Plan for the spring.

January 19, 2013

Spring is such a wonderful part of the year. Nature is exploding with new growth, buds, flowers… Gardens come to life again. Birds are in love and ready to start a family. Landscapes become abuzz with life and related activity. It’s also the time of year when things get out of hand pretty quickly. Weeds seek their opportunity to take over the world. Plants hurry to grow and multiply – often ending up in the wrong places, overgrown, reseeding everywhere, out of place. It also means our gardens are hungry – they Winter garden (6)need energy to grow, bloom and produce. Winter takes its toll on our landscapes, and spring is the time to make it right again.
The best way to maintain a landscape is to do it regularly, and not wait until things are out of control. Proper trimming and pruning, weed control, amending, feeding, mulching, insect and disease control go a long way when done right and on time. It is easier to prevent problems or nip them in the bud when they arise, then to put out fires.

When thinking about your garden, think about its foundations– soil and balance. If you nurture the soil, it will repay you with happy plants. And happy, strong plants are more resilient, more beautiful, more drought tolerant and better adapted to the Texas heat. Healthy soil means healthy turf. And happy plants mean less disease and insect problems. Creating a balanced eco system in your garden is a key to success. Nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. Plus, a garden alive with plants and wildlife is such a beautiful place to be and enjoy. It is also a great way for the children to reconnect with the outdoors. Provide butterfly food and host source and let them observe a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Add plants that attract hummingbirds and watch them come back year after year. Start an herb garden and let the kids to be hands on. They can pick their own favorite herbs or veggies to grow. Hummingbird (12)Provide shelter for lizards, geckos and other garden creatures and teach your kids that variety and balance is very important in nature. And in return they will help you keep your insect (including mosquito!) population in check.

There are so many ways to you enjoy your garden. The same outdoor space can provide the perfect entertaining area for the adults and a secret garden, full of wonder and life lessons for the kids. No matter how small or big your piece of land is, you can make it work for everyone.

Design with character.

January 13, 2013

Every house has each own character, and tells us something about the people that live in it. Same applies to landscaping. Every front garden represents us in spirit and style, whether on purpose or by neglect.

2112 pembrokeA mature, nicely shaped pomegranate tree needs space , but can serve as an alternative to the more traditional yaupon holly and the bright pomegranate fruit serves as Christmas ornaments. The tree is semi evergreen and looks quite festive at this time of year. Not to mention the delicious pomegranate fruit that you can pick right in your own garden.

When landscaping your garden, take your house into account. If you have a light painted brick house, think of darker, contrasting colors. Purples and reds stand out nicely and help to define the landscape and add a multidimensional element to the space. If your house is dark colored, pair different shades of green with it, and think texture and layers. Fig ivy can be trained to accentuate architectural features of the house. It is both very graceful and lush look.

We are so used to having most shrubs hedged or conformed to the allotted space. Unfortunately by doing so we often create rigid straight lines and add a ‘boxy’ feeling to the space that is usually already full of straight lines and hard angles. By allowing shrubs to grow more naturally, while still contained and well behaved, we can achieve the more formal look that belongs in the front garden, without the harshness of conventional hedge.

Ornamental trees, such as Japanese maples, yaupon hollies, redbuds and many more, add the height to counter balance the height of the house and create a focal point. If Landscape (14)you have large mature tree on your property, especially multi trunked, consider softening and accentuating it with ferns to create luscious, almost tropical look.

And finally, take a look at your front garden from afar – it allows us to gain a new perspective and look at something familiar with a fresh eye.

There is no need to preach about organic gardening. It is evidence enough to observe the abundance of life and how a healthy bio-diversity creates balance.  Images below illustrate the intertwined nature of life.

