by Helen Abresch, El Paso Master Gardener
Many of us are transplants to this desert southwest; we long for the green lushness of our native lands. For most of us, this translates into GRASS–surely the definer of the color green! But is it practical, or even ethical, to plant our turf yards in the Chihuahuan desert?
With drought and low annual rainfall, a reality in this region, perhaps thinking outside the box can bring the color green into our spaces. Choosing native plants and drought tolerant adapted plants to bring the green can enhance our recreation and outdoor spaces without taxing our resources.
First you need a plan. Using a landscape architect is a great way to maximize your options, but that can be costly. You can create your own plan: drive around your neighborhood and see what appeals to you, take pictures of friends’ yards, and get photos from magazines.
Measure your yard or area and plan how you want the transformation to occur. Draw a schematic on your computer or by hand. Envision the space that you have in a different mode—using garden beds to edge a yard, flagstones arranged in a wide path, small water features, large and small pots, outdoor furniture arranged in room type configuration—your imagination has no limit!
Eliminating your Bermuda grass lawn can be difficult as the same characteristics that make it an ideal turf grass for El Paso also make it extremely difficult to eliminate. It often seems that nothing short of a thermonuclear device will get rid of it. Even the smallest stolon, root, or part of the grass may allow it to reestablish itself.
A certain way to eliminate Bermuda grass is to apply a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate while the grass is actively growing. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings on the product label to avoid damage to nearby desirable plants. A second application of the herbicide may be necessary to re-treat any grass missed during the first application.
While removing grass, it is important that you are careful not to damage the roots of trees and shrubs. Use only landscape fabric (NOT black plastic) to cover spaces that will be grassless; it will allow air, water, and sunlight to move through the soil underneath, even if you place gravel or other mulches over it.
Research which plants to choose by looking at the articles on this website on the Gardening Topic-Links page under Recommended Plants and Plant Selectors where you will find information about native and adaptive plants for our area. You can also contact our Help Desk through the recommended methods found on this page.