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Contributed by Robert Shaw - January 2024

Kill some of your lawn, maybe, or better yet, Kill your traditional lawn maintenance practices because for some people in some places, the native St. Augustine grass that many of us inherited along with our yards might be the best option to meet certain needs of small city yards typical of New Orleans.

I want to share my appreciation of St. Augustine grass - - but not how it’s typically managed. Look beyond the rallying cry of killing one’s lawn and consider the benefits of certain applications of this fairly able and certainly willing native groundcover: tough under feet, soccer balls and car tires; requiring little attention or maintenance (seriously, read on); providing an off-season soil-protecting cover and nursery for many plants native and otherwise, etc.

Grass was smothered with cardboard and mulch to create gardens (2 yrs prior in foreground, one year along fence)

So the problem is not with Stenotaphrum secundatum (St. Augustine grass), it’s with the expectations and conventions for its use as a lawn and the management that typically follows - - frequent mowing, bags of weed-n-feed, fungicides, etc. Consider, though, if you haven‘t seen for yourself: what happens to a small patch of St. Augustine grass if it is neither watered, nor fed, nor treated with broad-leaf herbicides, and cut back as little as possible, perhaps to string-/trim a border to show that the management is intentional? It doesn’t grow tall enough to earn the attention of Code Enforcement - - whoever would come knocking about the height of your “weeds”, if anyone ever would. And so you can easily manage a small patch of St. Augustine grass with just an occasional string-trimming. I’ve never fertilized, watered, nor treated the grass with broad-leaf herbicides, fungicides, irrigating, etc, and it does just fine. Although lawn mowers can rarely be set high enough for this purpose, many plants, including native wildflowers - - Carolina petunia, cranesbill geranium, lawn American aster, etc., can survive typical mowers.

Elephantopus, Elephant's Foot can seed into and pop up in the lawn
Carolina cranes-bill geranium takes over big patches of lawn in the late winter
the native Ruellia will probably show up anywhere it’s allowed (or not)
Lawn American aster, Salt-Marsh Aster is an annual species that can grow in lawns

Over the years, I’ve expressed most if not all of the sentiments typically found in a “kill your lawn” article or post. I could dig up articles I wrote for a newspaper column back in 1982 about the useless waste of resources, etc. that a typical lawn involves. I still roll my eyes at huge houses perched on huge lawns that no one seems to ever play on, with a little wrought iron bench that no one ever seems to sit on. I’m somewhat amazed by suburban neighborhoods where there’s a popular pattern of mower tracks on the finished lawn - - circular, linear, or even cross-hatched for those who really get off on it. Over time, we have replaced about most (around 80%?) of the lawn grass area that came with our house. In recent years, I’ve taken to nibbling away at the small bit of lawn that’s left, smothering an occasional section with a big piece of cardboard, composting leaves and organic material, and then turning it over to the coneflowers, penstemon, and other native plants. But we’ll probably never get rid of this last little bit, nor the grass out by the street. “Kill your lawn” might make sense for some people and situations, but more likely only partly so for others.

Besides traditionally functioning as the presentation setting for the house (curb appeal, safely sterile, etc.), I understand that for many people, the attractiveness of having a conventional lawn is that mowing the lawn presents probably the least thoughtful and least involved approach to maintaining a landscape. Other than knowing how to handle a mower, you don’t have to know a whole lot. You don’t have to know a single thing about a single plant, except perhaps the grass you’re mowing and a few “weeds” you’re trying to eliminate, and maybe not even that. Obviously, people who maintain a “spotless” lawn would disagree, after all the money spent on typical lawn care products. And I’m not even touching the psychology of lord-of-the-manor / man-against-nature / salute to wealth and power / need for control or any of the other interesting suggestions about our attachment to lawns we read from time to time.

But keeping in mind that everyone’s situation is different, with these comments I’m considering typically small- to occasionally medium- sized New Orleans lawns. Right off the bat, there are reasons why one would not want to kill off all of their lawn (as well as reasons to do so, if desired).

  • If you have kids or have kids over, they need room to throw and kick balls, chase and tumble around, etc. You can’t play catch in the middle of the coneflowers.
  • If you want a little blanket-sized patch in the shade to be able to lie down with a book and cat or picnic, grass is where you want to sit, not on the Rudbeckias.
  • If it’s the first of May (hooray, hooray… but not in the Salvia, for heaven’s sake)
  • And of course there are more important issues, like:

What other ground cover can you drive over repeatedly in the road-side strip between sidewalk and street? Even if people don’t normally park on your strip, they will at Mardi Gras, for construction work on your block, etc. A lot of Uptown, for example, was laid out with little knowledge of a future of private vehicle parking, especially multiple vehicles for a family.

