xeriscaping

February Tip: Seven principles of Xeriscaping

pam-penick-water-saving-garden-book-austin-garden-blog-There are seven fundamental garden design principles that define that define what we call xeriscaping, water-wise gardening or drought tolerant landscaping.  They serve to maximize water conservation through a simple set of steps that are easy to undertake. They include:

  • Proper planning
  • Soil improvement
  • Fitting plant selections
  • Practical lawn choices
  • Efficient Irrigation
  • Correct use of mulch
  • Proper maintenance

It may be hard for some to visualize a drought-tolerant garden that doesn’t scream desert.  It can be so much more than using only cacti and agaves in a rock bed – unless that’s the look you want. There are many lush, green, and brightly blooming xeric native and well-adapted plants from which to choose when creating a water-wise garden.

In Pam Penick’s newly released book, The Water-saving Garden – How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water, she provides homeowners with both practical tips and beautiful water-saving design options in the garden.

Penick, a blogger and author who gardens in Austin, has traveled extensively to learn about drought-tolerant techniques and styles across the country.

According to Penick, there is no single “right way” to plant a garden that saves water.  Her focus is on planting thoughtfully, using drought-tolerant plants, grouping plants by water needs, and making the most of the natural rain you have in your garden.

Read The Full Article

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:56+00:00 March 25th, 2016|Tips|0 Comments

Use water-wise tips to create a low-maintenance, beautiful, xeric garden

It’s back. As of last week, we are officially back in drought status. Our unseasonably warm and dry winter (what happened to the wet and cold forecast of El Nino?), means it’s probably time to make some serious changes in your landscape.

Not watering your garden at all isn’t much of an option since everything will die and look awful. Your neighbors will hate you and your home value will tank.

Pouring concrete or removing everything except rocks to cover your whole landscape isn’t much of an option either. But there are many choices short of those two dramatic reactions that can and will work for you if you do your homework.

This is the crux of what we call Xeriscaping. Not “zero” scaping, as some mistakenly call it, but, using xeric plants and water-wise practices to create a landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions.

It doesn’t, however, mean never having to water or care for plants – it means developing a water-efficient landscape through the use of good planning, appropriate plant and lawn selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulch and proper maintenance. I often laughingly tell people, “it’s not carpet!”

So, what are the steps to developing a xeric landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions?

Seven principles of Xeriscaping

There are seven fundamental garden design principles that define that define what we call xeriscaping, water-wise gardening or drought tolerant landscaping. They serve to maximize water conservation through a simple set of steps that are easy to undertake. They include:

  • Proper planning
  • Soil improvement
  • Fitting plant selections
  • Practical lawn choices
  • Efficient Irrigation
  • Correct use of mulch
  • Proper maintenance

Plan your space

There are many options for reducing the need for water in your landscape. You can replace lawn with sitting and entertaining space – using paths of mulch, decomposed granite or flagstone, patios of native stone or bricks, wooden decks and gazebos, creating an inviting garden space when combined with planting beds. Dry creeks can be added to meander through your landscape – to address drainage issues or simply for aesthetic use as a textural contrast to plants and mulch. Water features – from ponds to disappearing fountains in ceramic pots can add a focal point and invite wildlife into your garden. Play scapes, hammocks, washer pits and fire pits or chimenarias can also be placed on a variety of hardscape materials in lieu of grass.

Enhance your soil

Whether you’re fighting black clay or limestone outcroppings and caliche, it’s sometimes challenging to garden in Central Texas. Creating raised beds will encourage give your roots something to hold onto in rocky soils and will create better drainage in clay soils.

According to Travis County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Daphne Richards, it’s good to occasionally add organic matter like compost to your soil, but says native plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer.

“Organic matter breaks down slowly, providing nutrients and helping to improve our soil structure as well,” said Richards.

Mulching beds is also important to help insulate plants, keeping soil temperatures lower and cutting down on evaporation. There are a variety of good mulches from which to choose, including: Native Texas Hardwood mulch (highly recommended), shredded cedar, pine needles, and other shredded barks. Several inches of mulch should be applied to ensure sufficient insulation. But never pile mulch up against the trunks of trees or shrubs like volcanoes as that can cause rot. Mulch should be placed around plants like a donut ring, with very little mulch touching the trunk and a raised ring around the plant to encourage water to remain inside the circle.

