Author Topic: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass  (Read 9770 times)

meadpointofview

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Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« on: June 04, 2013, 10:20:15 AM »
I live on 2.25 acres and too much of it is bluegrass turf and I am spending a fortune on water in the summer.  I want to convert the area to native short grass prairie or something that uses much less water.  I would like to do this myself.  Are there any bad asses out there that have done this? 

pbkmaine

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2013, 07:28:01 PM »
I did this with a small area at a former house. I hate grass! I rototilled and then picked out the grass clumps. Then I put down newspaper to kill weeds and planted strawberry plants. It worked great. You could rototill and sow a wildflower seed mix that works in your area. You still have to mow once a year or trees and shrubs will grow in.  Here in Maine I will hand dig to kill the lawn. The earth here is rich with worms and rototilling would slaughter them.

LowER

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2013, 09:09:42 PM »
I have a neighbor who has a buffalo grass lawn. He's mowed it once in 2.5 years and waters it practically never. It looks great too. I am sooooo jealous.

lisahi

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2013, 09:18:37 PM »
St. Augustine is one of the most drought tolerant grasses, especially in hot months. However, it does best in shade (by trees or houses), rather than completely exposed areas. I've got it and it's growing great everywhere except where there is no shade at all during the day (it's still alive there, just thinner and crispy). We're on water restrictions and temperatures have been over 90-105 degrees since March. You can't buy seeds for St. Augustine, though. You must buy sod.

NWstubble

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2013, 12:35:10 AM »
Find a local nursery that deals in native plants and they should be able to give you the best advice. NRCS may be helpful as well. http://www.plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/pubs/ndpmcbr179.pdf

I used to do native prairie and wetland restoration for a living. We would treat the site with an appropriate herbicide to kill the current cover. Then rip or disk the area to prep the seed bed. On sites your size or larger we typically used a seed drill to ensure good coverage and proper seeding depth. Then the key to establishment was maintenance, which was almost entirely weed control, weed control, weed control. I'm sure others will have differing opinions on the process as there is no one 'right way'.

Good luck, always great to hear of people going native.

GuitarStv

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2013, 06:57:35 AM »
The dry areas of my mom's lawn have been totally taken over by thyme that escaped her flower bed.  It's green, short, drought tolerant, and smells really nice when you mow it now!

pbkmaine

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2013, 07:13:06 AM »
Oregano is great for this, too, and you can "mow" with a weed wacker.

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2013, 08:06:51 AM »
I have a neighbor who has a buffalo grass lawn. He's mowed it once in 2.5 years and waters it practically never. It looks great too. I am sooooo jealous.

I really like the look and the maintenance of buffalo grass (less water, little to no mowing!).

But when I priced it.... holy buffalo poop, Batman.  I am sure there is a payback in labor and water, but I had a hard time biting off the initial investment.

Rural

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2013, 08:50:31 AM »
Native grasses are definitely the way to go, both in terms of environmental impact and in long-term payoff. The stuff that's meant to be there won't "need" fertilizer or weed killers (no lawn ever really needs such things, since no lawn is ever needed, but that's a different conversation). Native grasses also won't need water except in unusual droughts. So, I'd call a native lawn a "buy it for life" scenario. Invest once and reap the dividends in savings forever. Good karma is a bonus. :)

mugwump

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2013, 08:53:45 AM »
I have Buffalo grass and a small patch of Blue Grama grass in my back yard.  We mow it about once a year in the spring.  We water it rarely. It died back quite a bit last year with the drought, but it looks like it's coming back in clumps, with a few new shoots in between the clumps, so I will wait and see how it goes. The Blue Grama grass is bunchy, but it doesn't have the bare spots.  A mix would be good.

We started from seed, which is a lot of work.  You have to water three times a day until it germinates, and then taper back to once a week or so the first year.  If you don't care how continuous the coverage is (i.e. the back 40), then you might be able to get by with mulching and watering once or twice a day.

Plugs work well, and don't need so much water.  You space them a foot or so apart, water every few days, and let them spread.  They do cost more, though.  Sod is very expensive. 

This is the right time of year to get either seed or plugs going.  July is too late, unless we have a cool, wet summer.

