Discovery Green Not As Green As It Had Been, Drive on to Replace the Grass

It was a problem they never thought they'd have. Houston, with more annual rainfall than Seattle, has always been a green city. All the careful plans that went into executing downtown Houston's Discovery Park never accounted for the possibility that the faucet would be turned off.

But last summer's unending drought meant the folks in charge of Discovery Green had a tough decision to make. With a city-ordered restriction on water, with limits in its own budget, they decided to save the live oak trees and the landscape beds but let the grass survive or not on its own.

Well, as science experiments go, it was pretty definitive. If you don't water grass over days upon days of scorching heat and no rainfall, the grass doesn't just go dormant, it goes dead.

Discovery Green is trying to raise $25,000 in a "Grow the Green" campaign to cover the costs of replanting the park's grass -- about 20,000 square yards -- to re-sod the expanses of dirt left behind when the zoysia grass gave up the ghost.

And before you are inclined to say something along the lines of "throwing good money after bad" -- given that forecasters have said the drought may return in force this summer -- know this: Clark Curry, the operations director for Discovery Green, says they're better prepared this year.

For one thing, they're moving to a different kind of grass. St. Augustine was always out because "it just can't handle the foot traffic" the downtown park invites, Curry said. They were planting zoysia, but "it hasn't proved to take..." Curry said.

So what they're moving to is "Tif sport Bermuda," a hybrid turf grass that stays low and can better handle Houston's heat, Curry said. As its name might indicate, it's used a lot on sports fields, primarily golf courses, he said.

Also corrected have been last year's irrigation system problems, he said. Whether because of the three high-rises that came in nearby or some other factor, they discovered the water pressure just wasn't there to cover the intended areas in the more than 100 zones that cross the park's lawns. That resulted in rings of brown where the sprinkler water fell short, he said.

"The system is designed for 55 to 60 pounds per square inch of pressure," Curry said. "It was coming in at 25 to 51 at the max, with an average of 40." They've made some adjustments that should up the pressure, he said.

Because of visitors during the day and into the evening, Curry says they water at 11 p.m. or midnight. They also have to aerate four times a year because all the people walking on the lawn compact the soil, meaning after a while water runs off it instead of soaking into the ground.

The ampitheater slope will be tackled in July, but the picnic lawn won't be replanted until September, after school starts and summer foot traffic is gone, he said. Discovery Green is asking for donations of all sizes for its Grow the Green campaign, and those who chip in by May 1 will be recognized on Facebook.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing