Texas sun, is not like other sun. Yes, I know it is the same one…but I have traveled all over the country and lived here for 35 years and I’m telling you, Texas has a special kind of sun conditions for people and plants. Much like the desert heat, we get intensely long days with hot temperatures, but in Austin specifically, we don’t cool at night and our poor plants are subjected to extremes from drought, to gully washers, to windy to stiflingly humid. If this isn’t bad enough we’re planting them in rocks, clay or both. Seeing as we’re asking so much of our plants and trees already, the least we could do is to plant them in the correct light.
One of the most common mistakes aside from placing plants too close to one another, or choosing plants that are too big for the space when mature, is choosing the wrong plants for the light conditions you have. A full sun plant in a deep shade yard is pretty much a swing and a miss no matter how you look at it. You will have a leaning plant reaching for sun, that is vulnerable to pests and may never bloom.
The easiest way to avoid this costly mistake is to create a sun chart for your front, sides and back yard in one of two simple ways. The first is to take photos every two hours or so on a day when you are home. So for example, you would take a 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 2:00 and so on until the sun goes down. You would catch the light in each space you are desirous of creating new beds in, then watch for the light conditions to change one way or the other. The other option is to use a drawing of your space and/or the beds you are planning and create a chart as I show below to demonstrate the hours of full sun to part shade to full shade. Below, the sun-dial from this property survey shows that the landscape in the front beds will have a lot of shade in the day and the left side of the bed will have full afternoon sun. This is a complicated plant profile and it would be difficult to plan without knowing the hours of direct sunlight. These areas will have to have plants that do well in sun to shade. The diagram below would allow you to “plug in” plants in your design where they are most suitable for each space.
If you only have a mostly shady spot that just happens to get full sun in a section of your yard from 2:00 -5:00 like the lower left corner of this drawing (above) then that tells you, you cannot use a full shade plant because that sucker is gonna cook like an egg on a sidewalk in the blazing, late day, Texas heat. Shade plants are delicate and they are not going to survive an afternoon heat blast. However, there are plants that will take a beating in those conditions and it may require some homework to know who they are. Off the top of my head a few plants that will tolerate such punishment are Rock Rose Pavonia, Turks Cap and Mexican Honey Suckle. After you create your sun chart you can begin to find the right plants by Googling “sun plants for Central Texas”, or call a landscape professional like me for a landscape consultation or design ;). In the mean time, here are some plants that tolerate, or thrive in shade to sun in Central Texas.
So before you begin your next landscape project, beds or tree planting, consider the light hours you have each day. A full sun plant needs at least 6 hours of full sun to bloom prolifically. Shade plants and some part sun plants, cannot take hot afternoon sun at all so buy native and adapted plants for your hardiness zones (in Austin we are zone 8) so you know that the “full sun” tag really means, “Texas Sun”.
So, as you can see in the photos above, each yard has very unique light conditions. Varying from full sun, to full shade and everything in between. A landscape design has to have continuity with plants, color and texture so it makes sense throughout the space. By taking photos of your yard at various times of the day you can see exactly how many hours of sunlight each bed will get and where. Then layout your plant list/design to suit each space by choosing native and adapted plants for your sunlight hours, plants that have the same water requirements (low and xeriscape), and of course the right size, then be sure there is seasonal color, texture and interest throughout the year.
if you’re in, or around the Austin area and would love to just have someone provide you with a custom plant list or custom designbased on your light and design preferences, give me a call or text at 512-733-7777, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your Landscape Consultation.
Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
Cotoneaster, ( pronounced, “ca-tony-aster” ) is one of the most underused, awesome shrubs plants in Central Texas in my opinion.
I love this funky shrub because it just goes wherever the hell it wants to. And while you can find this jewel from carpet/mounding to upright like this guy, they can be difficult to find so check your local nurseries. They are super for hardiness zones 4 -8, hardy in our freezes, evergreen, flowering, with winter berries and great looks all year, what more do you want?
