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Monday - August 24, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources, Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native landscaping in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I am planning to convert a pretty large portion (app. 500 sq feet) of my front yard from St. Augustine to an area with native and well-adapted plants. I have solarized the area to kill off grass and grass seeds (the area gets a lot of sun, mostly throughout the day), and I am planning to topdress with compost and apply native seeds from a well known seed company out of Junction, TX this Fall. I may also buy some individual plants of some of the climax grasses to let them get out faster than they would from seed. I live in East Austin, just east of I-35 and north of the Mueller Development (The WFC's installations at Mueller are inspiring, btw!) And now, for my questions… 1. Is there any good guidance on how much or what type of compost/top-dressing I should add? I haven't done a soil test or anything, but I know the soil is pretty compacted, and I'm sure solarizing has killed a lot of the beneficial critters. Maybe you can suggest what I should look for in an amendment, and maybe suggest a range in terms of inches. I'm thinking something like the Revitalizer from Natural Gardener is a good option, no? 2. When planting mostly from seed, is it really important to mix the amendment into the top layer of soil, or is simply topdressing enough? If it's important to mix it together, how deep should I go? I'd rather not do more work than I need to do… 3. I'm debating over whether I should mulch after sowing seeds. Would mulching negatively impact germination or plant development from seed. I'd certainly like to keep moisture in and weeds out if possible. Do you suggest mulching, and if so, what kind of mulch works best in this case? I tend to favor the Texas Native Hardwood Mulch from Natural Gardener. Is this a good option? If mulching isn’t a good idea the first season, would it be acceptable to mulch the following Fall? 4. Lastly, after I seed (and mulch?), do you have any recommendations on how often I should water the seeds during the Fall and Winter to make sure they get a good start? Thanks so much for your response. If it's easier to direct me to a link or literature than answer some of these questions directly, I'm happy to do some more reading myself. As I suggested above, the WFC's work at the Mueller development has really been inspirational. Even though I don't have that large of an area to work with, I'd like to get to something derivative of the prairies that are being re-created by the WFC in Mueller.


We're not sure how much help you need, sounds like you have already done a lot of work and research. However, your points are all valid and important and we'll try to cover them one at a time. We do have several research and How-To Articles that will address some of your questions. If you have already read them, then you are ahead of us.

First, kudos for your decision to get away from the non-native thirsty lawns and move toward a more xeric landscape. With our continuing drought and now water rationing, it would seem that is the only way to go. And thank you for your kind words about work the Wildflower Center has done and is still doing. We are already familiar with Native American Seed in Junction, TX and frequently recommend them to others. In particular, we hope you are looking at their Native Sun Turfgrass for the sunny areas in your garden. This mix consists of 34%  Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and 66% Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss) and has been extensively tested for use in this area. 

Another suggestion we would make, since you live in Austin, is that you plan to attend our Fall Plant Sale at the Wildflower Center. This year, it is October 9 to 11, Friday (members only) 1 to 7, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11, 9 to 5. Both Native American Seeds and the Native Plant Society of Texas will have tents there, with seeds and plants for sale and, of course, the Wildflower Center itself will have thousands of native plants suitable for Central Texas to choose from. If you are not a member, you might consider joining; you get in the first day, entrance to the Center is free year-round to members, and you get a 10% discount on all your purchases, both at the Sale and in the Store. 

Your questions 1 and 2 seem to be pretty well covered in our How-To Article Native Lawns. Basically, the information in that comes from the same experts who planned the work the Wildflower Center did at the Mueller Airport development.

Question 3, about the specifics of planting and mulching, is more completely addressed in our How-To Article Native Lawns: Buffalograss. This article does suggest tilling, but not mulching. However, a light layer of compost is suggested. Generally speaking, mulch over a seeded area will tend to inhibit the seeds you intended to grow as well as the weeds. When you have taller grasses and other plants in the ground, certainly mulch is a good idea. It protects the roots from heat and cold and, as it decomposes, adds to the amendment of the soil for texture and drainage. 

Question 4. When you have read the two How-To Articles we mentioned above, you will learn that it is recommended that these grass seeds be planted in the Spring, after the last frost. to quote directly from the article on Buffalograss:

"Because buffalograss is a warm-season grass, it will not germinate until warm spring days arrive. Sow the seeds after the danger of frost has passed, and the soil temperature is 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A seeding rate of two to four pounds per 1,000 square feet is recommended. Buffalograss produces runners about four weeks after germination. If cost is not a problem, seed at a higher rate for a thicker lawn more immediately.

Planting can be done by hand-broadcasting or with a garden planter. If you hand-broadcast seeds, be sure to distribute them evenly, then cover the seeds with one-half inch or less of soil or a light layer of compost. This can be accomplished by raking in two different directions in loose topsoil.

The germination and establishment rates of buffalograss are good to fair. However, proper watering can maximize its performance. Water new plantings regularly to assure germination and root establishment. Optimum growing temperatures are 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and around 68 degrees Fahrenheit at night."

Finally, we would like for you to read a couple more of our How-To Articles that deal with your goals for your property. They are intended for a larger scale installation, but the principles are the same. These articles are Meadow Gardening and Recreating a Prairie.

Bouteloua gracilis

Bouteloua gracilis

Bouteloua dactyloides

Bouteloua dactyloides







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