Any area of the lawn that will get high traffic during winter and spring should be planted in some other kind of grass that is less dormant during the winter.

Oh, and I do spend a fair amount of time hand-weeding in the spring.  Native grasses are not as resistant to weed-killers as bluegrass, so I don't use them on the lawn. But I just read in the paper today that prickly lettuce (my most visible weed) is edible, so I should be eating it, I guess.

County extension has a lot more information.

mugwump

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2013, 09:01:05 AM »
Find a local nursery that deals in native plants and they should be able to give you the best advice. NRCS may be helpful as well. http://www.plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/pubs/ndpmcbr179.pdf

I used to do native prairie and wetland restoration for a living. We would treat the site with an appropriate herbicide to kill the current cover. Then rip or disk the area to prep the seed bed. On sites your size or larger we typically used a seed drill to ensure good coverage and proper seeding depth. Then the key to establishment was maintenance, which was almost entirely weed control, weed control, weed control. I'm sure others will have differing opinions on the process as there is no one 'right way'.

Good luck, always great to hear of people going native.

This is great advice.  I would like to emphasize the point about weed control.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2013, 09:02:44 AM by mugwump »

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2013, 10:28:30 AM »
Native grasses are definitely the way to go, both in terms of environmental impact and in long-term payoff. The stuff that's meant to be there won't "need" fertilizer or weed killers (no lawn ever really needs such things, since no lawn is ever needed, but that's a different conversation). Native grasses also won't need water except in unusual droughts. So, I'd call a native lawn a "buy it for life" scenario. Invest once and reap the dividends in savings forever. Good karma is a bonus. :)

I hear you....  but in my case it was about $100 for plain old Bermuda seed or $1500 for an equivalent coverage of buffalo.  Having just built the house, the 15x cost of the buffalo grass was too painful.  Maybe someday (if I ever finish the upstairs) I can readdress and start over.  (We had to have something fast... we were getting pretty decent erosion on our super sandy soil.)

Rural

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2013, 01:54:19 PM »
Buffalo grass is not native to the Southeast, anyway (are you Southeast? For some reason I thought you were.) it's Great Plains.

On bare spots here, which is mostly the berm around the house, I'm planting plantain (Plantago cordata) for starters.  It's locally native, makes a good ground cover, is a wonderful treatment for insect stings, and is technically edible, though we mostly don't eat it. The biggest advantage is that seed is free; I just collect it from elsewhere on the property(saved some last year in preparation, though the berms wont be finished now until this year's crop goes to seed). It doesn't look like grass, but we have no one to please but ourselves.

Here some background and pictures if you're interested. The USDA PLANTS database is a great source on native plants. It even shows native status down to the county level for the purists (I'm not that picky).

http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PLCO2&mapType=nativity&photoID=plco2_004_avd.tif

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2013, 02:26:28 PM »
Buffalo grass is not native to the Southeast, anyway (are you Southeast? For some reason I thought you were.) it's Great Plains.


I'm Texas.  It's a native here.  (Okay, probably not native exactly where I am...  but native within a 100 miles of here.)  "Native grass" where I am is probably "pine tree."  For the most part there probably is no real native turf in the woods.

Wifey is the plant nut... and she's way into native plants (especially those that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds).  I'm manual labor.

Rural

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2013, 04:17:44 PM »
Yep. Texas is close enough. I'm the native plant nut around here. I've killed off some Japanese honeysuckle over the years, but that's all this place had that was nonnative. The only things I'll bring in that aren't are annual food plants.

NWstubble

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #15 on: June 06, 2013, 11:32:21 PM »
Yep. Texas is close enough. I'm the native plant nut around here. I've killed off some Japanese honeysuckle over the years, but that's all this place had that was nonnative. The only things I'll bring in that aren't are annual food plants.

+1 for getting rid of that crap known as Japanese honeysuckle. For all of you doing or looking to do plantings the biggest invasive issue we typically ran into with prairies were the thistles (bull, Canada, yellow star, etc.). Keep your eyes peeled for those rosettes and get to them early!