Well, if you are an organized type, this may not be the plant for you. Ranging in size from 2 x 3’ (shorter varieties), to 4 to 5’ x 7 to 8’, you can train it to your hearts desire, (doesn’t like to be a box) or just let it do its thang. There really seems to be no rhyme or reason why the stems go where they go and to me, that’s what makes it so awesome in the landscape.
I have trained them up trellis and I have let them blob out into sidewalks. One of the most attractive qualities of this plant is its “I’ll just go this way” personality.
The Cotoneaster is great evergreen texture and interest when you’re trying to hide utilities and don’t want to trim. Below, I have trimmed along the sidewalk a few times in the last 2.5 years and that was mostly to make it grow taller at first, it seems to have taken the hint and grows upright mostly now.
This cool dude, is part shade to sun and perfect for Xeriscape gardens, fast growing, and makes a great evergreen backdrop for perennial color.
if you’re looking for other great plants in the Central Texas or surrounding area, call or text me for a Design/Landscape Consultation at 512-733-7777, or email me at email@example.com!
In the legendary words of Ms. Ella Fitzgerald, summer should be for chillin. This time of year in Central Texas it is hot as a frying pan. I don’t know about you, but I am not a huge fan. Therefor, I’m not going out there much to garden and do yard work. I think there are general rules about the garden for me. I want to work in it when it’s cooler, not too hot, not too cold, just right. Call me a garden princess (or silver/auburn locks;) if you will, but it is possible for the most part with a few basic instructions .
As you can see from above, I like lots of color and texture. This may not be your bag. Keeping large beds for you to grow weeds in is not a good use of your time. Therefore, you need to keep them full of plants or they will be filled by Mother Nature with weeds. You’re better off leaving grass if you don’t plan on weeding your beds occasionally as needed. As needed, for someone in the middle of a subdivision, will not be the same as someone who lives adjacent to a Greenbelt, so keep them in mind when planning. I usually spend about 10 or 15 minutes each week to hand pull the weeds and that seems to work well for me.
The best defense against weeds in beds (aside from plant coverage) is deep mulch. I’m talking 4-6 inches of natural shredded mulch. Avoid colors like red and black. The best defense against weeds in your lawn is to mow, mow, mow! Allowing weeds to go to seed (above) and establish over the winter months if going to be a gift that keep on giving. Mow every 7 to 10 days max for weed control.
Above, less is more when your grass is doing well. I say, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Shade has a super challenging plant profile so if you don’t have to water the grass a lot, leave the grass, it’s less maintenance. Below, the sun was so brutal, the compromise of drought resistant plants and herbs along with an intentional spot of grass makes more sense. it becomes a work of art and a place you look forward to maintaining.
If you have a lot of sun or shade hours, make sure you choose the right plants for the light conditions. A plant that is never happy will always be maintenance. It is also really important to choose the correct plants and trees that are native or adapted to your environment. If a plant needs too much work, get rid of it. If you have oversized shrubs you have to constantly trim, get rid of them or turn them into trees or a work of art.
Composting your lawn and beds will also make your maintenance a lot less in the summer. Compost only works if you’re organic, so bone up on some organic fertilizers and general care and you will reap the rewards for generations to come. Chemical fertilizers and weed control kill your soil and the beneficial fungi that connects your plants for the greater good (Google Mycorrhizal Fungi). Creating a symbiotic relationship throughout your entire property allows each plant to benefit from one another. That can only happen with an organic protocol and here are some of my faves.
Compost your beds each spring 1 to 2 inches and compost your entire lawn and trees 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Use the compost to fill in ruts and bald spots as well.
If you have big mama shrubs that cannot be “reclaimed”, it may be a good idea to start over. When I’m designing I will always salvage as much of the existing landscape as I possibly can. Try to find the names of the oversized shrubs you have, and see if you can “rebuild them”.
Below, these shrubs are eating up the house and have been too poorly trimmed for any structural “comeback”, so I removed most of them and started over…
Below, Now, the house is the star of this show and when these plants mature, they will proportionate in size to the scale of the home without unnecessary maintenance.
Many times you may just need to do some weeding out and choose the strongest and most interesting plants that have the most potential, then you may need to change the way you maintain them. For example, some big shrubs can be turned into trees and no longer require as much maintenance.
