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Texas Lawns Going Native During Drought

October 6, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Facing the state's worst drought, many communities have doubled down on water restrictions, leaving homeowners wondering what to do about their yellow lawns - which are getting crispier by the day.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has been fielding an unusually high volume of calls and e-mails on the subject. Mark Simmons, director of the center's Ecosystem Design Group, has been conducting research on native grasses for several years.

"The species that are largely used throughout the Southwest are often non-native species, like St. Augustine grass - they're not very drought tolerant. So, we're suggesting that this might be an opportunity to replace lawns with something more native."

Native grasses requiring significantly less water include buffalo grass and blue grama, Simmons says, as well as a commercial mix called Habiturf - all available in stores. Some homeowners, he adds, are foregoing lawns altogether, replacing them with native plant landscaping.

One strategy Simmons recommends for people wanting to transition away from perpetually thirsty lawns is to let the non-native grasses die off now, and then get ready for planting in the spring.

"We should be thinking about soil preparation, because soil preparation is the key to a healthy lawn. If you do that now or over winter, and get the seed in by March-April, you'll be in good stead for next year."

Simmons cautions that even native grasses require a lot of water at first, so it's best to plant when there are no watering restrictions.

Most climate scientists say drought in Texas will be increasingly common in the foreseeable future, and Simmons says even skeptics of climate change might want to consider native plant options.

"The availability of water is always going to be an increasing issue. There's a limited amount of water which can go around. So, we see this trend of looking for options continuing."

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website has a Drought Resource Center at wildflower.org/drought-resource-center with a variety of tips, guides, and articles about converting to native plants and grasses.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX