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Section 2: Native and Introduced Grasses

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Introduction

Native grasses have had thousands of years to adapt to various Texas climates and soils and they offer a definite advantage in highway right of way environments. Texas is a diverse state with varying climates and vegetative regions, so there is a definite need for selected introduced species of grasses to be included in our seed mixes to ensure quick vegetation coverage and to prevent erosion on the rights of way. Native grasses will prevail eventually, covering and stabilizing the right of way. Benefits of native grasses include:

  • excellent erosion control when established and maintained properly
  • long lived (up to 100 years)
  • excellent wildlife habitat (food and cover)
  • highly resistant to invasions of noxious weeds
  • low maintenance costs
  • well adapted to Texas soils and climates
  • resistant to agricultural chemical runoffs
  • aesthetically pleasing
  • part of our natural heritage.
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Establishment and Growth

Native grasses are usually slow to establish and plantings may appear to have failed after the first growing season. Although the inspector may see weed-infested areas with only spindly and scattered individual grass plants, the stand is probably well on its way to becoming established. There are several reasons for this slow establishment:

  • Native grasses commonly have more extensive root development than above-ground growth during the first year.
  • Many native grasses do not begin growing until late spring or early summer, making their first year growing season short.
  • A stand of native grasses generally requires about three years to reach maturity. Once native grasses become established, however, very few weeds can compete with them for essential nutrients and water in the soil. At maturity, native grasses may have a fibrous root system extending to a depth of five feet or more.
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Maintenance

To reduce competition from weeds after planting, mow sites planted with native and introduced grasses in late fall at a height not less than seven inches.

On slopes where mowing is not appropriate, herbicides may be used to control competing weeds.

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Erosion Control and Soil Stabilization

With their deep, fibrous root systems, established stands of native grasses provide excellent long term erosion control and soil stabilization. Because the root systems of native grasses extend deeper, they can obtain access to essential soil moisture that shallower rooted introduced grasses cannot. This allows native grasses to grow on poorer soils and resist drought.

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Wildlife Habitat

Many of the game birds, songbirds, deer, rabbits and other small mammals that play an important role in the natural heritage of Texas depend on established stands of native grasses for nesting cover, den cover and food. Properly maintained highway rights of way covered with native grasses provide highly productive wildlife habitats. Research indicates that unmowed roadsides with native plant cover support two to three times the number of bird nests as those that are mowed annually.

Many species of birds and mammals depend on roadsides during at least a part of their life cycle. The following table shows some of the species that will benefit from rights of way planting with native grasses intermixed with wildflowers.

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Birds

Birds

Mammals

Mammals

Ring-necked Pheasant

Dickcissel

Deer

Harvest Mouse

Bobwhite Quail

Mourning Dove

Coyote

Cotton Rat

Scaled Quail

Lark Bunting

Cottontail Rabbit

Ground Squirrel

Meadowlark

Horned Lark

Blacktailed Jackrabbit

Least Shrew

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Several species of sparrow

Whitefooted Deer Mouse

Gopher



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