Pocket Prairie: Death of a Turf Grass

‘The word Selah means: to stop, to pause, to look around you, and reflect on everything you see.” ~ David Bamberger, Selah Ranch

Humans Vs. Everyone Else

On the Gulf Coast of Texas where land is generally ‘on the level’ with the Gulf of Mexico, regular flooding events along inland waterways are to be expected. They don’t call Houston ‘The Bayou City’ for nothing. Those out in the suburbs are no strangers to regular flood events where 3-4 inches of rain in an hour can quickly overwhelm drainage run-off.

In the last half century as Houston has gotten too big for its breeches, epic flooding has become more the norm. It’s no surprise, really; as more homes and roads and strip malls are built, the more permeable wild spaces are traded for concrete ones. The result should have been alarmingly clear.

Destruction of centuries-old wild spaces for human-designed ones is not without consequence.

There is supposed to be land here.

Floods are mitigated in nature with grasses and forests. Each naturally resilient plant system with its far-reaching and stabilizing roots coupled with mycorrhizal fungi actually holds onto water … like a sponge. Water is drawn down into the soil during the wet times, and fungi slowly release what remains far from root systems during times of drought.

In fact, native grasses have been foundational for land in arid regions, like the Hill Country of Texas. Limestone bedrock there is full of holes, and well placed grasses will percolate rain and flash flood water way down into those holes through their long root systems, literally filling underground caverns — aquifers — with soil-purified water.

Photo credit: KatyPrairie.org

Grasses (paired with a careful land stewardship) have even been responsible for creating springs and bubbling brooks where there once were none. David Bamberger at Selah Ranch here in Texas placed his focus on healing land with grass; his conservation effort using native prairie grasses is worthy of imitation.

So inspirational! (I bought the books.)

[Email Readers: Above is a video embed that must be viewed at the blog.]

Here in Houston, we are getting used to the frequent downpours, lack of drainage due to storm surges, and periods of ‘flash droughts’ in between. In some areas, however, the humble pocket prairie may be a viable solution.

Creekside walk
Hurricane Harvey flooding 2017

Destroy, Build, Destroy … Back To Nature

St. Augustine turf grass — the preferred green carpet of many-a Houston housing development — is not a natural specimen. It has been domesticated to look and feel the way we want it to. Generally, ours does not have a particularly deep root system, even though we promote healthy roots by not watering it. Suburban turf provides no food for wildlife with the exception of the St. Augustine cinch bug who is evolved to seek out and destroy weakened specimens.

Turf grass does have its up side: it is quite competitive against other grasses. It will out-compete lizard nutsedge, bermuda, poison ivy … even torpedo grass.  Being a ‘top crawler’ makes it a top choice for border grass around mulched beds and gardens; it is easily managed with an electric weed-whipper or hand sheers.

Having to mow an acre-and-a-half of lawn every 4-6 days in the heat of summer, I’m all too happy to see around 7,000 square feet of it — roughly 10 minutes of mowing — go away altogether. But as with any new beginning, a successful pocket prairie begins first with annihilation. Before native grasses can be planted, non-native, competitive and invasive grasses must first go.

Pocket Prairie Outline
Memorial Day Weekend 2019

While our local officials try to figure out how to prevent another Harvey flooding event, we will be doing what we can here, right where we are, with what we have. Nature is always the master when it comes to balance, so we are giving the land back to Her. We will simply steward (lightly manage) instead.

Nature heals best when reapplied, so Nature is where we look to solutions.

Shovel the Edging
A Place To Tuck The Plastic

Plastic ‘Solarizing’ Film
Using Nature’s Greenhouse Effect to Kill

Dirt Don’t Hurt.

It’s easy to kill turf. Just remove its ability to make food by suffocating it. In this case, using clear 4-mil plastic contractor film will speed up the process — the Greenhouse Effect can be a good thing!

Stay tuned! In a couple of months, the plastic film will be removed and a liberal layer of chipped mulch and carbon will be put in its place to heal dead soil, replacing the microbes that were unwittingly destroyed. It won’t take long for soil to come back to life, I assure you.

Then we plant!

Soon the coastal prairie grasses and annual and perennial wildflowers will rule once again, if only on this small suburban pocket prairie.

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10 thoughts on “Pocket Prairie: Death of a Turf Grass

  1. We made an itty bitty “prairie” of native plants outside the kids’ window this year. No water needed, bees and fliers happy, and cheerful color for us to soak up.
    Good on y’all for giving some land back.


    1. This one seems itty bitty considering I’ll still have an hour of mowing on the lawn tractor, but hey. It’s a start … and it’s SOMETHING.

      Hope y’all are having a great summer. I’m sure the kids are growing by leaps and bounds. Keep those little grubs dirty while you can!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, Courtney! And to think that billions of $$ are pouring into the ‘Let’s Go To Mars’ option. It would be better spent plugging the holes in THIS ship, the only home we’ve ever known — complete with all that we need. I say, EARTH FIRST. 🌏

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve known about Bamberger for 20 years but somehow still haven’t made it out to his place. Someday…

    As for the word selah, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition, says it’s “a Hebrew word of unknown meaning at the end of verses in the Psalms: perhaps a musical direction, but traditionally interpreted as a blessing meaning ‘forever.’” Because the word occurs at the ends of verses, some people have interpreted it to indicate a pause, while others speculate it might have been a cue to raise or lower the voice. In the end, we just don’t know what it meant. Bamberger’s interpretation goes pretty far afield from the original, but then he’s out in the field a lot.


    1. Salah is practically in your hood! If you go before me, let me know. I hope to visit on our next Hill Country outing in August.

      Those are Bamberger’s words, and what I DON’T know about the Bible would fill volumes. The words of the Bible have been richly and loosely interpreted to suit the individual’s purpose, as I see it. If God wants us to understand messages better, perhaps he’d take some time out of his busy schedule to write a more fresh and complete 21st century edition!

      PS ‘Out in the field.’ Very punny, Steve. 😀


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