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Greg's Indigenous Plants & Landscapes
Australian plants for Australia
ABN: 65 285 170 251
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Table of contents

Native Lawns
Care of native lawns
Establishment of Native Grasses
Weed Control
'Griffin' Microlaena stipoides / Weeping Grass
'Bass' Bothriochloa macra / Red Leg Grass
'Oxley' Austrodanthonia geniculata / Wallaby Grass


Seeds are available for purchase in my online nursery...



Native Lawns

  • There are a number of native grass species that are suitable for creating native lawns and, having adapted to Australian climatic and soil conditions over hundreds of thousands of years, native lawns will be far more resilient than conventional exotic lawns.
  • Compared to all of the commonly available exotic turf grass species, native grasses have exceptionally deep root systems that enable them to reach moisture deep within the sub-soil that is simply out of the reach of the exotic turf grasses.
  • For example the roots of the native grass Bothriochloa macra have been recorded at reaching a depth of 1.2m. The roots of Microlaena stipoides will reach a depth of 30cm or more.
  • Indeed the one thing that you notice about native grass tufts is that they are very difficult or impossible to pull out of the soft ground compared to most exotic grass species, which often come out with minimal effort.
  • It is these exceptionally deep root systems that give native grasses their exceptional resistance to water stress and allow them to survive over our sometimes severe droughts.

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Care of native lawns

  • Once they are well established, native lawns require very little ongoing maintenance, other than occasional mowing. In fact in some cases you do not necessarily have to mow them at all.
  • They will rarely require fertilizing as the native grasses are adapted to the relatively low nutrient levels in Australian soils.
  • Other than during prolonged droughts, native lawns will require little or no watering and will obtain all the water they need from natural rainfall.
  • During prolonged droughts, native grasses often enter a state of dormancy and can die back to their roots until conditions improve. The following is a photograph of a Microlaena stipoides plant re-generating in my backyard near the end of the decade long drought:

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Establishment of Native Lawns

  • Native lawns are sown from seed in the same way as conventional exotic turfs, however they are much slower to establish. PATIENCE & PERSEVERANCE is required. 
  • The main difference is that native grass seeds take longer to germinate than many exotic grass seeds, and the seedlings are fairly slow growing at first.
  • This makes freshly sown native lawns very prone to being swamped by much faster growing weeds.
  • Native grass seeds will not germinate unless subjected to a period of sustained moisture in the soil, generally from late April to December.
  • This is a specific adaptation to unreliable rainfall over much of the Australian continent.
  • The delay in germination ensures that the seeds do not germinate after short lived rainfall, after which the soil dries out again killing any small germinates.
  • You may have noticed that this can be a problem with, for example, Tall Fescue lawns.
  • The seeds are quick to germinate but can just as quickly die if you forget to water them for a day or two over summer.
  • In contrast young native grass seedlings are far more likely to hang on until you remember to water them again.
  • After germination growth is slow for the 12 months or so.
  • During this period the grass plants are establishing their extensive root systems that will then be cable of sustaining large amounts of foliage.

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Weed Control

  • Weed control is critical during establishment of a native lawn.
  • As you can see from the photo below, native grasses generally grow slowly for the first 12 months, but unfortunately most exotic broad leaf weeds and weedy grasses grow very rapidly.

    You can see in this photo of a recently sown 'Oxley' Austrodanthonia lawn that the small fine leaf Austrodanthonia seedlings are being swamped by the assorted weeds that grow much faster.

  • If left unchecked they will quickly swamp the young native grass seedlings, ultimately leading to a very patchy and unsightly lawn.
  • You can see in this photo of a different section of the same lawn that the many of the Austrodanthonia seedligs in this part of the lawn are stunted due to the thicker growth of weedy grasses here (since mowed and spot sprayed).
  • However if the weeds are kept under control long enough for the native grasses to become well established, then your native lawn will become quite resistant to further weed invasion.
  • Fortunately their are some easy techniques for keeping the weeds under control.
  • And you can see in this photo of the same lawn with some weed control applied to it that the Austrodanthonia seedlings are now more apparent and the lawn in this section is coming along particularly nicely:
  • And as long as you are PATIENT and persistent with weed control for 12 months or so, this is what you will end up with:
  • Once you get this stage your lawn will require little or no ongoing watering, little ongoing weed control, no fertilising and you don't even necessarily have to mow it.
  • Terminology

    • All plants are divided into to the two very broad groups, monocotyledons and dicotyledons.
    • Among the differences between them are the fact that:
      • Dicotyledons have highly variable shaped leaves with branching veins.
      • Monocotyledons have simple strappy leaves with parallel veins.
    • Dicotyledons are further divided into a further two very broad groups:
      • Herbaceous plants or herbs: those that produce no woody tissue - many common weedy monocotyledons are also referred to as herbs because they similarly do not produce woody tissue.
      • Woody weeds: essentially trees and shrubs that all produce woody stems.