Water wisely

Many methods used to irrigate landscapes are inefficient. Most sprinklers – both automated systems and hose-end, waste a great deal of water to evaporation, particularly when run during the day. The most efficient hose-end sprinklers throw large drops of water close to the ground, rather than high into the air. Watering is also best done in the very early morning hours to prevent scorch and to minimize evaporation – even before sun-up for early birds or those with automatic systems.

Overwatering is also a problem. Watering for shorter periods of time too often encourages plants to keep shallow roots. Longer, less frequent, deep watering, develops deep roots away from surface heat that will require less water.

Drip irrigation is a good option to reduce water use. By keeping the water next to the plants and using little pressure, there is almost no evaporation and the soil is able to absorb and use all the water, whereas sprinklers often saturate soil and the water runs off the landscape. But drip has its drawbacks as well, requiring the lines to circle your plants’ root zones which can make planting and moving in an existing drip system cumbersome. Drip lines and emitters can crack or get clogged, but since they are under a thin layer of mulch, it’s often hard to know you have a problem before it’s too late and you have dying plants.

Collecting rainwater (when we are lucky enough to get it) is another way to conserve. From simple rain barrels placed under downspouts to large commercial systems, using this “free” water is always a good choice, especially since plants prefer natural rainwater to tap water that is chemically-treated.

Plant for success

Seasoned gardeners know that using a variety of native and well-adapted plants will consistently give you the best results under difficult conditions because those plants are used to surviving with what nature provides. They simply don’t need as much watering or maintenance.

Central Texas boasts a long list of native and adapted plants that, once established, can survive our rigorous conditions with less watering. When first planted, they will require regular watering for several months to get them started, but will then be less thirsty than other non-native or adapted plants.

Plants with similar water needs should also be planted together, so you aren’t over or under watering some of the plants in the same bed.

Turf grass is usually thirstier than the rest of your landscape. Reducing the amount of grass in your landscape can be the first step to significantly reducing your water needs. For Central Texas, Bermuda, Zoysia and Buffalo grass are the most drought-tolerant. Bermuda and Zoysia are commonly used in area lawns. St. Augustine requires a lot of water. It tends to grow better in light shade than most other grasses. Turf grass should be mowed high, allowing the longer blades to help protect the roots from the heat and to hold in moisture when there is some. Clippings left on the lawn help return nitrogen to the soil, so they don’t need to be collected.

Now, maintain it

Proper pruning, weeding and fertilizing will help keep your landscape healthy. Prune plants appropriately and remove weeds so they don’t compete with other plants for water.

Where to start

It may be hard for some to visualize a drought-tolerant garden that doesn’t scream desert. It can be so much more than using only cacti and agaves in a rock bed – unless that’s the look you want. There are many lush, green, and brightly blooming xeric native and well-adapted plants from which to choose when creating a water-wise garden.

In Pam Penick’s newly released book, The Water-saving Garden – How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water, she provides homeowners with both practical tips and beautiful water-saving design options in the garden.

pam-penick-water-saving-garden-book-austin-garden-blog-

Penick, a blogger and author who gardens in Austin, has traveled extensively to learn about drought-tolerant techniques and styles across the country.

According to Penick, there is no single “right way” to plant a garden that saves water. Her focus is on planting thoughtfully, using drought-tolerant plants, grouping plants by water needs, and making the most of the natural rain you have in your garden.

Penick believes the most difficult aspect of promoting water-saving techniques is changing public opinion.

“The biggest challenge is changing people’s ideas of what a water-saving garden looks like,” said Penick. “People who’ve always gardened a certain way can be resistant to change, and they may have the idea that a water-saving garden is filled with cactus and rock, and they don’t like that look. I want to show that water-thrifty gardens can be just as beautiful as water-hogging ones, so that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, however virtuous, to make one.”