  • people need to open car doors and get to the sidewalk. I can’t plant shrubs that block people trying to get in and out of cars, or plant flowers that people may or may not find a way to step around.
  • St. Augustine grass on the ground is better than nothing, at least. It breaks up rain and sun impact and doesn’t seem to let any soil get away. That in itself seems pretty major.
  • The grass actually ends up as an occasional nursery for self-seeding natives that are near-by. I’ve “rescued” blanket-flower, bee-blossom and others to transplant from the lawn to other places, and left others (lawn American aster, Malvastrum, etc.) to fend for themselves with occasional traffic, blankets and weed-whacking. In late winter, I let the streetside grassy strip go without cutting back as long as possible, and for a while you can barely see the grass blades for the cranesbill geraniums, false onion and non-natives such as the introduced Oxalis and white Dutch clover.

No, it doesn’t attract insect-pollinators with its non-showy wind-pollinated flowers (although the pistils and stamens are quite beautiful when you’re down at their level), but does serve as habitat for at least a couple larval stages of insects. And protects the soil ecosystem beneath it, at least.

Unmown St. Augustine grass stays fairly street-legal
How many other species could easily recover from this?
Malvastrum and Ruellia were quick to reclaim the muddy parking area
Vigorous St. Augustine left to grow in wide perimeter border. Flowering natives like Goldenrods, Mallows, Helianthus, are pit-planted into it

If you need a fairly carefree native plant that covers bare spots (and concrete and brick remains of civilization), that you can also drive and park on, and open car doors into, wrassle with the dog or cat on, lie down in the shade to stare up at the leaves and sky… I just don’t know a better one. F(r)og-fruit has successfully invaded the St. Augustine grass, as have other plants (non-native Dutch white clover, etc.), but none of them can handle the job year-round by themselves.

For your convenience, a map of its range all across the Gulf South, from BONAP: http://bonap.net/Napa/TaxonMaps/Genus/County/Stenotaphrum

I’ll see if I can find a complete list of the native plants that voluntarily appear in the lawn, but they include: fogfruit, Carolina geranium, false onion, Gaura, Coreopsis, blanketflower (Gaillardia), elephant’s-foot (Elephantopus), Salvia, Malvastrum, and of course some non-natives like white clover and lawn Oxalis. So even if you’re going to kill your lawn, try killing the typical maintenance practices first, and in the meantime appreciate the temporary and effective ground cover that you’re about to uproot or smother or otherwise do away with.
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Here's where some of the grass has been smothered with cardboard, mulch, etc., two years prior in the foreground with the coneflowers, and only one year before in the background by the fence.

Muhly Grass is an impressive native grass that has become very popular in all sorts of landscapes, not just native. Native grassed are wonderful for their tough character, drought and heat tolerance. They offer a contrasting texture in the landscape and GREAT late-season interest when they go into bloom in Fall and hold they inflorescences into winter. Muhly grass is just a bit past prime now in late December, but has had a fabulous season and still looks impressive.

Muhly grass is susceptible to infestations of Muhly Grass Mealybug, an insect thought to be native to Florida and moving around through the landscape trade. They appear as small white, cottony spots deep in the foliage of the plant. Severe infestations can cause the plant to decline and perform poorly. There is plenty of advice on other sites for how to treat this problem, but we are making this post because when we went out to cut back a few infected grasses that we noticed about a month ago and attempt to kill the insects - a large population of ladybugs was already working on the problem! Our takeaway for now is that when you have a naturally balanced, ecologically inviting landscape, the habitat is right for insect predators and little interference from you is needed. Sit back for a bit and give garden pests and diseases a chance to resolve themselves - often they do - especially in a native garden!

Muhly Grass in late October

Muhly Grass in late October
Ladybugs feeding on Muhly Grass Mealybug

ORDERING FOR THIS ITEM IS CURRENTLY CLOSED. For items ordered by Dec 1st, PICK-UP is scheduled for Saturday, December 16th, from 8am-noon at 5315 St Anthony, New Orleans LA.  Shipped items will go out that day as well, if not before.

