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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 - April 05, 2013

From: El Paso, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Xeriscapes, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like, Trees
Title: Replacement for shade grass in El Paso TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We currently have a Honey Mesquite tree with thinning bermuda grass underneath in our front yard. I suspect that the filtered shade is killing the bermuda. I was thinking of planting Buffalo Grass, or better yet the Thunder Turf, to reduce our water consumption. I cannot find a good answer but are my suspicions correct in that the Buffalo Grass will not grow good under the mesquite either? Do you have any good suggestions for grass under this tree? Will another type of groundcover such as horseherb be the only solution?

ANSWER:

Your Prosopis glandulosa (Honey mesquite) may not make a deep shade, but the shade and the tree roots will interfere with anything planted beneath it. You are correct, bermudagrass is not tolerant of shade; however, it is also non-native to North America and one of the worst invasive weeds of the South, so you will forgive us if we do not mourn the demise of the bermudagrass. You are also correct that Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss) requires full sun, which we consider to be 6 hours or more of sun a day. Thunder Turf is a branded native seed mix from Native American Seeds. It also requires full sun. Researchers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center have developed a native grass mix Habiturf, which needs about 5 hours a day of sun.

More and more, we are encouraging gardeners to move away from grass or formal lawn, especially in drought-stricken Texas, and more especially, shady lawns. Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that might point you in some good directions. From another Mr. Smarty Plants answer:

"We would suggest you consider putting something else beneath those trees and perhaps embark on a process of xeriscaping. From eartheasy, here is an excellent article on Xeriscape. Obviously, you do not have to do every single thing suggested for xeriscaping, but you can start small and work your way up. Without knowing exactly what else is going on in your garden, we would suggest covering the offending roots and bare ground with a nice layer of mulch. Please read our How-To Article Under Cover with Mulch.

A good quality shredded bark mulch will make a nice cool surface for the ground, sheltering the tree roots from heat and the sun, discouraging weeds from sprouting and preserving moisture in the soil. It will tend to scatter or decompose, sinking into the soil and making it healthier, over time, but it's an easy fix to spread some more on the area. And it doesn't have to be mowed. We had one letter from a homeowner this week that said they were so over grass, and we feel, in this hot, dry climate, that may be a very good idea."

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

Honey mesquite
Prosopis glandulosa

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