Dawn Stover, an agronomist at NRCS's East Texas Plant Materials Center worked with the city of Nacogdoches, Texas, to create a more sustainable entrance to the city using a native plant mix that requires less maintenance and is also a beautiful welcome to visitors.
By: Dee Ann Littlefield, Public Affairs Specialist, Henrietta, Texas
Nestled in the pines of Texas’ eastern boundary, Nacogdoches is known as “The Oldest Town in Texas.” The city also boasts the title of the “Garden Capital of Texas” with more green spaces per capita than any other town in Texas. But even with its extensive network of beautiful gardens and nature trails, there was one green space creating an issue for the city: the entrance to the town on State Highway 59.
The area at the city's entrance was covered with coastal Bermuda grass, which demanded extensive mowing in the growing season, and then was dull and dead in the winter months. This not only consumed valuable time but also strained the city's financial resources, as staff had to invest significant effort in maintaining the area. Recognizing the need for a more impressive and sustainable entrance to reflect its “Garden Capital” title, the town decided to revamp the area.
The town turned to Dawn Stover, an agronomist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) East Texas Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Nacogdoches. A former horticulturalist with Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Stover had networked with city officials on projects in the past and had some ideas on what would work well for this situation.
Collaborating with PMC Coordinator Alan Shadow, Stover was able to bring her vision to life. Stover knew that native plants would provide a viable solution to the coastal Bermuda grass problem.
“Native, seasonal plants are adapted for the area and require little to no maintenance,” Stover said. “Plus, they can be exceptionally beautiful during all months of the year.”
Stover's expertise in horticulture allowed her to identify cool and warm season native plant varieties that would not only provide a visually impressive entrance during all four seasons of the year, but also would thrive in the local climate and require and less watering. Preparation of the site, included two growing season herbicide applications in 2022, followed by a final, cool season application a week prior to planting on February 24, 2023. Beneficial seasonal rains came in after planting, giving the seeds just the boost they needed to take root.
With the seed mix recommendation from Dawn, the city purchased black-eyed susans, Indian Blanket seeds (provided by the E. “Kika” de la Garza PMC) in Kingsville , and phlox as colorful annual wildflowers in the mix. Stover pointed out that grasses are also an important component for the stability and longevity of the mix. A large portion of the grass seeds planted were made up of seeds produced in all three of NRCS’ Plant Materials Centers across the state and also in Kansas.
The East Texas PMC provided Crockett Germplasm herbaceous mimosa, Neches Germplasm splitbeard bluestem and Coastal Plains Germplasm little bluestem. The James E. “Bud” Smith PMC in Knox City provided Santiago Germplasm silver bluestem and Cibolo Germplasm little barley seeds in the mix. The E. “Kika” de la Garza PMC contributed Chaparral Germplasm hairy gram and Duval Germplasm red lovegrass seeds for the project. Even the Kansas PMC in Manhattan got to be involved by providing their ‘El Reno’ side-oats grama seeds.
“The PMCs develop and release seeds that are uniquely fitted specifically for the soil types and climate for different regions of the United States, said NRCS State Resource Conservationist Charles Kneuper. “The seeds provided by these four plant materials centers were critical to the long term success of the project.”
By strategically choosing plants that mature at different times, Stover ensured that the display would maintain its beauty and visual interest throughout the year. This thoughtful selection of native varieties not only adds aesthetic appeal but also contributes to the overall health and resilience of the landscape.
The colors, textures, and diversity of the plants create a visually appealing landscape that captivates residents and visitors alike. Moreover, the reduced maintenance needs of the new planting have freed up valuable resources for the city, allowing them to allocate time and funds to other important projects. Additionally, native plants provide habitat and food sources for local wildlife, contributing to the overall ecological health of the area.
With Shadow's guidance and Stover's coordination, the town of Nacogdoches transformed its entrance into a showcase of native plant diversity. The new display also promotes sustainable landscaping practices and conservation of local flora and fauna.
“The result is even better than I expected,” Stover said. “The spring wildflowers have been so exceptional people pull over on the side of the road to take pictures. It’s been popular on local social media posts.”
The result of their efforts is a remarkable transformation. The native plant display has enhanced the city's entrance, showcasing the natural beauty of the region. The collaboration between the NRCS, the East Texas PMC , and the city of Nacogdoches serves as a shining example of the positive impact that can be achieved through partnerships focused on sustainable practices. By prioritizing native plants and implementing a low-maintenance design, they have not only beautified the city's entrance but also demonstrated the importance of conserving natural resources.