Obviously, the topiary on the left is the most maintenance and the one on the right is the least. Choose wisely.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is to install river rock in place of lawn to reduce maintained. RIVER ROCK IS NO WATER, NOT, NO MAINTENANCE, I recommend a 4mil painters plastic beneath rock-work for weed control as long as it’s not on a slope. Landcape fabric burns off after about 2 summers in rock. Either way, prepare to pull weeds. The bottom right is a neighbor who thought he could place rock and poison it with Round Up every six months. No Bueno. Weeding each week takes a few minutes, waiting months causes this.
Finally, conserving water is awesome, but don’t be so stingy you lose your lawn and shrubs. Erosion and weeds will become an issue and you’re better off watering every 10 days deeply than not at all. Beds along your foundation are beneficial because the moisture keeps the foundation from expansion in the heat.
Moral to the story is to keep it manageable by weeding once a week for 10 minutes, or come home from Austin traffic and kick the crap out of some weed beds before you go in the house. Keep the lawn if you don’t want to pull weeds, mow often and be organic about it. If you want to reduce your lawn (and I hope you do), you’ll reduce your water by using evergreen, low water, low maintenance plants that belong here. Then water enough to keep it alive so you don’t have to replace it. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, add small beds at a time and make sure you can care for them. Once you have success, add more, and so on. Or don’t…
It’s really that simple…
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
So, spring is over and you’ve allowed another season to go by without making the progress you had hoped for? Or maybe you were overzealous and made some “interesting” choices you are now unsure of and its too hot to do much about it. Whatever your trepidation or reason for delay, you are in luck, because summertime is the best time for a design.
Summer is the best time because your yard is in full bloom, the trees have their leaves and you can really see what you have to work with and what needs to be removed. Once you discern what is working and what is not, you can study the correct plants and planting techniques and design for yourself on the myriad of software tools and such, or you can hire a qualified landscape designer, consultant like myself, to begin your desired transformation.
Summer is the best time to determine your true light at the hottest part of the day, or that you have way more shade than you realized now that your trees have grown in. Grass removal and/or bed preparation, construction, patios, privacy issues and drainage are great summer projects as well. A detailed design that includes dimensions and plant quantities can be plan to follow over years as your budget allows or to pass over to contractors for an accurate and comparable bid.
An “average” design in and around Austin, TX ranges from $650-$1500ish and can set you in the right direction real quick. A design includes a personalized consultation that allows me to get into your head and really understand your needs and desires while. After we speak (usually 30 minutes or so), I will collect your property survey (for accurate measurements), take photos and ask you for a sun chart to better understand your light requirements in various places throughout the yard. This helps me coordinate the plant palette with the proper plants for your conditions, while creating continuity in colors and textures throughout the landscape.
A typical design takes me a 3 to 4 weeks after I receive your light schedule and any requested measurements or detail. this is a timely process because I think and rethink, then design and re-design in my mind’s eye or whatever, until I finally sit down to the drawing board and make magic happen. The design includes a list of plants to be used and a layout provides a final result of plants at their maturity. The plants are laid in a grid system so that you can do the installation yourself, hire me to do your installation or hire anyone else for that matter. It also allows you to take several years to complete the project with a grand overview.
Finding the right designer is important because you need to be on the same page. If you choose one like me who specializes in native and adapted plants for your area, you can be sure they will be low water, low maintenance for life in Central Texas. With our growing population in Austin and the surrounding area, we need to use only low water, low maintenance plants. Hardscapes such as stonework and metal are drawn to concept only, and approximate measurements are included. if you have a large concrete project, you may require a landscape architect or civil engineer depending on your topography, so take your time and do your homework. Changing the grade or slope of your property with poorly installed landscapes, patios or pools can be costly to you and neighbors.