The book centers around Penick’s objective to “hold that liquid gold.” Viewing rainwater as something precious to be saved, stored or redirected, it includes detailed information about the use of rainwater barrels, cisterns, dry creeks, terraces and rain gardens.

The book also outlines the practical aspects of healthy soil, use of mulch and efficient irrigation.

Penick focuses on how to use the right plants and create ripple-zones in your garden to group plants by water needs. This will allow you to keep the thirstiest plant close to your house where you can water them more easily, and perhaps design the farthest ripple to be a more natural, non-irrigated area if your yard is large.

What makes this book stand out is Penick’s designer’s eye. It is filled to the brim with wonderful color photographs of water-saving gardens in every imaginable style. Gardeners will find plenty of inspiration to transform their own gardens.

Chapters focus on attractive shading options, permeable patios and paths, container gardens and water features. She even includes an inspirational chapter on water-evoking plants, highlighting ways to design the look and feel of water into your garden with “cascading or fountain-like form, or through color that, when massed, brings to mind a river or a pool.”

The book is capped off with a final section with 101 plant recommendations for water-saving gardens.

Penick says her inspiration for the book was practical, “I’ve always been interested in low-water gardens because I’m an inherently lazy gardener. I don’t like to have to stand out in the garden every day watering thirsty plants. Plus, we live where drought and watering restrictions are facts of life, and I want a garden that looks good with minimal babying with the hose. Other regions of the country are facing the same pressures, plus people are more interested than ever in living sustainably, so I wrote the book to share water-saving inspiration and techniques and to show that it’s possible to have a beautiful garden without having to pour water on it every day.”

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:57+00:00 February 27th, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

Plant This: Esperanza is a garden showstopper

Showstoppers-Yellow-Bells-Esperanza

In spite of our schizophrenic weather extremes, many native and adapted plants perform beautifully in Central Texas gardens. One of my favorite showstoppers is Esperanza, Spanish for ‘hope,’ also known as yellow bells. It comes back reliably year after year — a dramatic garden showstopper that doesn’t mind the abuse our gardens suffer with periodic drought, heat and floods.

Native to Mexico, the tropics and West Texas, the variety Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star‘ thrives in our 100+ degrees and produces masses of large 2 – 3 inch blooms that look like yellow bells. This medium-sized shrub is xeric, low maintenance, and relatively pest free. This is the variety you see most around Central Texas.

They are generally cold hardy to zone 8b or 9; for most of Central Texas, they are perennial and reliably return from the roots. They thrive in hot sun and can tolerate a variety of soils, particularly our alkaline limestone. They typically begin blooming in the spring and bloom non-stop until late fall. Depending on how much sun they get, here they can grow as high as 6-8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Although they go dormant in the winter, they shoot up quickly when the weather warms and consistently reach that height for me, in spite of being cut back completely at winter’s end. And, they are of no interest to the deer that like to browse my landscape beds.

Very popular with pollinators, bees and hummingbird are drawn to their nectar. I love watching them disappear into the deep throats of the bright yellow blooms to get a drink.

In the last few years, growers have developed a number of new Tecoma hybrids that give gardeners more choices in color and growth habit.

Showstoppers-Esperanza-Bells-of-Fire

Last year, I tried one of the newer varieties of Esperanza, ‘Bells of Fire.’ With high expectations, I found the perfect spot for this reddish-orange blooming sun lover. Like its yellow cousin, the new ‘Bells of Fire’ didn’t let me down. It didn’t bloom as early in the year as the yellow bells, but came into its own in early summer. Unlike ‘Gold Star,’ its blooms are slightly smaller; it is shorter, and more compact, reaching only 3-5 feet tall and wide so it can serve a different role in the landscape.

Also available at nurseries around Austin is the variety, ‘Orange Jubilee’ which is a lighter shade of orange, more like a creamcicle.

According to Michael Cain, owner of Vivero Growers Nursery, this orange variety is more like the ‘Gold Star’ in its growth habit.

“‘Orange Jubilee’ is more upright and sends up shoots up to 7 feet tall, “ said Cain. “It blooms a little later than the ‘Gold Star’ and does very well here – it’s really tough.”

