A New Look at Grass

February 6th, 2014 Posted in Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas A&M, birds, deer, destinations, groundcovers, habitat, lawn replace, native plants, pests, prairie, wildlife

My journey as a lawn whittler started long ago when I wanted visual sensation through plants that bring wildlife right to my garden doorstep.

texas betony and packera obovata austin texas

Texas betony and Golden groundsel

I still have some lawn, but it’s whittled to a whisper. It gets no more water than my native plants. When we mow—which is rare—it takes about 15 minutes. Merely, it’s a cool, low-maintenance frame against tidy or raucous ever-changing drama to support wildlife.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata) is one of my finds at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s semi-annual plant sales. In part shade, it remains evergreen, blooming like mad starting in February or March to attract bees and butterflies.

bordered patch butterfly on golden groundsel austin texas

White avens (Geum canadense), another LBJWC shady ground-hugger, blooms a bit later in spring.

geum canadense flower austin texas

Another: Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera), a perennial cool season small grass that accents the base of my mountain laurel. Its April flowers attract butterflies; seeds feed some birds and small mammals.

poa arachnifera Texas bluegrass flower

Sedges and various low-water native plants hug my foundation now, instead of nandina.

Texas sedge against porch foundation austin

In spring and fall, salvias like S. guaranitica are busy bees.

bee going to salvia guaranitica

Bees dance on Mexican plum’s February flowers. Birds fill their bellies with its ripened fruits in fall.

spring's mexican plum flowers austin texas

Before we started our habitat garden, we counted June bugs and fire ant mounds. Now, we’ve got a pest control team, above ground and even below.

anole on hanging pot austin texas

ladybug after aphids on lettuce austin

Ladybug going after aphids on lettuce

Since its inception, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has connected us to the value of native plants in the wild and in our gardens. Now that research is part of their mission, they’re taking even broader steps into a sustainable future.

This week, Tom joins Mark Simmons, Director of Research and Consulting Director at the LBJWC, to explain why he led the development of native HABITURF®.

Tom Spencer and Mark Simmons Central Texas Gardener

Native to England where lawns are naturally lush, Mark saw the problem when he arrived in Texas: drought. Plus, although turf grass covers the soil, what about a lawn with wildlife benefits, too?

HABITURF®’s  current blend of buffalograss, blue grama and curly-mesquite (experimenting with others) tenders a dense camaraderie in sun to a few hours of shade.

HABITURF lawn photo by Guy Thompson for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Foot traffic? Yes indeed! Mark admits that in his backyard, first base is a little trampled by his kids’ softball games, but what wouldn’t be?! It’s doggoned hardy otherwise.

Dog in HABITURF lawn photo by Guy Thompson

Learn how to install it.

You can get HABITURF® seed and lots of native plants at the Wildflower Center’s Spring Plant Sale & Gardening Festival on April 12-13 (members day April 11). It’s also available from the Douglass King Company in San Antonio.

Bladerunner Farms in Poteet will have sod later this spring, available from them or local nurseries.

Mark beautifully expresses his philosophy for the future in his TedxTalks, Eco-Metropolis: Deploying the Power of Nature.

Another game-changing mentor for me is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Daphne celebrates the centennial anniversary of Extension’s service to us all!

Photo Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

In person, online, via Master Gardeners, and workshops, your local Extension office helps grow your garden with tips on techniques, planting guides and solutions to problems.

Daphne Richards and Travis County Master Gardeners

Find your Extension Office.

In Travis County, here’s your go-to link.

Hardy aloes aren’t native to Texas, but their rosettes intrigue sunny well-drained soil. As Daphne’s Plant of the Week, she cautions to note cold hardiness if growing in beds.

Hardy aloes with cactus austin texas

Like yuccas and agaves, their flowers head to the sky, where hummingbirds hone in.

Hardy aloe flower austin texas

There are some critters we want to repel!

I Must Garden deer and squirrel repellents Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

Trisha’s found natural blends that don’t repel us either.

I Must Garden mosquito, tick and flea repellent Trisha Shirey Central Texas Gardener

On tour, thanks to music attorney Ed Fair’s vision to launch the Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization, there’s a new crowd flocking to Commons Ford Park.

Ed Fair Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Organization

When he discovered the park as a first-time birder in 2001, he didn’t find many birds in the prairie. Dominated by non-native grasses, it didn’t offer much food for wildlife. After teaming up with Austin Parks and Recreation, wildlife experts, Native American Seed, and dedicated volunteers, the prairie’s going to the birds, bees, and butterflies.

Commons Ford Ranch Prairie Restoration Organization

On taping day, Billy Driver joined director Ed Fuentes for astounding overhead prairie shots with his GoPro on a Phantom quadcopter.

Billy Driver Phantom quadcopter Center Texas Gardener

Here’s our story!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week for tricks with tricky plants. Linda

  1. 6 Responses to “A New Look at Grass”

  2. By Nicole on Feb 6, 2014

    I would love to see a discussion of some landscaping suggestions on how to replace lawn, say, 20% of the lawn at a time, especially in full sun and without rock, cement, or gravel–which just makes things hotter in my book!

    Especially in HOA neighborhoods, people may want to do things in chunks, esp. since it is more affordable, more manageable in terms of time if you are doing it yourself, and probably easier to gain approval from the HOA in sections, too.

    I think converting it this way could look very odd, so I think viewers could use the help.

    So often, we see a whole makeover or a completed project, and it is described how it happened, but I would literally like to see a regular Joe with a big lawn– and watch someone from CTG swoop in and convert say, 20% of it, especially near some cement, get converted into something nice and low care… what would be even neater would be to see several people attempt something like that–trying to get rid of grass near the sidewalks and paths and other furnace strips and see how it looks–esp. in summer!

    Just a thought for the upcoming episodes!


    Linda reply on February 6th, 2014 7:12 pm:

    Thanks, Nicole! We don’t have the budget to actually do that on location, but we can show some more how-to interviews. We do attempt that on most of our garden visits with before and after, and we’ve done more than one in-studio before & after. But we’ll do more! Thank you!


  3. By Pam/Digging on Feb 6, 2014

    You know this is a topic near and dear to my own heart, Linda! I tried to watch the video of Mark Simmons’ segment, but it wouldn’t play.


    Linda reply on February 7th, 2014 8:56 am:

    That’s interesting! I will check into that right now. It’s on our YT channel: http://www.youtube.com/Centraltexasgardener.


  4. By Tina on Feb 12, 2014

    I love the Golden groundsel and the White avens. I have both, but my goofy dog recently dug up one of the groundsels. Argh!!! He, btw, looks just like the dog in the photo with the Habiturf. I’ve rid my gardens of all grass, but I look forward to seeing more Habiturf in home landscapes.


    Linda reply on February 12th, 2014 6:29 pm:

    Hi, Tina! Great to hear from you! Long ago, my dog that looks like that picture (and yours) accidentally squashed my rock rose when it was so hard to find. She felt so bad!


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