Local artist Caroline Hill, http://www.chillplease.com/, was commissioned for this one-of-a-kind design portraying 15 of our most beloved and colorful native plant species in all of their glory.  Caroline, a New Orleans native, is passionate about the natural world and often turns to nature for the subject matter and inspiration for her visual art.  She was perfect for this project!  The design for the shirt not only showcases an intricate and varied collection of our native flora, but includes a directive – Plant Native Plants….lots of them!!! because, as we all know, it takes a wide diversity and large numbers of native plants to successfully support biodiversity. Like all of her work, Caroline took on this project with great enthusiasm and its obvious.  “I have found that you should only take on projects that excite you. It shows in the work.” Each plant species and each word of text was painstakingly rendered separately and then combined into the final composition that you see on the shirt. The back of the shirt has NPI’s name and website and the shape of the Mississippi River that defines where and how we garden here.

ORDERING FOR THIS ITEM IS CURRENTLY CLOSED.  For items already ordered, PICK-UP is scheduled for Saturday, December 16th, from 8am-noon at 5315 St Anthony, New Orleans LA.  Shipped items will go out that day as well, if not before.

NPI T-shirt front

Plant Native Plants T-Shirt

BUY NOW

Native Plants Reach a Local Landmark with UNO Certification

At 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 6, at the University of New Orleans (UNO) Amphitheater garden, the Louisiana Certified Habitat Program will reach a landmark when the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans (NPIGNO) certifies the 100th New Orleans area habitat. The certified habitat program recognizes Louisiana efforts to preserve and promote the state's natural heritage via native plant gardens which benefit wildlife and natural ecosystems (https://www.lnps.org/certifiedhabitat/). Home gardeners, businesses, schools, and other institutions that landscape with plants native to Louisiana can apply for certification through the program. A native plant expert counts the number of species or estimates the percentage of native plant species on the property to assign a certification level. Levels are bronze (25 native species or 25% native plants), silver (50 native species or 50% native plants), and gold (75 native species or 75% native plants). Over 250 properties have been certified statewide. 

"We are so pleased to have the UNO native plant gardens as our 100th New Orleans area certified habitat," said Tammany Baumgarten, president of NPIGNO and of the Louisiana Native Plant Society. "UNO reaches such a wide range of people, from students to faculty to staff to community members, and it is truly becoming a showcase for the beauty and benefits of native plants."

Earlier this year, Chris Belser, assistant professor of the UNO counselor education, and a team of students installed the fourth native plant garden on campus at the Amphitheater near the Earl K. Long Library, an area heavily used by students, faculty, and staff. The student team, led by Emily Miller, Arden Kleinpeter, and Genesis Santiago, researched plants, mapped the garden design, and recruited volunteers for planting and maintenance work. 

"Gardens like the one at the Amphitheater benefit native birds, insects, and other wildlife, and they benefit humans too," said Belser who is also a Master Gardener in New Oreans with the LSU AgCenter. "Many studies have demonstrated that time outside in nature makes us healthier mentally and physically. We're adding signage to provide tips to encourage 'unplugged' outdoor lunches, breathing exercises, and other easy ways to enjoy and enhance time spent in the UNO native plant gardens." 

The Amphitheater garden is part of an overall sustainability project spearheaded by Belser and funded by an internal grant from UNO's Office of Research. His project is part of a larger campus greening effort and,is the third Louisiana Certified Habitat on campus. UNO’s first certified habitat was part of a Privateer Pocket Park installed at the Administration Building (http://www.uno.edu/sustainability/news#22-06-14/bird-mural) . The second certified habitat was part of a Privateer Pocket Park installed near the Fine Arts building (http://www.uno.edu/sustainability/news#22-11-22/audubon-mural). These pocket parks have native plants, environmental art painted by students, and seating to encourage the campus to enjoy nature. Privateer Pocket Parks implemented by Carol Lunn, Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the UNO Office of Research and UNO Garden Club advisor. Baumgarden, NPIGNO, and the Louisiana Native Plant Society have all contributed to helping UNO add native plants to campus. 

Another native plant project on campus is an Urban Bird Trail (https://www.uno.edu/news/2021-09-23/grant-create-urban-bird-habitat-uno-campus-and-support-environmental-education) funded by a $34,000 US Fish and Wildlife Service Urban Bird Treaty program grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Liz Sigler, Assistant to the Vice President for Research and Economic Development Center and Director for Center for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, Grant Writer John Bishop, and campus and community partners like UNO TriO Upward Bound and the Orleans Audubon Society provided gardening muscle and know-how for the project, which has provided extensive native tree plantings campuswide as well as efforts to mitigate non-native invasive plants in the campus woodlot near the Fine Arts Building. 

As part of an Earth Day Celebration, students and UNO Garden Club members also planted a native garden adjacent to student housing at  Pontchartrain Hall North with plants sourced by Lunn and Baumgarten. 