Another variety new to the market is ‘Lydia,’ which has a more compact form and brighter yellow flowers. It grows to 5-6 feet tall and wide and blooms from early spring through fall. It’s a sterile variety, so it has fewer seedpods than the ‘New Gold.’

If you were thinking of including more heat and drought-tolerant plants to your garden this fall, any one of these Tecoma bells would be a great addition.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:00+00:00 September 16th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Plant This: Esperanza is a garden showstopper

July Tip: Xeriscaping the answer for drought defense

IMG_5064

While we’ve had some welcome rain this summer, homeowners are still searching for alternatives to minimize their water use, their water bills and the hours spent trying to supplement with hand watering. Luckily, there are alternatives.

No, I don’t mean paving the front yard or filling it in with gravel and 3 cacti. Xeriscaping holds the key to adapting Austin’s landscapes to the changing climate of extremes sweeping the country.

Xeriscaping is a concept that originated in Colorado years ago during a severe drought. It comes from the Greek words ‘xeros’ (dry) and ‘scape’ (view).

Read the full article.

 

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:06+00:00 July 26th, 2014|Tips|Comments Off on July Tip: Xeriscaping the answer for drought defense

Xeriscaping the answer for drought defense

txaas_mastheaddrought tolerant plants

Punishing heat and drought. It’s a combination you wouldn’t wish on your worst gardening enemy. Keeping your landscape alive under these conditions presents a backbreaking and expensive challenge.

While we’ve had some welcome rain this summer, homeowners are still searching for alternatives to minimize their water use, their water bills and the hours spent trying to supplement with hand watering. Luckily, there are alternatives.

No, I don’t mean paving the front yard or filling it in with gravel and 3 cacti. Xeriscaping holds the key to adapting Austin’s landscapes to the changing climate of extremes sweeping the country.

Xeriscaping is a concept that originated in Colorado years ago during a severe drought. It comes from the Greek words ‘xeros’ (dry) and ‘scape’ (view).

It is definitely not “zero” scaping, as some mistakenly call it.  And it doesn’t mean never having to water or care for plants.

It means developing a water-efficient landscape through the use of good planning, appropriate plant and lawn selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulch and proper maintenance.

Texas’ fast-growing population and repeated periods of drought continue to strain the limits of our water supply. Years ago, water rationing used to be a rare measure reserved for particularly hot summers for brief periods of time.

Year-round limitations are now the norm. I’m not sure how long we’ve been subject to continuous water rationing. (Actually, I looked it up – the City of Austin’s restrictions have been constant since September 2012.

So, what are the steps to developing a xeric landscape that will flourish in our extremely hot and dry conditions?


Seven principles of Xeriscaping

  1. Good planning

  2. Soil analysis

  3. Appropriate plant and lawn selection

  4. Practical lawn choices

  5. Efficient Irrigation

  6. Use of mulch

  7. Proper maintenance


Plan ahead

Planning is important. Research the best plants and turf to use. Before you begin – think about the water needs of your landscape. If you plan well, you can cluster plants with low water needs together. And have your soil tested to determine if additional minerals or fertilizer might make your plants or soil healthier.  Add necessary amendments and compost when building beds.

Pick native and well-adapted plants

Reducing the amount of turf grass in your landscape and expanding use of native plants can significantly reduce water consumption. Native plants are also generally less susceptible to disease and harmful insects and have less fertilizer or special soil needs. There are plenty of xeric plants from which to choose—trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers and grasses—that can provide your garden with color and blooms all year.

A few of the popular native or well-adapted plants for our area include:

  • Artemesia
  • Salvia
  • Lavender
  • Santolina
  • Gregg’s Mist Flower
  • Desert Willow
  • Mexican Bird of Paradise
  • Dwarf yaupon holly
  • Rosemary
  • Euphorbia
  • Jerusalem sage
  • Agaves
  • Yuccas
  • Cacti
  • Skullcap
  • Texas Sage
  • Blackfoot Daisy
  • Daimianita
  • Zexmenia

Check with your local nurseries to learn more about other xeric Zone 8 plants.

