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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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Saturday - May 10, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Planting, Watering, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Problems with Habiturf in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have been trying to establish a Habiturf lawn in my back yard. It is approximately a 1,000 square foot area and this last seeding was the third over about one and a half years. I just recently over seeded in late March but there wasn't enough rain to get much germination. What I did get was a large crop of Rescue and Cheat grass. I mowed this to try to prevent seed production but they just produced a second crop of seed. So what do I do now? Should I just wait and see if all the dove and other birds eat the noxious seeds? Should I irrigate and hand weed as much as possible when the unwanted grasses sprout? Or should I ignore the Buffalo and Blue Grama seed that's there and treat with corn starch or other pre-emergent?

ANSWER:

We are truly sorry you are having such a bad time. We thought perhaps you had already asked us a question and gotten links to our research and recommendations on Habiturf, but a search of our Mr. Smarty Plants previous answers did not yield any other questions on this subject from your e-mail address. So, we are afraid that the bulk of your problems are the result of insufficient research in advance. To save us time, we would like for you to read this previous question on corn gluten on Habiturf, also from Austin. This previous question also contains several links to our research and instructions pages on how to prepare for, plant and maintain this mix of grasses native to Central Texas.

Please follow and read all those links. As we re-read your question, we are seeing several problems that might have been prevented had you read the research we have done and followed our recommendations. We will highlight those problems, and will do this by quoting from that research on what we would consider to have been a better way to do it.

1. Planting times. "Sow the seed — the small, hand-cranked seed broadcasters are great or by hand — and rake and press with a garden roller or your feet. Seeds need good soil contact. Spring is the best sowing time once soil temperatures warm up (day time temperatures constantly above 85F). Later in the growing season also works well but will require more water. Avoid sowing in late fall and winter (October through mid-March)."

2. Soil preparation:  "A well-textured, well-drained soil is essential for long-term lawn success. Normally, after construction, developers spread a couple of inches of imported soil over soil compacted by heavy construction machinery. A sustainable lawn needs deep roots, so rip, rotovate or disk your soil to at least 8 inches - the deeper the better. Then incorporate a ½ inch layer of living compost with a low nitrogen and low phosphorus content into the top 3 inches of your prepared soil."

3. Watering. "The lawn area should be irrigated every day for the first 10 days or longer, up to 15 days, under very hot, dry or windy conditions to prevent the soil from drying out. Thereafter, two soil-wetting (top 4 inches of soil) events per week for the next month, then two soil-wetting (top 6 inches of soil minimum) events per month for the remainder of the growing season which is March through November. Remove weeds as they appear, before they go to seed or become too established. Once the lawn is established in three to four months, you may opt to stop irrigating to save water and allow the lawn to go 'drought dormant'. The native grasses will go brown and temporarily stop growing but, adapted to drought, will green-up once rain returns. In prolonged drought (say over 6 weeks in summer with no rain) an irrigation event (if allowed) once every 5 - 6 weeks while not triggering "green-up" will keep the dormant turf alive."

4. Sun exposure. You did not mention how much sun your lawn area gets, but Habiturf does well in full sun (6 hours or more of sun a day) and can get by with about 4 hours of sun. What we call "part shade" is 2 to 6 hours of sun a day, and "shade" is 2 hours or less. Neither "part shade" nor "shade" is enough sun for Habiturf. It falls in the middle there at 4 hours or more. "Dappled" shade or "high shade" don't count, this grass needs a lot of sun."

5. Weeds. Our favorite paragraph throughout all the research material is this:

"Warning.
* If you do not prepare the soil adequately, your lawn will suffer and you will get weeds
* If you mow too often and too short, you will get weeds
* If you over-water, you will get weeds
* If you over-fertilize, you will get BIG weeds"

Since we are unfamiliar with both the terms "Rescue grass" and "Cheat grass" we did a little quick online search. Written by Mike Pellant, Rangeland Ecologist, of the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho, here is an article on Cheatgrass, The Grass the Won the West. Here is another previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on Rescue Grass. You will note that both of these non-native, invasive grasses were introduced into North America long before Habiturf was developed,  and you are not getting the weed seeds from our seed mix.

 

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