Monday, October 26, 2009

Native Grasses vs. St. Augustine, et al.

Ok, I will admit that there is a primal need and desire in mankind to feel grass upon bare feet. Landscape companies play on this market demand by having nifty names with an implied statement that they can render your pock-marked lunar landscape that is known as a yard to resemble one that would be acceptable at your local high dollar golf course.

Yeah, right.

I know you want to feel a carpet of green between your toes, well then get ready to shell out the money. It really doesn't matter if you want to plant native grasses or ones that have been brought in from somewhere else, you are going to spend some money to get them into that state. The Houston Chronicle ran an article today about some research being done over at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Research Center. The upshot of it was that people spend a lot of water and fertilizer to grow the typical species of turfgrass in Texas. It is a well established fact that half of our water consumption is poured out on the ground to irrigate turf. That is an inescapable, undeniable fact of life in Texas. Tom Hicks and George Strait represent the higher end of homeowner consumers of water. Both men spend thousands of dollars a year in water alone to keep their vast lawns a vivid green. I suspect both men have either a bermudagrass hybrid or St. Augustine. It is entirely possible that they have bentgrass in some areas or another high maintenance species of grass. Now, bermudagrass will survive our brutal summers with very little to zero supplementary water. Note that I said it will survive. It is going to go mostly dormant and appear brown and dead. This is not an acceptable alternative. It is fine out there in the pasture, not exactly desirable, but it is the nature of how the grass behaves under pressure from the hammer of July and August. St. Augustine will not survive. It needs more water than our summers provide. This is the major driving force behind a recommendation for native grasses. The three species used in the research by the wildlfower boys are ones that stay fairly short and require far less water to remain green in summer than do the other two. If I could go all summer and water maybe once or twice a month, instead of once or twice a week, that would effectively cut my water consumption. Then there is the pollution factor, that deserves a whole blog in itself, but we will wade into that area too.

Look here, check your dirt. About twice a year. Middle of the summer and the end of the season. It costs all of ten dollars to get the results from the Aggies down in College Station. EVERY state in the union has some Local Agent that is more than willing to give you a bag so you can put dirt in it and send it off to the Land Grant University to determine its requirements of N,P and K.

Why would you want to do this? So you don't put any more than is required on your soil.

Farmers do this all the time. When you buy fertilizer by the ton, it is in your best interest not to put out more than is required. How do we determine this? When you send in your sample form and sack of dirt, you will put on the form what sort of grass you grow and for what purpose. In Texas there is an urban form and a rural form. One for pastures and one for yards. The grasses may be exactly the same, but what we are asking them to do is different. However, the nature of the results will be identical. They, the labcoat boys from Aggieland, will tell you in no uncertain terms exactly how many pounds of nitrogen, phosporus and potassium that your yard requires per a given area. If you are doing a pasture it is in acres, if it is a yard it is 1000ft sq. You can obviously convert from one to the other, but they did at least some of the math and will give it to you in one equation or the other. Well now Mr. Plant dude how do I get from 1lb of N per 1000 to where I know how much to put on the lawn of my 15-5-10?

Break out your calculator. Quit your bitching! I promise it won't hurt your head that much!

It is a really simple equation. Simple enough for the most doltish of agricultural students to understand. Want over got. I want one pound of N I have got 15% per pound of fertilizer soo

1/.15 = 6.66666666666666and a bunch moresixes and then a 7 or 6 and 2/3rds of a pound of 15-5-10 per 1000 feet square. Well how do I know how much to put on with my spreader?

Uhh, that is called calibration.

First you mark off a nice area on the driveway, some parking lot or any other large area or you can put some sort of catch device on your spreader. Then you measure off how big your spreader throws. Four feet, five feet Take that length and then divide 1000 by it and that gives you the distance. Dump some fertilizer in the hopper and take off at normal speed. Start off on a lower setting. After you have covered the entire area measure/weigh the amount of fertilizer dispensed. This means you get to sweep up what you flung out on the driveway or dump your catch device into another bucket and weigh it. Adjust until you are putting out the correct amount of product for 1000ft sq. Yeah, it is a beating, that is why somebody pays me to do it. If you ARE hiring this job done, inquire as to how often they calibrate their machines. Ask to see the soil report, do they not do one? Fire them immediately or at least demand that they do two a year from now on. Why does all this make a damn bit of difference? Two main reasons, if you do not know how much of these three elements are required, then you will either under apply or over apply. This wastes money and is the reason why homeowners are often bigger offenders of run off pollution than many farms. If you do not know that your yard has reached a toxic level of phosphorus then in all likelihood you are going to continue to apply it as has been done for the last decade. Even if we decide to do native grass blends instead of bermudagrass or St. Augustine knowing their requirements and our soil's nutrient availability is still crucial. But, Mr. Plant dude they keep telling me that the buffalograss requires less water and fertilizer, is that so?

Yes, but it doesn't preclude you from knowing the content of your soil or calibrating your spreader. Even if buffalograss only requires one pound of nitrogen per year instead of per month in the growing season, it is still necessary to know how much nitrogen you are applying per 1000 ft square. There are the long term benefits of native grasses over those that are typically grown in landscapes. They require less water to be comparably desirable and less fertilizer to maintain that desirability. There will be initial outlays of money for seed and the high labor input of removing the existing landscape if you are converting a bermudagrass yard to one comprised of buffalograss, curly mesquitegrass and blue grama, but in the long run they will be more fiscally responsible as well as ecologically less impactful.

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