More information about these and other environmental sustainability projects at UNO are athttps://www.uno.edu/sustainability/news and via Instagram #KeepUNOBeautiful.  

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Chris Belser, Assistant Professor; Coordinator, Counselor Education Graduate Programs; ctbelser@uno.edu, 504-280-5864..

Carol Lunn, Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development; Advisor, UNO Garden Club; Keep UNO Beautiful; clunn1@uno.edu or KeepUNOBeautiful@uno.edu, 504-280-7155.

Liz Sigler, Assistant to the Vice President for Research and Economic Development; Director, Center for Undergraduate Research and Creativity; esigler@uno.edu or birding@uno.edu; Instagram: @birdsofuno; Facebook: @birdsofuniversityofneworleans, 504-280-7153.

Tammany Baumgarten - President, Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans; President, Louisiana Native Society, tammany@baumgardens.com, 504-616-9344.

 

Land, water, plants, and animals: the "heritage" part of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival isn't only focused on human-created culture in 2023. Jazz Fest coordinator Laura Renee Westbrook took the long view and invited area native plant advocates to provide native plants and remind fest-goers that without its natural environment, the unique culture of Louisiana wouldn't have the flair and flavor loved by so many. "The Louisiana's Natural Heritage tent and Peace Garden at Jazz Fest feature artists, conservationists, mentors, and stewards of all ages who work to preserve our lands and waters and help their cultural and natural communities survive and thrive," Westbrook said. 
"The exhibit at Jazz Fest will include dozens of native Louisiana trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants designed to highlight the beauty of our native plants and emphasize the critical wildlife benefits and ecosystem services they provide," said Tammany Baumgarten, president of the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans and of the Louisiana Native Plant Society. "Native plants protect our coastline, clean our air, feed the pollinators whose work feeds us, and provide homes and food for birds, butterflies, and animals who give us joy."
"The exhibit will also provide a veritable verdant oasis on the festival grounds," said horticulturist Lilith Dorsey, who is working with Westbrook and Baumgarten to create the exhibit. "It'll be the ideal spot for people to immerse themselves in the natural world for a while and remember that at its heart, Louisiana's rich cultural heritage of music, food, literature, and art grows straight from the earth and its sublime bounty."

The wild garden we call Louisiana is a beautiful and busy place in April: native iris, sage, and primrose in bloom; birds building nests in bald cypress, pine, magnolia, and oak trees; bees and butterflies visiting flowering shrubs and reminding us of the pollinators' role in the berries we'll enjoy this summer and fall. To celebrate this bounty and to promote the plants that make Louisiana unique, Gov. John Bel Edwards has proclaimed April 2023 as Native Plant Month in the state.
In December, garden clubs from throughout the state sent a letter to Governor Edwards in requesting the proclamation. The letter cited the 2,500 native plants of Louisiana, their importance in preserving the state's fragile ecosystems, and the need for native plants to be enjoyed, protected, and promoted. The Louisiana proclamation request is part of an effort by the Garden Club of America to promote native plants by establishing a Native Plant Month in all 50 states https://www.gcamerica.org/nnpmi
"Protecting native plants in the wild and incorporating them into our gardens is a win for everybody," said Blanche Dee McCloskey president of The New Orleans Town Gardeners https://www.notgclub.org. "They've evolved with our state's birds, bees, and butterflies for thousands of years so they're a crucial part of the ecosystem, and because they've adapted to our Louisiana climate and soils, native plants are usually easier to grow in our home gardens. Our local nurseries and garden centers are leading the way by growing native plants and trees and making it easier for Louisiana gardeners to find natives for their home gardens."
"Native plant advocates across Louisiana applaud the work of the state's garden clubs and of Gov. John Bel Edwards in proclaiming April as Native Plant Month," said Tammany Baumgarten, president of both the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans https://www.npi-gno.org and the Louisiana Native Plant Society https://www.lnps.org. "Whether native plants are growing in our gardens, along the roadside, or in parks and preserves, they make our lives more beautiful, our crops more productive, and our state more resilient."
Read the Proclamation here: PROCLAMATION-Native Plant Month 2023 (1)

UNO has recently completed the terms of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant which enabled  the purchase and planting of certain areas of campus that are now part of their Urban Bird Trail.  NPI helped coordinate, plan and implement the plantings along with volunteers from Upward Bound Youth Group, Orleans Audubon, Master Naturalists, UNO students and other proactive citizens just wanting to contribute to the birding habitat on campus.  In addition to the Woodlot and Quandrant that were part of this volunteer effort, UNO has installed native gardens at two prominent locations on campus, the Administration Building and Fine Arts Building.  Below is a list of the numerous native species that can be seen at these locations on campus.