Once you have chosen your plants and created the design, you may also need some instruction on how to care for your landscape through the seasons. I am devoted to the success of your landscape and hope that all my clients will be successful. For me, a client is for life. you should be able to ask follow-up questions for years to come so that you will be inspired to help those around you and develop a love of gardening. At the very least you will have a sense of pride and ownership that goes along with the understanding of the landscape you have installed. Be sure that whomever you use is a real plant specialist who is familiar with a large breath of plants, shrubs and trees for your area. If they can’t name at least 10 of your neighborhood plants, send them packing. anyone can draw a picture of a landscape, it takes a plants specialist to create a landscape design. Xeriscape means low water, and after 20 years in the Central Texas Landscape, I know it doesn’t have to be cactus.
If you’re in the Austin or surrounding area, I can be reached by phone at (512)733-7777, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a list of my services.
Lisa’s Landscape & Design (“like” me on Facebook!)
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
Check me out on YouTube!
One of the most important and intriguing classes I’ve ever taken in my landscape education, was about the soil. It is the foundation and the environmental anchor of the landscape. If your soil isn’t healthy, your garden will suffer.
Much like our own bodies, we will only get out of it, what we put in. (Above is a nutrient poor clay and rock dirt, with little to offer much more than weeds.) If we are eating chemical laden foods, and sugar filled liquids instead of foods rich in minerals and proper hydration, we will not have the energy we need to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Plants are the same way; the success of trees, shrubs and plants depends on the health of your soil and the soluble nutrients it provides to your plants.
Above is a compost rich, amended soil that is rich with food for healthy fungi like the “white webbing” (Insert Billy Idol music) you see below the mulch. These fungi are called Mycorrhizal fungi or Mycorrhizae and this is a network of food to and from your plants via those little webs. Compost is also home to earth worms whose castings and aeration are extremely beneficial to your soil. Compost is an excellent way to assure your plants health inexpensively, with a huge reward and return in blooms and overall production. Compost chelates chemical damage from soil, adds vital nutrients for plants, fungi and healthy bacteria, increases aerobic properties and increases drainage and moisture retention in soil. Compost also conditions existing soil by encouraging microbial growth there as well. You will also notice your mulch will disappear a little faster and you will have mushrooms after the rain, but that process is the same decomposition that happens in the rain forest and no one is using chemicals to grow things there. So use organic whenever possible.
Now, all that being said, if you are still using chemical fertilizers or weed controls you will not benefit long term as much as you will from compost and organic protocols. Reason being, some of the chemicals and binders, including salt, can kill the microbes and healthy fungi, leaving your plants and lawn dependent on more chemicals. Once you go completely organic with amendments like compost, liquid seaweed, molasses, liquid compost, corn gluten, corn meal, granite sand and other essential minerals, you will create a symbiotic relationship with your soil and plants. Hose end application or granular feeding make organic feed and pest control easy to use and most are safe for your children and animals too. These products are all Lulu approved.
If you do nothing else, compost your trees, lawns and beds. There were a few years when I had two young boys with Autism and a myriad of my own health issues where all I could afford monetarily and emotionally was to compost each spring. It added to the soil depth, provided food and helped carry over watering since my yard was without irrigation. It made an extraordinary difference in the conditioning of the soil, tree growth and flower production.
I recommend you aerate your lawn at last every few years, annually if your soil is compacted, and compost your lawn to the depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch every spring once the day time temps are in the 70’s. Once day temps are in the upper 80’s it is getting hot enough for nitrogen damage. Many commercial compost’s contain animal manure and it has a higher nitrogen content that can burn your lawn and plants. So in Central Texas, I say you should be done with commercial composting by, or shortly after tax day.
These are my composter’s (above) because I’m in a tight space and I don’t want to encourage critters with an open compost system. They are great, but they really don’t make enough for a standard Austin yard, so you will most likely need bags to finish the job unless your space is pretty small. The good news is, homemade compost can be used safely all year without a concern of burning as long as no meat products are used.
This is the compost I used this year, I transfer it to a wheel burrow then distribute it about 1/2 inch all over my whole property and deeper in ruts in the lawn, and veggie beds. Unlike chemical applications that harm the whole planet, organics, used responsibly, are safe for the whole family, including pets, watersheds, and Mother Nature.
Now go get your compost on!
Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”