With this summer looking like a brutal repeat of 2011 you might be thinking about removing or limiting the amount of turf grass in your life. That’s great! Here are a few things I’ve learned. Note, that I’m East of Lamar which tends to be a fairly good dividing line for the Edwards Plateau. I’m on Blackland Prairie not rocky limestone.
The most xeric plant is an established one.
I had parts of my lawn that were always struggling. I also have some parts that are in dappled sun under a nice tree that never require any additional water. Focusing on ripping out the struggling parts first can help keep your workload in control.
Austin is not the desert.
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you rip out your existing turf grass and cover the area with rocks you will either be pulling weeds or using pesticides constantly. And rocks are HOT. It’s like making your entire yard a BBQ pit.
Cactus can have a place, but Austin is both too wet and too cold for most species. In Austin xeric does not usually mean cactus. Make sure the plants you plant are cold hardy into the 20s.
Decomposed granite is a wonderful growth medium for most of our wildflowers. I think it’s wonderful and can be a great part of your landscape, but it will require weeding. Having a decomposed granite path with a large flagstone or concrete stepping stone in the middle will help reduce your weeding.
Rent a sod cutter
You can rent a sod cutter from Home Depot for about $100 per day. And you’ll probably be able to rip up all your grass in a single day. If you do it by hand you’re probably looking at a couple months of weekends.
Avoid landscape fabric!
Landscape fabric promises to help you avoid weeds. And it does prevent “weeds” like Native Grasses, Bluebonnets and other wildflowers. It does NOT help prevent Bermuda Grass or Nut Sedge. They LOVE it and it helps protect their roots from weeding.
Mulch is good… at first
Mulch is great for helping perennials get established. But a few years in you should be able to stop mulching around your perennials. Plant density should be able to keep the soil cool and reduce weed growth.
And anything you plant from seed should not be in a mulched area. You’ll end up wasting money.
What do do this summer
First apply for your Austin Water rebate if you’re planning on doing that. You need to rip out healthy grass to get the rebate. When I did this, they did not need the most formal plans.
Rip out the grass and let it solarize. The sun and heat is probably going to nuke anything so no need to add carboard or plastic. You can’t install plants until the fall, so this will be ugly, but worth it. Also broadcast your wildflower seeds in the fall. Wildflower’s won’t really grow in mulched areas so I would suggest mulching areas where you plan on planting small perennials and ornamental grasses and leaving areas where you want wildflowers un-mulched.
I’m not going to lie. At first there will be quite a lot. In East Austin to reduce maintenance you should try to get as much plant density as possible. Open spaces are spaces where weeds can thrive. One a year usually in late March I do a cutback of most plants with a string and hedge trimmer. March frequently feels hectic with tons of weeding, but the yard fills out in May and by June there’s little weeding left to do and beautiful flowers to admire.
Plants I’ve had success with
These are plants I like and have had success with in East Austin. I specify Bluebonnets separately because not only are they beloved, but they also are really important for out-competing early spring weeds. They also love your crappy dirt that has been solarized all summer.
Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Seed Mixes from Native American Seed (pick ones that match your enviroment)
Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides)
Mealy Blue Sage
Density Buffalo Grass (not eligible for rebates, but it is a great full sun xeric yard cover)