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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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Friday - August 17, 2012

From: Memphis, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Non-native, invasive bermudagrass from Memphis TN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in central Memphis and have well-drained clay soil. I have converted much of the front yard from turf grass to beds of native plants, which survive our hot humid without supplemental watering except when it gets really droughty. The leftover turfgrass forms broad paths between the beds. This is a "full sun" area. The problem is that the turf grass is that dratted bermuda. It is very hard to keep out of the beds. I have thought about replacing it with native grasses like Thunderturf, but these seem to spread by stolons as well. So won't I have the same problem no matter what? It looks like drought-tolerant turf grasses all use the same mechanic to be drought tolerant: stolons that sneak into flower beds.

ANSWER:

Bermudagrass is well known as one of the worst weeds in the South. You have already gone a long way to xeriscaping, are you interested in going the extra mile?

Since we have already agreed that bermudagrass is an ugly weed, may we suggest you continue to get rid of it? Easier said than done. From About.com: Landscaping here is an article on Solarization. As you read the article, just remember to substitute "bermudagrass" for "weeds." This is a fairly complex solution, needs to be done in the summer when it's hot enough to fry the bermuda grass and the roots, and isn't attractive while it's underway.

If you would prefer to take smaller steps, consider removing the bermudagrass an area at a time. This article from the University of California Integrated Pest Management gives the best ideas for bermudagrass extermination we have seen. As you clear a space, quickly step in and put down mulch. This might still be susceptible to surviving stolons of the grass, but they will be few and determined digging and removal (don't just throw it on the ground, it can even be revitalized that way) should keep it under control. If you wish to add more ornamental beds, let the mulch decompose a bit and keep the stubborn grass down until you are ready to plant. The mulch not only helps to control weeds, but it protects roots of desirable trees and shrubs from heat and cold. The decomposition of the mulch assists in amending the soil, and can be walked on like a path.

As long as we are talking paths, you mentioned the turf grass as making broad paths through your garden. Consider, once you have eliminated the bermudagrass in an area, putting down a path of decomposed granite or more mulch. From The Human Footprint, here is an article on using decomposed granite. Most of the pathways in the Lady Bird Wildflower Center are treated this way, and it is far more natural-looking and low maintenance than grasses, etc.

Since you have full sun and a temperate climate, think about planting some succulents or a mix of succulents in your new spaces, and surrounding them with decomposed granite, or even gravel, which will permit weeds to sprout, so watch it! This would give you even more of a xeriscape look, require very low watering, an important consideration as the whole country seems to be dealing with drought. Actually, according to our  Native Plant Database there are only 3 succulents native to Tennessee: Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle), Opuntia humifusa (Devil's-tongue), and Manfreda virginica (False aloe).

So, for your xeriscaped beds, how about some taller ornamental grasses native to Tennessee? Consider Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana (Silver beard grass). Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama) or Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem).

That's probably enough to keep you busy for  a while. And, to anybody else reading this, think real hard before planting Cynodon dactylon (bermudagrass).

 

From the Image Gallery


Adam's needle
Yucca filamentosa

Low prickly pear
Opuntia humifusa

False aloe
Manfreda virginica

Silver beard grass
Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

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