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”
Drift Rose is an outstanding, easy care rose selection for Austin and the surrounding area which is zone 8, and for those of you from hardiness zones 4 to 11. I am a huge fan of this full sun, low water, low maintenance rose and I cannot say enough great things about the prolific bloom and disease resistant foliage. If you love roses and don’t want the bother of a traditional tea rose, this is an obvious choice.
The Drift Rose is considered a carpet rose or ground cover rose because of its short, compact stature. At mature growth, it spans from about 18 inches tall to about 2.5’ to 3‘ wide and stays evergreen, even in the worst freezes I’ve seen here so far.
The colors are varied and I have found that the Coral, Red and Peach Drift (shown below) are the hardiest for drought tolerant beds in full sun. The others such as white and yellow (Popcorn) seem to “peter out” a bit on blooms comparatively, but you should certainly give them a try if you’re looking for a certain color.
I am in love with the peach because it is 3 colors in one. It has the coral, pink and yellow hues and vary from stem to stem in color. It also has a little more sizable bloom than its brighter red and orange counterparts.
The red starts out bright red and can lean into a pinker hue once the blooms are spent. This plant is perfect as a specimen or planted in mass for impact with a stunning pop of color.
Coral (below) is a stunning pop of color in the landscape and the flowers last all season long.
You shouldn’t have to trim your Drift Roses if you place them properly, but if you do, cut them during growing season as needed. These make an excellent border plant in mass and really put on a show.
This rose is so carefree I’m really not sure why it isn’t on the Earthkind list yet. For other great low maintenance and low water, disease roses check out this page for easy care roses you may enjoy as well.
Winter and early spring are great times to plant your new roses, and here is how you properly plant them.
If you’re not excited enough already. Check out my video on why you should be!
If you are in the Austin Texas or surrounding area and would like some help with the perfect plant choices for your space, based on light requirements and education on all things gardening, or a hand drawn Landscape Design, contact me at 512-733-7777, or email me for more information or to make an appointment at email@example.com. You will also find a lot of great information of my Facebook page or YouTube channel.
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
”Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll have noticed two huge themes, I don’t like big fat lawns and I don’t like stabby stuff. I am a bit of an anomaly in that I love to garden, but the garden doesn’t always love me. I have horrible seasonal allergies, I am sun and heat sensitive and I’ve learned a mad respect for the plant world and its ability to remind us who’s really in charge. There are some great clues when plants don’t really want you to mess with them and here are a few to help you out.
Does your tree look like the hulk in tiny pants? It’s because they don’t want those pants on. Trees hate your tree rings, and they don’t appreciate your sense of style. I like to remind people that covering a trees bark in a foot or more of soil is a lot like covering your feet in wet soil for months (and years) then see how you hold up. The tree bark rots away in the tomb of fill dirt which promotes pest issues. Eventually, if the tree is lucky enough to continue to defy nature, it will break through the barrier looking for some freedom. Much like the hulk. If you must have a structured hardscape around your trees, make it huge around and only one stone high. Never cover the base of the tree above the root collar.
Some plants are dangerous when ingested. The plant below, Datura Moonflower is also called jimsonweed, and it gets a bad wrap because people used it for a hallucinogenic and some I guess liked it, and some I guess, died. Now I don’t know about you, but if I knew that 2 seeds is a good buzz and 3 seeds is death, it’s not for doing. So if you decide to eat something, know what it is and check your sources.
This is a Moonflower seed pod. It speaks for itself 🙂 handle with care. So I say grow the plant and enjoy the glory of it all, then don’t eat it and wear gloves when handling the seed pods. To me, it’s worth it.
This big guy below is another Austin favorite that people love to plant 3 feet from their front door, not realizing the thing is the size of a Volkswagen Bug when mature. Now, it’s right by the door and you realize in order to hack back the offending fronds you’ll have to put your hands in the shark’s mouth. This baby has multiple rows of serrated teeth that are reversed on the stem to do optimal damage when you pull away from the Sago Palm plant. Cycads are awnry in general so consider that when choosing one.
I should also mention the Sago Palm is a notorious Dog killer and they seem to find it tasty for some reason, so if you have a tenacious dog, don’t plant it. If you do plant it, make sure you have room for it out of the way from people.
Here is the “OGP” because it is truly an original gangster plant. One of the most toxic on the planet, all parts of this plant from stem to stern can kill you if ingested. Oleander used to be a go-to plant in Austin if you were looking for something fast growing. It eventually got some crazy disease and they were wiped out for the most part and perhaps rightfully so. you’ll still see them for sale, so buyer beware.
