Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - February 08, 2012

From: Blacksburg, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Turf, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native grasses and turf grass for VA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I recently moved to Blacksburg, Virginia. I am becoming involved with a church here that recently started a grounds committee. There is some discussion within the group of which varieties of native grasses to plant. Some sections of the grounds are shaded, and some have full exposure. Fully exposed areas are currently covered by turf grasses. Big blue stem, little blue stem, switch grass, Indian grass are under consideration for exposed sites. Should any of these be removed from consideration for this region? Should any species be added? As a recent transplant from north Texas, my mind gravitates towards buffalo grass, but I don't know if I am out of its native range here. Is it important to consider ratios for each species for getting these plants established? Another consideration is that some of the exposed areas are intended for foot traffic.

ANSWER:

All the grasses you mention for the exposed area are good choices for your area and are ornamental as well.

Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem) 

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

For the shadier areas you might want to also consider

Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hairgrass)

or one of the many carex's native to your area like

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

These grasses are all best used planted in drifts and not mowed to appreciate their ornamental qualities.

In the areas where you anticipate foot traffic you are looking for a suitable turfgrass.  It is not so easy to find a native one as most of the grasses used for lawns in North America are non-native adapted species.  That is because before European contact, turf grasses were only present in areas where there were openings in the forest that covered your part of the country.  You will find more information on that subject at americanlawns.com, this USDA publication and this article on lesslawn.com.

As you suspected, Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss) is a possibility for your situation.  It is native to sunny, dry sites from Minnesota to Mexico but is present in Virginia.  You can also consider Festuca rubra (Red fescue) and other fescue mixes such as Eco-Lawn (which is not entirely native) and available from one of our associates Wildflower Farm.  You can learn more about Buffalo grass lawns and (just for interest's sake as you will always be a Texan) Habiturf from our How to Articles on the topic.

 

From the Image Gallery


Big bluestem
Andropogon gerardii

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Tufted hairgrass
Deschampsia cespitosa

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

More Turf Questions

Mixing of bluebonnets and buffalograss in a lawn
April 22, 2007 - I have moved into a house with a yard full of weeds. I would like to plant Buffalograss but understand Buffalograss is sparce and difficult to keep the weeds out. So, I was considering mixing it wit...
view the full question and answer

Brown ryegrass in Austin lawn
June 03, 2008 - We had rye grass planted in our yard last fall. It was beautiful all winter. Now it is brown but the St. Augustine has not yet taken over, so there are large portions of the lawn with an abundance o...
view the full question and answer

Replacing lawn in Taylor, Texas
May 28, 2009 - I live in Taylor, Texas, just northeast of Austin, in the Blackland Prairie region. However, I do not live on a farm, but in town on a city lot of 1/3 acre. My soil is clayey, and currently I have a L...
view the full question and answer

Did pre-emergent herbicide for lawn kill oak tree in Austin?
May 10, 2010 - Your article in today's (May 1st)Austin American-Statesman advised against using herbicides around oaks. Does that include the "pre-emergents" that the lawn care companies use in the Spring? I ha...
view the full question and answer

Why are there no low-mow lawn grasses composed of only native fescues?
September 09, 2014 - Dear SP, Most blends of ecograss I see are a combination of non-native and native fescues (and sometimes buffalo grass, blue grama, etc.). Why are there (apparently) none that are composed entirely of...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.