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Wednesday - September 17, 2008

From: Gary, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: East Texas grasses for holding soils
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Mark Simmons


Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I have a question about the East Texas area: Specifically, which natvie grasses can be planted to hold the soil/new roads through the winter? Here is the situation: (Against my will), my uncle and father are planning to use some of the land for timber (pines). However, there are several roads (to be used a paths for 4 wheelers) cut through the area where they just cleared and my uncle is planning to plant them in rye grass (as recommend by the forester) so it will hold the roads and soil through the winter. Also, the dam along the pond was just fixed (beavers had cut through it) and needs grass there to keep the soil as well. Is there a native alternative for both situations that you can recommend? I have tried to explain the benefit of planting native grasses here (I am a UT Geography student and took a class at Wildflower Center with Mark Simmons in Fall of 2007). However, my uncle does not believe me, instead chosing to believe the forester and his rye grass everywhere theory (which brings in the hogs, who destroy the land). Currenlty, the open land is overrun with non-native Bahhia - what is the best way to get rid of that and encourage native growth? Burning? Thank you for your help. Any information you can share with me (and hopefully my uncle!) would be helpful.


There are warm season grasses and cool season grasses.  Warm season grasses germinate in the spring and, since they are heat and drought tolerant, are generally green throughout the spring and summer.  They  begin turning brown in the fall and remain so throughout the winter.  Cool season grasses germinate in the fall and are green and growing throughout the winter and spring, but die back in the heat of summer.  There are plenty of native grasses in East Texas that will hold the soil, but most of them are warm season grasses. They won't germinate and grow until the spring.  The reason the forester recommended rye grass (Lolium spp.) is that it is a cool season grass ready to germinate and grow rapidly through the fall and winter.  We do NOT recommend rye grass—Lolium perenne (perennial rye grass) or Lolium perenne ssp. multiflorum (annual rye grass)—, however, because it is invasive and responsible for massive reduction of native wildflowers along roadsides.  Additionally, it is alleopathic which gives it a competitive edge.  There are a few cool season grasses native to East Texas but they are generally slower growing than the non-native rye grasses.  They will do the job, but they won't be the lush green crop produced by the non-native rye grass.  Here are some native cool season grasses that can be found in Panola County or adjacent counties:

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye), with more information from Native American Seed

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye), with more information from Native American Seed

Both these wildrye species do well in both sun and shade and are the cool season grasses we would recommend planting right now.

Pascopyrum smithii (western wheatgrass) is another cool season native used extensively for erosion control.  Its distribution in Texas tends to be in the Panhandle and further west but there are populations reported in East Texas.

If your uncle and father insist on having a lush green crop of grass for the winter, Native American Seed in Junction recommends using Secale cereale (cereal rye) rather than rye grass.  Like rye grass, cereal rye is non-native, but it is not invasive.  It will grow and hold the soil and can be mowed before it sets seed or be ploughed under to add nutrients to the soil in the spring when it is time to plant the warm season native grasses.  It could be used as a onetime measure to hold the soil until the native grasses are established. Warm season grasses, once established, would hold the soil through the winter.

There are numerous warm season grasses for your East Texas setting:

Andropogon glomeratus (bushy bluestem) for moist areas

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) especially suited for shady areas

Muhlenbergia schreberi (nimblewill), with  more informatiion

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Sporobolus cryptandrus (sand dropseed), with photos and more information

Tridens flavus (purpletop tridens)

Tripsacum dactyloides (eastern gamagrass)

You can read a paper, "The Use of Native Warm Season Grasses for Critical Area Stabilization" by C. F. Miller and J. A. Dickerson inthe Proceeding of the 2nd Eastern Native Grass Symposium, Baltimore, MD Novermber 1999, extolling the virtues of the native warm season grasses over that of the cool season non-natives.  Here is a  quote from the paper about native warm season graasses:

"They are very deep rooted, making for long lasting, stress. tolerant, low maintenance plants.  The root biomass of native warm season grasses far exceeds that of the introduced cool season grasses.  This characteristic provides increased organic matter in soils and more rapid infiltration rates."

Paspalum notatum (bahia grass), as you already know, is not easy to control.  Several herbicides have been purported to take out bahia, but some strains of bahia grass have become resistant.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service suggests tilling and removing as many rhizomes as possible and then planting your desired grass.  Bahia grass does not like shade so if it is growing in a stand of taller native grasses, the taller grasses may effectively shade it out.  We don't have experience with, nor could I find any information about the effectiveness of, burning bahia grass.

Elymus canadensis

Elymus virginicus

Pascopyrum smithii

Andropogon glomeratus

Bouteloua curtipendula

Chasmanthium latifolium

Muhlenbergia schreberi

Panicum virgatum

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans

Tridens flavus

Tripsacum dactyloides



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