NWstubble

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #16 on: June 06, 2013, 11:40:45 PM »
I hear you....  but in my case it was about $100 for plain old Bermuda seed or $1500 for an equivalent coverage of buffalo.  Having just built the house, the 15x cost of the buffalo grass was too painful.  Maybe someday (if I ever finish the upstairs) I can readdress and start over.  (We had to have something fast... we were getting pretty decent erosion on our super sandy soil.)

Not sure where in Texas you are but check out this company. http://www.seedsource.com/catalog/

They have some nice looking seed blends too.

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #17 on: June 07, 2013, 07:39:53 AM »
I hear you....  but in my case it was about $100 for plain old Bermuda seed or $1500 for an equivalent coverage of buffalo.  Having just built the house, the 15x cost of the buffalo grass was too painful.  Maybe someday (if I ever finish the upstairs) I can readdress and start over.  (We had to have something fast... we were getting pretty decent erosion on our super sandy soil.)

Not sure where in Texas you are but check out this company. http://www.seedsource.com/catalog/

They have some nice looking seed blends too.
I think that was one of the ones we looked at.  At their suggested lawn seeding rate, doing just the acre around the house is $3000 in seed (plus shipping).

That's about when we decided to go with Bermuda.  Actually, it's Bermuda + "native green things".  In the city, one might call these "weeds", but... they hold the dirt in place.

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #18 on: June 07, 2013, 07:45:21 AM »
Yep. Texas is close enough. I'm the native plant nut around here. I've killed off some Japanese honeysuckle over the years, but that's all this place had that was nonnative. The only things I'll bring in that aren't are annual food plants.

+1 for getting rid of that crap known as Japanese honeysuckle. For all of you doing or looking to do plantings the biggest invasive issue we typically ran into with prairies were the thistles (bull, Canada, yellow star, etc.). Keep your eyes peeled for those rosettes and get to them early!

As to invasive crap: if someone has a suggestion on a good way to get rid of wisteria short of setting off a thermonuclear warhead (and I'm not sure THAT would work).... I'm all ears.  I probably have near an acre... spreading wider.  And my neighbor (the source of it) has probably 2 acres of the stuff.  It will climb up a 100+ foot tree and shade out the canopy, then will eventually pull it over once it is weakened.  It can spread underground in long vine-like roots that can travel 50+ feet before popping up again.

Rural

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #19 on: June 07, 2013, 09:38:49 AM »
Does that tractor have a PTO? Get or borrow a bushhog and cut it back every time it starts to look happy again. It takes a couple of years (four for honeysuckle), but repeated cutting off will eventually cause almost anything* to wear itself out putting out new shoots. You'll also need a machete for the vertical vines around the base of trees.

* Does not apply to kudzu. Nothing kills that. It and the roaches will repopulate the Earth one of these days with mutant roach-vine babies...

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #20 on: June 07, 2013, 10:00:58 AM »
Does that tractor have a PTO? Get or borrow a bushhog and cut it back every time it starts to look happy again. It takes a couple of years (four for honeysuckle), but repeated cutting off will eventually cause almost anything* to wear itself out putting out new shoots. You'll also need a machete for the vertical vines around the base of trees.

* Does not apply to kudzu. Nothing kills that. It and the roaches will repopulate the Earth one of these days with mutant roach-vine babies...

I've bushhogged it.  It just makes it angry.  :)

The issue is that there is probably more of it underground than above.  I've also tried tying chains to the underground runners and pulling them out.  It works.... but it's hard to do for the size area. 

And I can't really do anything for the neighbor's side of it.  I offered to bush hog what I could of his -- and he was thrilled.  But then I found that the whole area was full of junk -- LOTS of junk.  Large limbs, dead trees, broken swingsets, ... you name it.  Oh well, I guess the wisteria at least hides the eyesore.

I'm told you can rid yourself of kudzu with a small herd of goats.  That might apply to wisteria, too -- though deed restrictions keep us from having goats, pigs or chickens.

Rural

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #21 on: June 07, 2013, 12:03:33 PM »
Actually, the best kudzu control I've ever seen was a large herd of horses. That was better than goats, which I've also seen used on kudzu (they do eat it, but only if there's nothing yummier about).

Running cows works fairly well, too, but horses beat cows in my very unscientific observations.

