Weary of watering the grass? SEED chats with JP Shepard of Flores Shepard LLC, a local landscape business that’s been keeping Austin yards happy for over twenty years. He shares his expert’s view about how to gain a little freedom from the watering hose.

SEED: I’m about to give up on real grass and make the leap to artificial. What do you think about it?

JP: From a design perspective, it’s ok. The down side is the cost. It is not cheap. As a designer, I don’t mind the way it looks in a small area. But I wouldn’t recommend it for a large area.

SEED: Why? Because it’s too fake looking?

JP: Yes, for big lawns. But, I’ve seen it used judiciously in small areas where you have no other choice, and it has a good clean look to it.

SEED: But what if you want a grass lawn for kids to play in but your grass keeps dying because you have too much shade?

JP: I say, don’t fight Mother Nature. That’s one of our beliefs. Saint Augustine grass, you know, is a water hog, and it will go in decline if there’s too much shade. And if you think it’s too much shade it’s because you have big trees. So there’s a good chance it’s about competition for water, not just shade. Because the trees need water, too, so the trees and the grass are competing for all the water they need.

SEED: So, it’s not just that the grass isn’t getting enough sun in the shady areas; it can’t get enough water either.

JP: Yes, but there’s also a good chance it’s about the dirt. A lot of people don’t know this, but they should send samples of their dirt in to A&M– a lot of times lawn problems are about soil nutrients. It just depends on the property, on the location in town… but especially when builders come in and just put their fill dirt down, and then landscaping comes in and put their plants in but they don’t do well because it’s the wrong dirt. That’s one of the things that we’ve picked up on– if you get the dirt right, everything is easier.

SEED: That’s cool that A&M will test your soil for you.

JP: Yes, it’s just like a blood test at a clinic. They say, ‘Here’s what’s in your soil and here’s how you correct it.’ A lot of times there are elements that can be corrected by amendment, but that gets back to your plant type. You choose your plant for what kind of dirt you’ve got as much as the shade.

SEED: This is great info. But just in case I’m not ready to give up on grass, what is the grass that is most likely to survive in shady areas?

JP: Well, Zoysia, but it has to be Palisades, a special kind of Zoysia that A&M genetically engineered about 8 years ago to be shade tolerant. But it still needs about 4 to 5 hours of sun a day. Until A&M came out with palisades, all zoysia needed bright full sun.

SEED: I think I used Palisades and it died anyway.

JP: Well, as I said, don’t fight Mother Nature. But I’m actually a plant guy. That’s what we do. We design and install landscaping. Twenty years from now, I bet you will not see grass in people’s front yards in Austin. It’s already happening. It started during that big drought a few years ago. Now the city recommends ripping out your grass and putting in a drought tolerant grass only in a small area. And then you can do a lot with xeric plants