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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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Thursday - July 25, 2013

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Turf, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Looking for a native turf grass for the Houston area
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Looking for a native turf grass for the Houston area. In some of your 2012 responses, you stated that "The good news is that research into turf-type grasses native to the coastal region is in the planning stage. Hopefully, we will soon have native turf grasses specific to your area to recommend." Do you have any suggestions at this time for this question? Also, can you distinguish between recommended grasses for areas that receive 6-8 hours of sun per day versus more shaded areas? Thanks!

ANSWER:

Dr. Mark Simmons, Director, Ecosystem Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that, unfortunately, this research is still in the planning stage.  Likely candidates for turf grasses are the Paspalum species.  Florida has been researching these as well as several other   species for use as turfgrasses in Florida.   You can read about their research in:

Jenkins, A. M; D. R. Gordon and M. T. Renda.  Native Alternatives for Non-Native Turfgrasses in Central Florida:  Germination and Responses to Cultural Treatments.  Restoration Ecology Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2004): pp. 190-199.

and in two publications for the Florida Department of Transportation:

Florida Native Turfgrass Investigation by D. R. Gordon, A. A. Miller, M. T. Renda, J. L. Slapcinsky and D. A. Jones.

Florida Native Turfgrass Investigation II

Here are some of the grasses they have investigated:

Paspalum vaginatum (Seashore paspalum) and here is information from the Florida Native Plant Society and from Natives for Your Neighborhood from the Institute for Regional Conservation, Delray Beach, Florida.

Paspalum distichum (Knotgrass) and  here is information from Pennsylvania State University.

Sorobolus virginicus (Seashore dropseed) and here is information from Natives for Your Neighborhood  from the Institute for Regional Conservation, Delray Beach, Florida.

Eustachys petraea (Pinewoods fingergrass) and here is information from Natives for Your Neighborhood.

Eragrostis refracta (Coastal lovegrass) and here is information from Florida Grasses of Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

It is possible that some of these are available in nurseries that specialize in native plants in your area.   You can find sources of native plants from the Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) in their Native Plant Guide.  The Guide also has many other useful topics concerning native plants for the Houston area. 

Regarding the part of your question about distinguishing "between recommended grasses for areas that receive 6-8 hours of sun per day versus more shaded areas", in general, most grasses grow best in full sun or in partial shade.  There are very few grasses that will grow in full shade. Grasses that are included in our Native Plant Database usually have information under Growing Conditions that gives the Light Requirement for the particular species. One native grass (not a turf grass) that does well in full shade and grows in Harris County is Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats).  If you are looking for an evergreen grass-like groundcover that grows well in part shade, you might consider Carex texensis (Texas sedge). Indeed, you might check the "Native Groundcovers" list on the Houston Chapter of NPSOT's Native Plant Guide for possibilites of a groundcover or groundcovers to use on your lawn instead of non-native turf grass until we have recommendations for a native turfgrass for the Houston area.

 

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