The shot below is a two-fer. Not only is this Agave just waiting to skewer a passer by, it is also a fire dragon waiting to strike. Much like its spiney margined predecessors, it too is serrated along the margin edge and each tip sports a 3 inch needle. As if this isn’t exciting enough, some people are allergic to the liquid inside but only find out when they cut into the giant whale and experience a searing pain described to me as being “set ablaze”. Leaving huge water filled blisters that can take weeks to heal.
The spiney cactus to the right above, also have their own arsenal of weaponry just waiting to strike when you least expect it. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone go aww, like it was all cute and fuzzy, then reach to touch it only to curse themselves when they realized they just injected themselves with a zillion stabby hairlike needles too small to even see in your skin.
Plants like palms, Agave and stabby guys like these need to be used judiciously in the landscape, I never recommend these plants be used where kids and pets are an issue.
Stabby, spiney weeds like those above are also milk producing plants that can cause an allergic reaction and it’s spiney margin can cause a rash as well. Always wear gloves, a weed popper or just kick the tops off these little jerks. Fact is that the roots of most of these plants can’t live without the tops, so take out your frustrations whenever you see them and give them a good swift kick (with good shoes on of course )
Some plants like the Confederate Jasmine are actually not true jasminoids. If you’ve ever trimmed one you’ve noticed they ooze a white milky substance as they are actually members of the milkweed family. Some people are allergic and don’t even know it. Always wear gloves when handling these plants if you’re not sure because reactions to plant allergies can be anything from an itchy rash to anaphylactic shock. Protect your clothing because the milk can turn black on your clothes in the wash.
Above, roses are beautiful and for the most part care free if you choose Earth Kind or heirloom varieties, but even the easiest rose can be a beast when it comes to grooming. Leather Rose Gloves and long sleeves are a must for this chore because not only do the thorns stab your skin, they can also inject a fungal disease in you that can be quite serious. Better safe than sorry…wear the gloves.
Below, there is a plethora of stabby and spikey plants that frankly I’m not a huge fan of in my garden because I’ve had to handle to many of them, though I’ve seen them in beautiful designs that I enjoy. I don’t like them in general when dogs and kids are part of the equation, or any place used for public consumption. If you have a large property and deer and water are an issue, these are a great choice away from foot traffic.
The Euphorbia above (at the bottom of this photo) can cause a wicked rash and blisters on your skin by simply scraping across it. Much like Agave which is a notorious fire breather, caution is key. I’ve learned to respect the power of these monsters and while I know I get along with tequila (Agave) really well, I’m not sure if that’s any indicator so I’m not about to find out.
Below, this tree has become the bully on the playground. Don’t let your trees, plants and shrubs take out their unruliness on your neighbors. Not only could those low limbs take an eye out, it is certainly not very welcoming.
On the topic of bullies, let’s talk parasites. Check your plants and trees for unwanted visitors and hire an insured and educated tree person/Arbor to treat them as organically as possible. For example, mistletoe below left, is a parasitic plant that needs to be cut away and ball moss (below left) in mass should be removed. Ball moss in small doses are no big deal, but when you start getting so many it is choking out branches, it’s time for removal. They are air plants that are easily plucked. Mistletoe steals nutrients from the tree, Ball Moss chokes out the sun and the trees ability to feed itself through photosynthesis.
If you have a Crepe Myrtle, never crop it. It’s a sure way to have deformed limbs that produce half the flowers and are now structurally damaged. If you want your trees to be happy and healthy, educate yourself and only hire educated people to care for your trees so they don’t eventually end up with anger issues. The one on the right was never cropped and is definitely a happier tree.
So the moral of the story is not to scare the hell out of you so you don’t go outside, but to remind you that nature is a force to be reckoned with and respected.
Plants are dangerous because of user error. (above, the curb is about 2 feet the other direction, so this is a lawsuit waiting to happen). Plants are not going to break in and get you, but they will check you if you don’t respect them. Plant responsibly, learn to ID plants like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. If you have an allergic reaction to any plant, look up the family of the plant so you can avoid them in the future. Plants families can have vastly different features so look them up.
If you choose to live dangerously, the best defense along with education is protective gear. Always wear protective clothing in the landscape like glasses, hat, gloves and good shoes or boots instead of flip-flops. If you’re a little more subdued in your approach, you’re in luck, because there are at least a hundred more non stabby, plants and trees to choose from, that are also native and adapted to Central Texas! If you need help with plant choices, making a total plan, or just need someone to run ideas past, check out my list of services and give me a call.
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”