Lisa’s 5 Basic Rules of a Successful Gardener
With the depressing last blog I posted, with impeding doom and drought just shy of the locusts invading Austin, I thought at least a few solutions were in order. I have 5 basic rules to becoming a succesful garden and I have seen them work for over 20 years. After a recent trip for over a week returning home and expecting the worst during a record drought, I saw how amazing my back yard still looked (ck out the attached video taken two days ago) when my neighbors yards were near dead. It was proof to me that what I have been doing works. While I cannot promise you will get adequate rain and that the heat won’t be worse next year, I can promise that you will have better success then you have had in the past by following these basic rules.
I am torn here in one of those Chicken or the egg sort of scenarios where I really struggled with whether to say soil or plant first, as I really cannot see how you can have one without the other, but I am going to have to say that the 1st rule is to amend your soil. No, this isn’t going to require a PhD , it just means you are going to need to add a lot of organic matter. I have said this many times, “Compost can save the world”, and you need to think of your garden as the rain forest. Do you have adequate soil and organic matter? If you live in Central Texas, the short answer is no. Therefore you need to add copious amounts of Organic compost (organic matter), humus or Peat Moss (acid), a good quality dark potting soil with perlite (those white thingy’s that look like styrofoam and hold in moisture, make sure the soil is dark, not sandy beige) and cow, chicken or turkey manure. (as supplemental fertilizer and food for micro organisms and fungi). Every Spring I toss out a heapin helpin full of all of the above (I would say 1/2 compost and equal parts of the others to complete the other half) to give my plants a good start and to provide nutrients for the bacteria and fungi that support your plant and tree health. When I am through, I mulch heavily ( 2-4″). Always maintain at least 4 inches of mulch /organic matter on your beds, it helps to maintain the water content, it keeps the nutrients from being leached out by the sun and it protects the plant roots from the elements.
Now for the plant talk, there is no secret here. The 2nd rule is to only use native and adapted all the way!! Perennial plants that are indigenous to this area are successful because they belong here. Plants that are non native introduce pests, they have no checks and balances and can become invasive, and they have different soil and water requirements than native plants do. You can easily do your homework before you set out to find your plants so you won’t make expensive mistakes. The City Of Austin and the Agrilife extension office put out a free native plant booklet each year that you can carry in your car, you can access plenty of free sites like my FB page at Lisa’s Landscape & Design or you can hire a professional like me to lay out a design for you that includes a plant list. A design is a great way to know exactly what grows together, has the same water and light requirements and the proper placement of them. NEVER trust a landscaper who offers you a free design with install, not only do you pay for it later (figuratively and literally), but they will often get your plan off of a software program that plugs in plants from anywhere in the country, not only central Texas. I just returned from the Northeast and guess what, many of the same plants grow up there but have completely different light requirements because of our heat. There are also a lot of plants in those generic design programs that do not belong here at all. I design with the intention that you would never hire me at all for the install. I specialize in Xeriscape plants and I teach you how to do it yourself if you are so inclined. If you decide to hire a professional other than myself, at the very least you will know what you are bidding on. Remember when making plants choices for your yard that “full sun” is a minimum of 6 hours, “partial light” is morning Sun only and “shade” means SHADE!! The sun in TX is brutal, its not only hot, but it scorches. Also sooooo important, is spacing, if the plant is 3×3′ make sure no other plants are in its mature space. Just like people, plants need room to grow. Cramped plants are prone to disease, they need trimming to maintain their own space and they loose their structural integrity because they have to compete for light and food. It takes about 3 years for a mature plant and 7 years (or longer) for a mature tree to really take up it’s space. (one of my rules should probably be patience 😉
The 3rd rule is to make sure you are watering adequately. This does not mean you water all the time, it means that you water one day a week to the depth of one inch. You measure this amount with a rain gauge placed near your watering source, or simply by placing a tuna can or any flat sided vessel to measure how long it takes to get an inch, however long it takes (30 min, one hour, etc) is how long you water each section. The reason for this is that watering too frequently causes your plants roots to stay too close to the surface of the soil and in turn requires more water. (the same is true with sod) Collect rain in a rain barrel, the more barrels the better. City water is not adequate to raise healthy plants. Rain water is far superior and you will find that during the rainier seasons that you will not have to rely on city water at all. For every sq foot of roof space you have, only one inch of rain will collect .527 gallons, so for a 2000 sq ft roof, you can expect 1000 plus gallons from an inch of rain…that is a lot of water for free. For the first two years after planting you will need to water more frequently to be sure your plants and trees are established, after that, the weekly watering will do. Soaker hoses are also an excellent choice for your landscape beds. You get far less spray and inefficient watering you would get with irrigation and you know the water is going strait to the source. Never use a soaker hose longer than 25′ as anythign longer loses too mush pressure at the end and the watering becomes unreliable. Check your hoses every year for leaks and replace or repair torn or broken ones as needed.
