In the southern portion of the United States — and particularly in Texas — the preservation and maintenance of shrubbery and lawns are a particular consideration for communities. Back in April, BioNews Texas Contributing Science Editor Charles Moore even published an article on how a researcher at Texas A&M had conducted a series of revealing tests about how soapy date water, or “gray water” could possibly be used in watering and irrigating lawns and other decorative shrubs in Texas in a bid to conserve fresh water. Now, a group of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a lawn mix of grass seed that promises to make for a more durable, robust lawn that requires less maintenance and resources.
The new mixture, branded as HabiturfTM, is comprised of a mix of native grasses from the Gulf region, was licensed by the Ecosystem Design Group of the university’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at UT Austin to a sod producer in the area, called Bladerunner Farms of Poteet, Texas. The 10-year, nonexclusive license seeks to give Bladerunner to offer a truly innovative grass seed that could make a marked difference in the amount of resources needed to maintain lawn in Texas throughout all four seasons.
Mark Simmons, Ecosystem Design Group (EDG) director, came up with the idea of developing the mixture of grass seed in reaction to a rising statistic that more and more homeowners and businesses were giving up lawns, to the considerable resource cost to keep them up. and given the fact that commercial and private lawns in the U.S. currently use more water, fertilizers and chemicals than any single agricultural crop — a fact that is particularly true in Texas, which suffers incredibly hot, sunny summers — Simmons sought a solution that would make lawns more manageable and economical.
“Traditional lawns rely on one grass species to survive in changing conditions,” Simmons said. “By developing an ecologically stable turfgrass that mimics nature, we can help keep lawns a viable option as water and other resources become more precious.”
Simmons’ combination of grass seed that is native to Texas and the Midwest is predicated on research that his group published in 2011, which empirically revealed that by combining buffalograss and six other native grass species, one could grow a uniform lawn that would remain 20 percent thicker throughout the summer compared to bermudagrass, which is commonly used in the south, though non-native to the region.
The findings were significant, since the notion of combining different seed species is not a standard in growing and maintaining lawns; typically, landscapers and greenskeepers seek to utilize homogenous seed mixtures to grow and maintain a uniform lawn carpet.
Additionally, Simmon’s grass mixture developed half as many dandelions in the study as bermudagrass and buffalograss. A healthy Habituf lawn should thus require less herbicide to maintain. “Once a native grass system is established, it is self-maintaining compared to many traditional lawn species,” Simmons said, according to a UT Austin press release.
“The improved performance reflects what Simmons has found in studying grasslands on three continents: Different grass species perform different biological roles when combined, assisting one another to thrive.” This is an innovative idea, and one that changes the paradigm on what many have believed for generations: that using the same species of grass is the key to the best lawn.
Following Simmons’ cue, the new Habiturf sod will combine at least three of the best-performing grass seed from the 2011 study published in Ecological Engineering, which will include buffalograss, curly mesquite and blue grama. The sod is expected to establish faster than Habiturf that is currently available from seed, and will be drought-proof, which means that the grass will be able to turn brown during drought seasons and then return to green when more rain comes into season.