The City of Boerne is a progressive little city (about 7,000 people) in the middle of beautiful Hill Country in central Texas. . . Well, actually, its leaders might be a bit too progressive.
This past week, in a 3-2 vote, its city council shot down a proposal to allow St. Augustinegrass to be used in the city. A previous city council in Boerne had banned that particular species of lawn grass in new lawns in 2004 because it claimed St. Augustine required too much water.
Texas has a serious problem in terms of its future water supplies so the concern by the local lawmakers with protecting the water that they already have is certainly laudable.
What’s not so certain, however, is council’s knowledge of turfgrass or its water needs. As anyone who is familiar with turfgrass knows, it’s not turf’s fault that water is wasted on it; it’s the fault of the person irrigating the turfgrass.
Proof of this lies literally on Boerne’s doorstep. Several years ago, with funding by the San Antonio Water System and Texas Turfgrass Producers, turfgrass researchers Dr. David Chalmers and Dr. Kurt Steinke, Texas A&M University, conducted a 2-year turfgrass drought tolerance study at the new Irrigation Technology Center in San Antonio, which isn’t that far from Boerne.
The researchers (Dr. Steinke has since accepted a position at Michigan State University.) got some fascinating and heartening insights into the ability of turfgrass to survive lack of rain and to recover when it returns. The study consisted of subjecting 25 lawn grasses (including St. Augustine) to 60-day drought conditions using a one-of-its-kind rainout shelter.
In a nutshell, what the study discovered was that turfgrass is a lot tougher (at least when it comes to surviving lack of water) than most people realize. They also discovered that it survived much better when it had been established on native soils than when it was established in a 4-in. layer of topsoil.
No disrespect to the City of Boerne, which sounds like a delightful place, or its well-meaning lawmakers, but before they consider legislation targeting turfgrass, including St. Augustine, they might give a look to the final report of the “60-Day Turf Drought Recovery Project,” at the ITC Web site here. —Ron Hall