Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Mosquito repellent Landscape

Plant suggestions for a mosquito repellant Landscape in Austin. Native or adapted, low water and deer resistant.

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Yes, We Have No Banana’s!

You’re not in Kansas anymore baby-doll, this terrain isn’t for the weak or the weary. It’s hot as hell, the only rain we get is all on the same day and the ground parts that aren’t rock are clay and/or builders dirt (aka, Red Death. There is a reason we don’t have basements here, the dirt is only an inch deep.

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As bad as the dirt is already, there’s nothing worse for Central Texas gardeners from an ecological or labor intensive standpoint, than to introduce plants that just don’t belong here. YES, we have no banana’s! This is not the tropics. I’m glad “your neighbor has them”, but they do not belong here, they spread voraciously in all the wrong ways, freeze to the ground in winter and rarely fruit. And, you planted them why?

With all the amazing native and adapted, non-invasive plant, shrub and tree choices, it is frankly negligent to introduce plants that do not belong in our ECO system. (look up Ligustrum, Chinese Tallow, Kudzu, Nandina Domestica or Heavenly Bamboo) So aside from choosing the local Flora, here are some really great tips for a successful Central Texas Garden, (zone 8) or whatever planting zone you’re in,

  1. Install local plants, and buy locally from nurseries who make the effort to have them on supply and only use contractors/designers who know native or adapted, water wise plants. Why not use the plants that thrive in your area, they’ve obviously already approved of your soil conditions.
  2. Mulch your beds deeply each fall and top dress them each spring after you compost, or buy mixed  material and maintain a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Do not compost in the fall as we’re not encouraging growth. It’s sleepy time 😉
  3. Plant in mass for stability and impact. The Texas sun is hot and having a plant every 5 feet keeps them on a hot island, alone. Mass planting helps with soil erosion and loss of nitrogen and moisture.
  4. DO NOT OVER PLANT, less is more…”which is it lady?” Both, plant in mass but don’t over do it. Properly space your plants such that there is room to walk between most of them but not enough room to add a bench, and not so close they become a blob.
  5. It is what it is. You’re not in Cali, or Louisiana, or New Hampshire, or my original hood, “Chicago”; it is Texas, two blocks from the sun and harder than the Rock of Gibraltar. Amend your soil by adding quality compost, raised bed soils or dark, rich top soil as often as you can afford it until you see a difference in the texture of your working soil. This can take years so be patient and only bite off a little at a time so beds are manageable.
  6. Be Organic in every way. This isn’t a fad, it is thousands of years old and the same techniques are used today. They are cheaper, safer and more effective over all and you’re not killing your soil or yourself while you do it. Now, that’s not to say you can drink them, just that you won’t burn your dogs paws or babies feet when they walk in liquid seaweed.
  7. Choose plants that excite you and entice you into the garden!!! Here are a few off the top of my head…

 

  oh yeah, and these…

 

 

If you’re not excited about the Texas flora now, you’ll probably want to move 😉

In the mean time, you can contact me at lisalapaso@gmail.com for a landscape consultation or design and see why I think Texas native and adapted, low water, low maintenance plants are” what’s up” in a modern Hill Country landscape.  You can find inspiration everywhere if you just look!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

Creating a Sun Chart for Your Landscape

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.

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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 lisalapaso@gmail.com to set up your Landscape Consultation.

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

Cotoneaster, Say it 3 Times Fast!

20180423_161118Cotoneaster, ( pronounced, “ca-tony-aster” ) is one of the most underused, awesome shrubs plants in Central Texas in my opinion.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 lisalapaso@gmail.com!

Summertime, Is Your Landscape Easy?

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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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 LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”