Editing to add: look up wisteria, because I think I remember it's toxic to domestic grazers. If I'm wrong about that, though, does that deed restriction keep you from keepin a milk cow?
« Last Edit: June 07, 2013, 12:06:19 PM by Rural »

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #22 on: June 07, 2013, 12:14:14 PM »

Editing to add: look up wisteria, because I think I remember it's toxic to domestic grazers. If I'm wrong about that, though, does that deed restriction keep you from keepin a milk cow?

Cows, horses, etc are all A-OK.  (I'd have to build a fence, which I will do ... someday.)  Plenty of folks around us have chickens because I hear the roosters.  I suspect the restrictions are old enough and nobody cares enough to sue.

I'd love to have horses (even some poor rescue nag) though I know they're not overly inexpensive to own.  I do worry about our terrain with horses.  We're very sandy.  We have lots of gopher holes and lots of rotted pine stumps (with matching sink holes).  I worry a horse would break a leg.  But when it comes to my animals, I am generally an over-worrier.

jba302

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #23 on: June 07, 2013, 02:08:30 PM »
So, I feel like this may be a stupid question, but this issue will come up next year when we anticipate buying a house. If you're looking for native grass, can't you just grab a bunch of grass that's gone to seed from nearby BLM? If we can grab edible fungus from blm why not seed?

NWstubble

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #24 on: June 08, 2013, 12:41:02 AM »
Spork, invasive wisteria is a toughy. I'm assuming Chinese or Japanese variety, but you should know there are native wisteria. Your non-chemical options are limited and for large infestations like you are describing, often not effective. Your best bet will be chemical, I would recommend a Garlon product applied as cut stump after mowing or foliar spray depending on the surrounding veg.

I am no vet, but I believe the leaves and woody parts of wisteria are not toxic to livestock. The beans/pods are moderately toxic and may make animals sick, but if you graze early and hard the plants shouldn't get that far along.

I have a few contacts in the NPS in Tenessee who have dealt with invasive wisteria for years and are making headway on removing it. Here is a site with more info. It will be a lot of work, but you can get rid of it. The neighbor issue is another story...if they won't treat, you will likely be stuck doing long term maintence to keep it beat back from your property.

http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/wist1.htm

Jamesqf

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #25 on: June 08, 2013, 11:20:26 AM »
We have lots of gopher holes and lots of rotted pine stumps (with matching sink holes).  I worry a horse would break a leg.

Horses on their own are generally pretty smart about handling rough terrain.  There are herds of wild ones in the hills east of me, and I assure you that's rougher country than your back yard.

If you ask around, you might find someone who'd want to put their horses in for a few weeks or so, just to give them a turnout & free grazing.  Also, you might look up the "chicken tractor" on the web.

NWstubble

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #26 on: June 08, 2013, 10:03:22 PM »
So, I feel like this may be a stupid question, but this issue will come up next year when we anticipate buying a house. If you're looking for native grass, can't you just grab a bunch of grass that's gone to seed from nearby BLM? If we can grab edible fungus from blm why not seed?

Depends on the state/district. If allowed, you will likely need a permit to be legal. When collecting native seed realize that you can over collect an area and have impacts on natural regeneration.

Left

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #27 on: June 09, 2013, 12:43:27 AM »
what about artificial grass? I saw some at the Lowes, not cheap! but if you are spending time/money to water the grass/seeds, maybe consider it?

The fake grass do look nice/feel nice to me at least. Yes, it's fake and you can tell... but there's little maintenance too

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #28 on: June 09, 2013, 11:48:14 AM »
If you're looking for native grass, can't you just grab a bunch of grass that's gone to seed from nearby BLM? If we can grab edible fungus from blm why not seed?

Also, unless you know how to identify native grasses, you could easily wind up with a yard full of (non-native) cheat grass and foxtails.

Spork

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Re: Need help converting turf to drought tolerant grass
« Reply #29 on: June 10, 2013, 08:55:11 AM »
We have lots of gopher holes and lots of rotted pine stumps (with matching sink holes).  I worry a horse would break a leg.

Horses on their own are generally pretty smart about handling rough terrain.  There are herds of wild ones in the hills east of me, and I assure you that's rougher country than your back yard.


That is reassuring to hear.  It also makes me feel a little dumb, as I can't tell you how many stump holes I've stepped in over the past few years.  :)