The 4th rule is to go Organic. If you are using chemicals….Stop. There is an organic solution to almost everything. If there is not, or you cannot control your problems with organics, then resort to the other, not before. Most chemical fertilizers do FAR more harm than any good they could do. Slow release fertilizers are harmful to the eco system and due to our torrential rain events, most of it runs away anyway. The blue stuff is compounded with salt, after repeated use, the salt binds the nutrients in the soil making them insoluble to the plants. Weed and Feed kills everything, the timing is off on the fertilizer and weed killer, making one or the other useless, and the run off is killing our lakes streams and oceans. (hope you like Jelly Fish, they are the only ones who seem to survive the chemical wrath) I saw my neighbor this year waiving a bag of Weed and Feed in the air like an American flag to disburse his chemical warfare. About a week later, his whole front yard was dead….most people do not follow the true rate of application, making the chemical reaction and run off issues even worse. Compost your lawn, plants and trees in the Spring…DONE! If you want to do some residual fertilizing during the growing season, buy a large container of “Liquid Seaweed” fill up one of the hose sprayer attachments, attach to hose and spray everything, lawn, plants and trees, leaves and all with no worries about killing your plants. If a plant constantly gives you bug problems, get rid of it and replace it with one that is hardy. Sick plants introduce pests into your garden, once they are done with the troubled plant, they take residence on another. You will find most organic remedies now even at the big box stores and at the HEB in the seasonal isle. Remember that the chemicals you use are on/in your children, your pets and in the water you drink.
Now for the 5th and equally important rule, DO NOT TAKE ON MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE (and exercise some patience)!! Planting a larger space than you can care for is only setting you up for failure. Not to mention it is expensive if you lose it. Be positive about the garden space you plant, remember, you are inherently designed as a human to be a gardener. The reason you may not have been successful in the past is because you simply didn’t have the right information, not because you have a “black thumb”. Honestly that is a myth, people are unsuccessful in the garden for two reasons, either you don’t have the right info and/or experience, or you just really don’t care that much, maybe it’s just not your thang… 😉 If you desire to be successful, start with a small patch by removing some sod, do NOT use landscape fabric, that stuff is a weed magnet. If you would prefer not to take on the labor or cost of having your sod removed ( and frankly, unless your composting it, it isn’t “green” to haul it to a landfill) you can cover the new bed area (over the grass) with painters plastic and secure with landscape pins, ( look like huge staples) add soil mixture and mulch to 6″ in-depth and wait for the sun to kill the grass ( a few weeks). Be sure not to use this method on a hill as it will become a slip and slide. If this will work for you, yhe grass is pure nitrogen fertilizer so it is good for your soil. You can then either plants into the plastic (if you are not on a slope) by cutting large holes and making room for the plant that way, or you can remove the plastic in sections as you go returning the soil the space as you remove the plastic. This is something that can be done any time of year, and company’s like mine offer these services, or you can do it yourself. (note foundation rule below)
The basic five rules are really simple to use, follow my soil recipe up to 6 inches in depth at least, (if your bed is near the foundation, be sure you go deeper instead if taller, you should always stay 4″ below the foundation line of your home) plant the right plants, native and adapted, with the proper spacing and water (being mindful that new plants up to the first two years need a lot more water than a mature plant) and use only organic methods of fertilizer and pest control. Be sure to take on your new garden with a good attitude and an experimental mindset. Plants have an energy and they feel energies. If you believe you will be successful,…you will. If you have failures, embrace them, they are opportunities for growth. Gardening is a roller coaster….enjoy the ride 😉
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
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- Posted in: Central Texas Gardens ♦ Chemical Free ♦ Compost ♦ Eco Friendly ♦ Gardening ♦ Mulch ♦ Native and Adapted Plants ♦ Native and Adapted Trees ♦ Organic Gardening ♦ Water Wise ♦ Xeriscape
- Tagged: Austin Texas, Avery Ranch, Compost, conservation, easy gardening, Gardening, gardening tips, Landscape Design tips, Organic Gardening, plant selection, Water Wise