    Sprayers

    Cheap & Nasty

    • This type of sprayer is cheap and available at most hardware stores
    • However they are a nuisance if you are trying to spray over a large area because you continually have to take them off to re-pressurise them.
    • The wand is not very robust and is unlikely to last long.
    • You can't get spare parts if anything breaks.
    Birchmeier

    • Birchmeier spray packs are among the best
    • As you can see you can continually maintain pressurisation using that lever on the left side and without having to remove the spray pack.
    • Consequently you can get through large areas very quickly.
    • The wand is very robust and will last a long time.
    • If anything breaks, spare parts are available.
    • The standard spray tip is not adjustable so be sure to get an optional adjustable spray tip to replace the standard one.

    Broadleaf Weeds

    • Broadleaf weeds include herbaceous dicotyledons.
    • Here are examples of a typical broadleaf weeds that you encounter in your garden:

     

    Recommended Herbicide Product
    • The herbicides MCPA and dicamba are ideal for selective control of broadleaf weeds in native lawns.
    • You should look for these specific herbicides in the "ACTIVE CONSTITUENTS" of any products you purchase.
    • Fortunately a there is a readily available product that contains these two herbicides:

    • I would recommend 100ml of this concentrate for every 10L of water, or 10ml of concentrate for every 1L or water.
    • You also need a small amount of detergent in the mixture to ensure that mixture does not form beads on the surface of the weed leaves, as this will reduce the effectiveness of the herbicide and may not kill the weeds.
    • About 30ml of ordinary liquid dishwashing detergent, for every 10L or water, will do the trick.
    • You can also add a small amount of blue food colouring to the mix so you can tell where you have sprayed.
    • There are also herbicide products that contain the active ingredient triclopyr.
    • It is generally used to kill woody weeds such as blackberry and Boxthorn however it can also be used to kill broadleaf weeds.
    • In general it is specific for broadleaf weeds and does not harm grasses.
    • However there is one very notable exception to this rule, and that exception is the native grass Microlaena stipoides.
    • Do not use any herbicide products that contain the active ingredient triclopyr on Microlaena lawns.

    Weedy Grasses

    • Grasses are also herbaceous monocotyledons.
    • Paspallum and Winter Grass, or Poa annua, are examples of weedy grasses that you are undoubtedly familiar with:

     

    • Weedy grasses are rather more difficult to deal with in a native lawn because any herbicide that kills weedy grasses will also kill or damage your native grass.
    • The options available are:
    Recommended Herbicide Product
    • The herbicide glyphosate is the most effective and readily available herbicide for the control of weedy grasses in particular, but a wide range of other weeds as well.
    • It is a non-selective herbicide and will kill your native grasses just as effectively as the weeds, so be careful with it.
    • Here is the most recognizable herbicide product that contain glyphosate as it active constituent:

    • Please note: there are two different sort of products commonly sold:
      • Ready to use: these are nearly always available in spray bottles and you can just start spraying them as is.
      • Concentrates: these are nearly always available in bottles like the above and you must dilute a small amount of them in water prior to using them.
    • Make sure you have the concentrate product if you choose to follow my instructions below.
    • For spot spraying I recommend you dilute 100ml of concentrate in 10L of water, or 10ml concentrate in 1L of water.

    Spot Spraying

    • For spot spraying I recommend you use 100ml of glyphosate concentrate in 10L of water, or 10ml concentrate in 1L of water.
    • If you are practiced at the use of the spray backs above then it is possible to carefully spot spray weedy grasses in a native lawn, with glyphosate, while doing little or no damage to the native grasses.
    • However that generally takes a couple years practice to be able to do a really good job of it and is a matter of:
    • Adjusting down the angle of the spray cone with the screw adjustment at the end of the wand.
    • Holding the end of the wand close to the ground to further reduce the size of the spray cone.
    • Carefully controlling the flow rate if herbicide from the wand via the trigger on the handle - this is the most tricky part to get the hang of.
    • Angling the spray cone away from the surrounding native grasses - this is also tricky to get the hang of.
    • This technique is particularly useful for annual, biannual and perennial grasses.
    • But, if the weeds are particularly over grown, then mow first and wait for a small amount of new foliage to sprout.
    • By doing this you will make it easier to avoid off target glyphosate damage.

    Painting & Dabbing

    • For dabbing and painting I recommend you use neat glyphosate concentrate.
    • Shoe polish dabber bottles are ideal for this:

    • Otherwise a small paint brush will suffice.
    • With this technique you simply dab the herbicide on as much of the plant as possible without also getting it on nearby native grasses.
    • The concentrated glyphosate will compensate for the fact that you are not able to cover all the foliage of the weedy grass.
    • This technique is particularly useful for annual, biannual and perennial grasses.

    Cut & Paint

    • This technique is particularly useful for larger broadleaf weeds that have a well defined main stem e.g. the blue flowered mallow (large circular leaves) in the photo below.