These websites are also excellent resources:

http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/growgreen/plants.htm

http://www.wildflower.org/

http://npsot.org/

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/

Water wisely

Consider switching to more efficient methods of irrigating. Most sprinklers—both automated systems and hose-end, waste a great deal of water to evaporation. Watering is best done in the very early morning hours to prevent scorch and to minimize evaporation—even before sun-up for early birds or those with automatic systems.

The current City of Austin Stage 2 Watering Restrictions are as follows:

Automatic Irrigation – Residential
Even Address numbers – Thursday
Odd Address numbers – Wednesday
Before 5 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Hose-end sprinkler– Residential
Even Address numbers – Sunday
Odd Address numbers – Saturday
Before 5 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Overwatering or watering improperly also present problems. Too much water too often encourages plants to keep shallow roots. Less frequent, deep watering develops deep roots away from surface heat that will eventually require less water.

An excellent option to reduce water use, drip irrigation keeps water next to the plants and allows almost no evaporation. The soil absorbs and uses all the water, whereas sprinklers often saturate soil too quickly, resulting in water runoff.

Collecting rainwater (when we are lucky enough to get it) is another way to conserve. From simple rain barrels placed under downspouts to large commercial systems, using this “free” water is always a good choice, especially since plants prefer natural rainwater to tap water that is chemically-treated.

One turf is not like the other

Lawns can drink up a lot of water. Most xeric landscaping plans minimize the amount of turf in the landscape, replacing it with paths, patios, seating or entertaining areas or xeric beds. Determine the most drought-tolerant grass for your area (sun or shade). Grass should be mowed high, allowing longer blades to help protect the roots from the heat and to hold in moisture. Grass should be mowed when it is about 1/3 higher than you want it to be. Bermuda should be mowed at 1.5 to 2.5 inches, Buffalo Grass at 4 inches, and Zoysia at 2 inches.  Clippings left on the lawn help return nitrogen to the soil, so they don’t need to be collected.

Keep roots cool

Critical to plant survival, mulching beds helps insulate plants, keeping soil temperatures lower and cutting down on evaporation. There are a variety of good mulches from which to choose, including Native Texas Hardwood mulch, shredded cedar, pine needles or other shredded barks.  Several inches of mulch should be applied to ensure sufficient insulation.

Now, maintain it

Proper pruning, weeding and fertilizing helps keep your landscape healthy. Instead of chemicals that can contaminate our ground water, use organic fertilizers and pest control options to address problems that may arise in the garden. Check with local nurseries for good organic choices.

For more information, check out the City of Austin’s Grow Green Program – an extensive water-wise public education program. Grow Green offers an extensive selection of free gardening how-to materials throughout the Austin area. Local nurseries carry the program’s free fact sheets and the very popular Native and Adapted Plant Guide that includes 200 recommended plants that will thrive in Central Texas.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach Diana Kirby provides landscaping tips at http:/www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at https://www.dianasdesignsaustin.com

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:06+00:00 July 26th, 2014|Articles|Comments Off on Xeriscaping the answer for drought defense

February Tip: Alternative Lawns

Xeriscaped Alternative Lawn

Our recent drought has made more than a few homeowners reconsider the composition of their landscape. Lawn replacement choices run the gamut from low-maintenance beds to welcoming patios, paths ad dry creeks to enticing features like water features, play spaces, gazebos and fire pits.

While xeric or drought-tolerant plants require less water, all plants need to be watered. When planted, they will require regular watering for several months to get them started, but will then be less thirsty than other non-native or adapted plants. In addition to flowering plants like lantana, salvia, yellow bell, damianita, skullcap, plumbago, catmint, and blackfoot daisy, to name just a few, many xeric grasses and sedges can also be used in a smaller area en mass to create a grassy, non-traditional green space. Groundcovers and creeping plants can also be used to take up lawn space – some of those that work well here include Asian jasmine, sweet potato vine, silver ponyfoot, purple heart, wooly stemodia and a variety of thymes.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (www.wildflower.org) center maintains an excellent database of native plants — their needs and characteristics – that grow well in Central Texas.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:15+00:00 February 23rd, 2013|Tips|0 Comments