Austin's Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has developed a mixture of native grass species that works well in dry regions of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. The grass mix, named HABITURF™, contains these grasses native to the Southwest: Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and curly-mesquite (Hilaria belangeri) and depending on the source: Texas grama (Bouteloua rigidiseta,) hairy Grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), poverty dropseed (Sporobolus vaginiflorus). Here are instructions for establishing a native lawn for these climates.
“We created a lawn that needs less mowing and keeps weeds out better than a common American lawn option,” said Dr. Mark Simmons, director of the center’s Ecosystem Design Group. Simmons led the study comparing common Bermudagrass to the seven native grasses that will be published online this week in the journal Ecological Engineering.
The traditional turfgrass and the native grasses responded the same to mowing once or twice a month, to two watering regimens and to the equivalent of foot traffic. However, the turf of seven native grasses produced a carpet that was 30 percent thicker in early spring than the Bermuda turf. As temperatures climbed into mid-summer and all the lawns thinned, the mixed native turfgrass still stayed 20 percent thicker than Bermuda.
Although Buffalograss also retained its lushness into summer, the mixed native turfgrass beat both single species (monoculture) turfgrasses in weed resistance. When dandelion seeds were added by hand, those plots grew half as many dandelions as the Buffalograss or Bermudagrass plots.
To see if the mixed native turfgrass would also outperform the others under conditions such as very light watering, Simmons and his colleagues will conduct the next research phase later this year. The answer under some conditions will likely be a yes because the multiple species in natural grasslands are thought to allow them to respond better to different conditions over time.
Simmons and colleagues used funding from Walmart to establish multiple plots of grasses in an open field at the center. They intend to develop other mixes for other ecological and regional situations.