    • Just use a pair of secateurs to cut the main stem as close to ground level as possible and then, within seconds, dab the stump with neat glyphosate.
    • This technique of applying herbicde is very effective, and you can use glyphosate on weeds like blue flowered mallow that are normally resistant to glyphosate when applied to their foliage.
    • There is no need to dig out large tap roots.

    Dilute Glyphosate

    • This technique can be used as a last resort on well established native lawns, as in the photos below.
    • By reducing the concentration of glyphosate in the mix you reduce the effectiveness of the glyphosate on perennial grasses (both native and weedy) while still maintaining its effectiveness on many annual weedy grasses.
    • Your native grasses will be burned back however they will recover in time while the weedy annual grasses will be killed outright.
    • With this technique you 10ml of glyphosate concentrate in 10L of water, or 1ml of glyphosate concentrate in 1L or water, plus 30ml of dishwashing liquid as before.
    • This technique is particularly useful for wiping out winter grass without doing any long term harm to the native grasses.
    • But always try and minimise off target spraying of the surrounding native grass as much as possible.
    • The best time to do it is when the cold days when most native grasses are the least active while Poa annua is highly active.
    • Do not try this on a recently sown native lawn as there is a risk that the young native grass seedlings will be killed out right.

    Mowing

    • Simply mowing your establishing native lawn is also effective, particularly for annual and biannual weeds.
    • These are weeds that grow, flower, set seed and then die within a year or two years.
    • By mowing, you prevent them from dropping seeds into the soil and replacing themselves a 1000s of times over in the following season and years.
    • Then they will die of their own accord without the need to use herbicides on them.
    • Or you can just wait a bit for a small amount of new foliage to grow and then spot spray or dab them with herbicide, thus making it easier to avoid off target herbicide damage.

    Hand weeding

    • If the area of native lawn is small and the infestation of weedy grasses is not to thick then this is probably the best option as you will do little or no damage to surrounding native grasses.

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    'Griffin' Microlaena stipoides

    Photo courtesy of Native Seeds Pty Ltd

    • C3 or winter grass - can enter a dormant state during particularly hot and dry spells over summer and can die back entirely  during prolonged drought.
    • Additional watering can bring Microlaena out of dormancy and rejuvenate your lawn.
    • Suitable for low lying areas where the sub-soil is likely to be moister on average and in the higher average rainfall areas, e.g. metropolitan Melbourne.
    • Best time to sow is April (late autumn) to November (spring). Can be sown later than September however you will have to be prepared to water regularly to maintain high moisture levels in the seed bed.
    • The flowers and seed heads of Microlaena are rather inconspicuous an unmowed Microlaena lawn will not look that much different from a mowed one.

     

    • During drought Microlaena will die back and enter dormancy but quickly regenerates once moisture levels improve.
    • The following photo is of a tuft of 'Griffin' Microlaena regenerating after summer rainfall during the decade long drought.

    'Bass' Bothriochloa macra

     

    Photo courtesy of Native Seeds Pty Ltd

    • C4 or summer grass - enters dormancy over winter and remains active during drought.
    • Suitable for much drier areas such as on hills and in the lower average rainfall areas, e.g. Sunbury and Melton.
    • A disadvantage is it does have is that it turns bright red and then dies back as it enters dormancy. However this can be countered by mixing it with Austrodantonia or Wallaby Grass that grow in similar areas to Bothriochloa. These are C3 or winter grasses that enter dormancy over summer but do not to die back. Hence when the Bothriochloa has died back over winter the Austrodantonia will be active and green. Conversely when the Austrodantonia is dormant over summer the Bothriochloa will be active and green.
    • Best time to sow is in September (early spring). Again it can be sown later than September however you will have to be prepared to water regularly to maintain high moisture levels in the seed bed.
    • The flowers and seed heads of Bothriochloa macra are very prominent and, in fact, it is often used as an ornamental grass for this reason.

     

    • So an unmowed Bothriochloa lawn will look a little like a bush paddock until you mow it again however, if you want free Bothriochloa seed to sow else where, you will have to put up with this.
    • Click here to order seeds.

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    'Oxley' Austrodanthonia geniculata

    • C3 or winter grass - can enter a dormant state during particularly hot and dry spells over summer and can die back entirely  during prolonged drought.
    • Additional watering can bring Austrodanthonia out of dormancy and rejuvenate your lawn.
    • Suitable for low lying areas where the sub-soil is likely to be moister on average and in the higher average rainfall areas, e.g. metropolitan Melbourne.
    • Best time to sow is April (late autumn) to November (spring). Can be sown later than September however you will have to be prepared to water regularly to maintain high moisture levels in the seed bed.
    • The flowers of Austrodanthonia are rather inconspicuous while the fluffly seed heads are a little more noticeable than those of Microlaena tufts, however an unmowed Austrodanthonia lawn will not look untidy.

     

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