Planting native grass to control mosquito borne disease

Yellow robin

Did you know that if you want to control mosquito borne disease it may help to plant native grasses? The reasoning as to why this might be so is a bit of a yarn. Bear with me.

Living near a river, mosquitoes are inevitable, but some times they are worse than others. And they are a worry, as mosquito-borne diseases like Ross River Fever and maybe even the sinister “Buruli ulcer” are becoming more common even in Melbourne.

Microbats, those little flutterers that are about the size of a mouse (“flittermice” is an old name), eat about half their body weight in insects every night. Including mosquitoes. Up to 500 insects an hour. But the bats need somewhere to hang out and sleep during the day, and this is typically in little crevices and hollows in old trees. Continue reading

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DIY Native lawn redux

I posted in 2015 about how to establish a lawn with native grass seeds. But my results were fairly early. Here I report on how it’s going (well!) and re-summarise my (updated) DIY advice.

In a dry but otherwise mostly mild summer, the lawn browned off (that is, leaves died and it turned a straw-brown colour) until we got a good rainfall in early February. Then the summer-growing grasses (redleg grass* and windmill grass*) immediately put on lots of new, green growth. The winter-growing grasses (weeping grass* and wallaby grass*) put up a little new growth, and new seedheads, too. Continue reading

‘Australian Grasses (With Illustrations)’ by Fred Turner

The old man told me that as a young botanist circa 1970 he surveyed the pasture grasses of the NSW western slopes. Apparently he was particularly interested in the native grasses, but his superiors weren’t so impressed by this focus (he says) and he didn’t continue in that job.

Australian pasture grasses are still underappreciated and poorly understood. Many graziers prefer introduced grasses, including disastrous weeds like Buffel grass.

Recently, Dad got me a secondhand copy of Fred Turner‘s 1895 book Australian Grasses (with illustrations). A few people are beginning to appreciate Australia’s native grass landscapes for not only their ecology but in some cases as drought-hardy plants for grazing livestock. Turner noted this exact potential in many native grasses, and promoting them was a major part of his book. It’s amazing (if a little depressing) how many of the themes he introduced 120 years ago are still current. Continue reading

DIY native grass lawn

Since the millenium drought, many gardeners and homeowners have had to reconsider the traditional Aussie suburban lawn. Or perhaps, if I remember my childhood accurately, have reverted to the more traditional version, which had patches of dust and dead grass through summers, and patches of ground as hard as concrete where it was well trodden — not soft emerald-green turf year-round. Perhaps it depends on where you grew up and how much you used the sprinkler.

Some have now renounced lawns completely. A waste of water! You could be growing vegetables there! Or, alternatively, why not astroturf it or concrete it? In the 1970s, white pebbles were fashionable as a rock mulch to replace lawns (they can look great, until a sea of weeds pops up between them).

Lawns have a legitimate function. You can sit on them and relax, the kids can play on them, the dog can sun itself, etc. They also keep your garden cool in the hot summer, unlike concrete and gravel and (ugh!) synthetic fake grass. And unlike concrete, they let the rain soak into the soil instead of creating a runoff/stormwater problem. And native animals may be attracted by them.

There’s no reason you have to have one, but since water-wise native lawns are possible, you don’t need to feel guilty for allocating some lawn space, even in the midst of water restrictions and drought. Continue reading