Trash the Turf and Go Native Instead

For green grass yards to thrive (or even survive) in our region, we’re forced to over-fertilize and over-water. But there is a better way.

There’s a common misconception that every American home should be accompanied by a perfectly manicured lush lawn.

Unfortunately, the reality of this ideology is that our region — with its bouts of prolonged drought and shallow, poor quality soils — is simply not conducive to healthy grass growth. For green grass yards to thrive (or even survive) in our region, we’re forced to overcome the environmental conditions by over-fertilizing and over-watering.

But there is an alternative, one that is more proactive in water preservation and conservation. It’s as simple as trashing the turf and reimagining what a healthy, happy landscape might look like.

Perhaps that’s a central hardscape with a permeable patio out of flagstone or pavers, where you can enjoy lounging and taking in the aesthetic of your new landscape. You could surround the hardscape with low-growing native herbaceous plants or sedges like horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) or Texas sedge (Carex texensis).

Once established, these attractive, alternative ground covers require little to no supplemental watering and can provide a lovely cover even in shade too dense for grass to grow.

Around the perimeter of your yard, convert the grass to garden beds filled with a drought-tolerant and diverse grouping of shrubs, bushes, trees and cacti. They’ll provide privacy to your yard as well as an assortment of flowers and fruits for birds, butterflies and other native wildlife.

Of course, if you must have some grass, there are several native options better suited for our region. Instead of water-guzzling Bermuda, zoysia or St. Augustine, consider Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) or a native grass mix designed specifically for the poor soils of the Hill Country. You’ll have the aesthetic of a pleasing grassy yard, but without the need for excessive watering or maintenance.

Not quite ready to commit to a complete change in your landscape? Simply adjust your expectations about what a grass yard should look like. Bermuda and zoysia go dormant in times of drought and extreme heat, but as soon as the rains return they green up and look great again.

Picture of Seth Patterson
Seth Patterson
A naturalist by nature, Seth spent his early childhood crawling through creeks and caves of the Hill Country before moving to South Texas where he found his passion in nature photography. Now an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer, Seth follows the water wherever he lands and truly takes to heart his role as a conservation consultant for San Antonio Water System.
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