadow Gardening", and "Large Scale Wildflower Planting". Since you are worried about the slope for planting seeds, you might like to read the article "How to Make Seed Balls". If you make and use the seed balls, you could include both grass seeds and wildflower seeds in them. Here are a few suggestions for wildflowers that should do well with the grasses:

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) bloom period—April through June
Greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) bloom period—February through December, mostly spring
Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) bloom period—August through October
Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) bloom period—May through December
Clasping-coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis) bloom period—April through July
Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) bloom period—February through June
Texas paintbursh (Castilleja indivisa) bloom period—March through May
Gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya) bloom period—August through November
 

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