UNO Native Plantings

Saturday, Jan. 28th,  9am – 12 pm, 1235 Deslonde St., Lower 9th Ward, NOLA Hosted by Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association and Neighborhood Association

Sunday, Feb. 5th, 10am-1pm, 615 Opelousas Ave., Algiers Point, NOLA. Hosted by Algiers-Berhman Community Garden

Saturday, Feb. 11th, 10am-12pm, 1855 Duels Street, 7th Ward, NOLA.  Hosted by Healthy Community Services

These great community partners are helping us with the next three Native Plant Giveaways!  We will be distributing two of our favorite species of native flowering plants, Cardinal flower and Lemon Bee Balm.

Cardinal flower will grow in part shade and likes plenty of moisture.  It loves rain gardens or just plain wet areas of the landscape and hummingbirds LOVE it.  Cardinal flower is a short-lived perennial, meaning that it will come back year after year for a few years, but not forever.  This plant relies on the re-seeding of it's many very fine seeds for its longevity.  If happy, it will produce offspring in addition to the original plant for a long time in your garden.

Lemon Bee Balm, Monarda Citriodora, is a favorite with all sorts of pollinators and people too.  It blooms in the Spring for a long period of time and will set lots of seed that produce offspring the following year.  It likes a normal garden in a sunny area.

Native seeds and "Ancestral Soil" will be a unique throw in the Chewbaccus Parade this Mardi Gras

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is indeed saving the galaxy with the native Wildflower seeds of Clasping Coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis).  The Vampiric Council of New Orleans sub-krewe will be handing out these one of a kind treasures during the parade on January 28th.  They containing NPI-donated seeds of Clasping Coneflower, one of the easiest and earliest  native wildflowers that we can grow here.  If you were lucky enough to receive these gems from your local parading vampire, simply scatter your seeds onto the soil, or into your garden in a sunny spot as soon as possible and enjoy the beautiful flowers and many pollinators that will visit them!

Dracopis

Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal flower, is one of the most impressive and striking native plants for your late summer garden. This short-lived perennial plant occurs naturally in moist locations, along stream banks, swamp edges, and low woods. In our gardens, they are easily grown in average moist garden beds, but
are also the ultimate rain garden plant. In nature, they are usually found in somewhat shaded situations. In gardens, they seem to be able to handle quite a lot of sun as long as the soil is kept moist enough. One of the most fascinating things about our native plants is how they can be synched so precisely with the wildlife that uses them (not so with non- natives from other parts of the globe.) In this case, the ultra- rich, super-vivid red flowers of this plant appear in late summer, from July to October, on elongated 2-5 foot spikes. These plants in bloom are absolutely showstopping...for people AND our migrating hummingbirds.

Cardinal flower is a plant of highly disturbed areas. In nature, these disturbances can be caused by river or stream flooding, animal grazing, trees toppling…. situations that expose earth to the fine seeds of cardinal flower and allow them to germinate. For that reason, these are plants that “move around,” are rarely in the exact same place for more than a few seasons and rarely live past a few seasons in one exact spot. In our gardens, we can account for that and be sure to always have Cardinal flower in our gardens by replanting new plants now and again and/or creating small, disturbed conditions and exposed areas for Cardinal flower seeds to take hold. If you have a large property, taking seed from the plant and scattering it here and there in places where it is likely to be happy can be rewarding too.

Cardinal flowers make lots of very fine seeds, about the size of granulated salt. The spot on the upright stalk where each flower bloomed becomes a pod full of seeds. It is very important for the seeds to be mature and the stalk dry when you collect it. Because the plant blooms from the bottom to top of the stalk, often the top pods are still green while the bottoms have turned brown. Luckily, the plant holds itself upright and the pouches hold their content of seed without spilling while you wait for the entire stalk to dry. When ready, cut the stalk(s) and place in a large paper bag to bring inside for more drying time. At some point (this was a nice January task for me), the stalks can be pulled out onto a large tray and turned upside down. Many of the seeds will spill out of the dried pod, then the pods can be
crushed to release the rest. From here, it is fairly easy to scrape away most of the chaff and package up your seeds. Bam! As general rule, you can wild sow seeds at the general time of year when nature would have done so herself, so you can fling around Lobelia cardinalis seeds all winter long. I have sown them in trays and in the wild most months of the year, so don’t overthink it. The important thing is to get those seeds out there. Don’t “save” your seeds. Plant them. You’ll have even more next year!