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Saturday - September 29, 2012

From: Grapevine, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Lists, Compost and Mulch, Planting, Seeds and Seeding, Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Removing St. Augustine for natives in Grapevine TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We have St Augustine in our yard and we hate it. It guzzles water, we have to cut it often, and it's thick and hard to work with. Anyway, we want to replace it with a combination of some kind of groundcover and native plants. So my questions about the above are: What's the best groundcover for us? We want something that's easy to grow in this area, drought tolerant, looks nice, and can hold up to some foot traffic. We also prefer something that only grows very short and doesn't need much mowing, if at all. We thought about buffalograss but wanted some other options as well. What about sedum as a groundcover? Or clover? Or chamomile? I've seen these ideas in other replacing lawn sites but just didn't know how it'll work in this climate. For any of above, when's the best time to seed, the fall, spring, or winter? We are thinking about using sheet mulch to remove the existing lawn, do you think this will work? Maybe using cardboard and then mulch/soil on top? How long do you think this will take to break down and we can seed the new groundcover seeds, immediately or should we wait? We want to grow some native plants/flowers in our flowerbeds in front, would it best to grow form seeds or transplants? If seeds, when should we seed them? And for the plants, do we need to replant them each year or would they self seed? Thanks!


If we may, we will rephrase your questions and give you some links that will help you make your own decisions. First, let us help you find some guideposts.

Make a rough map of your property, noting the structures, trees you intend to keep, etc. Then watch the various parts of the grounds for several days, noting how long there is sun on the various areas. We consider "sun" to be 6 hours or more of sun a day, "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun a day, and "shade" 2 or less of sunlight. This is very important because most plants thrive only in their accustomed light. Any of our webpages you look at will give you the amount of sun that plant needs and the soil moisture and type.

While you are developing your map, find out what your soil type is. Basically, you are discovering what ecosystem you live in, the climate, the soil type, etc. This member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team gardened in Arlington, in Tarrant County, for 38 years, but that doesn't mean I would know what your soil is. Mine was an alkaline clay, but a  few streets away was sand. We suggest you contact the Texas Agrilife Extension Office for Tarrant County. If they understand where you are, they should be able to tell you what soil you have or link you to a site that will show the rough outlines of where certain soils are.

What plants should you look for and where will you find them: Read these two How-To Articles from our database: A Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Caring for your New Native Plants. The commercial nurseries and home improvement stores in your neighborhood are not likely to have many native plants, so we suggest you go to our National Suppliers Directory, type your town and state or just your zip code in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and consultants (such as arborists) in your general vicinity. All have contact information so you can get information before you start driving around.

Now it's time to identify your ecoregion. Follow this link Cross Timbers and Prairies to our article on Ecoregions. The plants in this list are native to your specific ecoregion. You can find other plants not on that list in our Native Plants Database, but this will shorten the amount of searching necessary. Remember that a plant planted where it belongs will need less water, fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides because it has adapted, over centuries, to the area where you are making your garden. Now that we are all more or less on the same page, we will address your specific questions.

1. What's the best groundcover? Again, remember how you can describe your property. Is there a lot of sun? Most native grasses require a lot of sun. First, let us refer you to How-To Articles on grasses:

Native Lawns: Buffalograss

Native Lawns: Habiturf - The Ecological Lawn

2. How do I remove the existing lawn: Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that not only discusses solarization, but also replacements for lawn.

3. Is it best to plant native plants from seeds or transplants? That depends entirely on what kind of plant you are interested in. Woody plants, shrubs and trees, should be purchased small, planted in the cool months (in Texas, November to February). Perennial herbaceous plants can be planted from either seeds or seedlings you have either grown yourself or purchased. Perennials planted from starts in Fall or Spring will probably bloom in the next blooming season. From seed, perennials usually don't bloom until the second season after planting. Annuals, planted by seed when the plants in nature are normally dropping them, will grow, bloom and die in one year. However, they will usually reseed and spread to grow and bloom again.

4. Time to learn how to use our Native Plant Database. You can access it by clicking on that link and, using the Combination Search on that page, search on Texas under state, type of plant (like grass, tree, shrub) under Habit and then, looking at your map of amounts of sunlight, and information on the soils you have to work with, make selections under Light Requirement and Soil Moisture. Beyond that, you can select annual or perennial, preferred height at maturity, evergreen or deciduous, etc. You must remember that each quality you add in searching, means a smaller list of possibilities, and sometimes none. Search for only one Habit at a time. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant and read all of the Growing Conditions, Benefits, etc. For instance, if you have a place that is full shade and the plant you want requires full sun, there is nothing to stop you from planting it there, but you will probably regret it, as will your bank account, your water bill and your back muscles.

Another way to use this same search procedure but narrow down the selections to your part of the state, is to return to the Cross Timbers and Prairies section and use the list there. They will all be plants from our database, but will be more specifically targeted for where you live.  We are going to that list and pick one of each habit just to give you an example of what you can find out. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant. You can scroll down the webpage to Additional Resources and click on the Google link to get more articles and information on the plant. You can also go to Recommended Species, click on North Central Texas on the map and, again, use the database list. These will all essentially be alike, just different ways to make your lists.

Plants for Cross Timbers and Prairies of Texas

Herbaceous blooming plants (Herb): Callirhoe involucrata (Winecup)

Shrub: Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood)

Tree: Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud)

Cactus/Succulent: Hesperaloe parviflora (Red yucca)

Grass/Grass-like: Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Vine: Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine)


From the Image Gallery

Callirhoe involucrata

Texas redbud
Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Red yucca
Hesperaloe parviflora

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Bignonia capreolata

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