Planting the right plants in the right spots, creating food, water and shelter sources enable to create a wildlife habitat even in small urban setting. Our tiny city lot was completely bare when we moved in. We planted a desert willow and Mexican plum among other trees, and added plenty of perennials (Turk’s cap and salvias among many others), we created a veggie garden where there is place for annuals as well. Within a year this completely changed our landscape – from barren and devoid of life to beaming with life. From honey bees to sphinx moths to hummingbirds to lizards and garden snakes and everything in between.

I discovered this year that bees need water, but they drown easily. So I set up a shallow bird bath with stones in it, so that bees have easy access to water and be safe at the same time. They gather around the water source by the dozens every day in the summer.

Desert willow is our hummingbird magnet and never fails. Bumblebees love it too! As well as many other insects. I found several Assassin Bugs on it this year. The veggie garden, with its changing crops and successions of annual flowers, creates an eco-system of its  own. There is always something alive there, busy to gather pollen or lay eggs. We always have abundance of butterflies, which are drawn to the butterfly bush, desert willow, Turk’s cap and salvias, among other things. Damselflies, dragonflies and paper wasps (which are not aggressive and help to control mosquito population) were particularly drawn to the Hyacinth Bean vine I planted on the fence along the chicken run, close to the water source and the never-ending source of pollen – basil.

Lizards particularly like the shade area of the garden, where potted plants are stored on wooden pallets. It also is the favorite hunting ground for Carolina wren.

It is a circle of life – good bugs taking care of the bed bugs, birds, lizards and snakes taking care of the excess of the bugs, spiders weaving spider webs…. Let nature take care of itself… and help only when needed. You will see the difference!

It is time we stopped and listened to Mother Nature is telling us. We don’t have unlimited resources and the weather patterns are changing. And so we need to change our way of thinking and doing things. The drought that has started in 2011 continues, and we need to adjust accordingly. We need to learn how to deal with extreme weather.

 Re-evaluate your landscaping. It is important to take the following things into account when designing or re-evaluating your   landscaping:

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

– check if the existing plants are native or well adapted to your area,

– prepare your soil right,

– always mulch,

– go organic and don’t forget to feed your plants to help them survive stress,

– use drip irrigation or hand water if feasible,

– create pockets in the garden that serve different roles, both visually and practically,

– don’t forget about wildlife (and don’t forget that wildlife means more than just birds),

– capture rain water,

Butterfly milkweed

Butterfly milkweed

– and lastly, don’t forget about your trees – they are extremely valuable and they are suffering! We tend to let trees take care of themselves. Because of their size we think that they can survive just about anything and need not our help. This is far from the truth. Trees are our great resource in so many ways – the clean the air, the add value to landscapes, they provide habitats for wildlife, act as sound barriers, produce oxygen, and help us save energy.

 

Drought despair?

July 23, 2011

Suffering from drought despair? You’re not the only one! As August creeps down on us, so do the plants of North Texas, desperate for rain.  Despite the suffocating temperatures and lack of rainfall there are many ways to protect and prevent harsh weather from destroying your landscape.

Initially, it is best to choose plants that are native or well adapted to Texas, made for the heat and drought tolerant, which saves you money as you water less. Numerous plants thrive in our area; a few are Texas lantana, blackfoot daisy, black dalea, many sages, the infamous bluebonnet, and so many more. However, even the hardiest natives could use some assistance during the blazing months of summer.

Desert Willow bloom

Desert Willow bloom

The health and productivity of your plants depend on the quality of the soil they are living in. Soil is food for plants; they survive on its nutrients.  So, if your soil is deprived of nutrients, so are your plants. Oxygen is a vital component as well. Soil is a combination of minerals and other organic matter. Just as humans need food, water, and air to survive so do plants. They gather their nutrients from the work of tiny organisms, like nematodes, in the soil that transform organic matter into vitamins and hormones. Adding compost back into your beds such as leaves, grasses, manures and mulch allows for more matter that can be broken down into nutrients.  Earthworms also work wonders as they aureate the soil that provides oxygen to the vegetation, which is necessary for survival. Another way to boost your plants is by fertilizing with liquid seaweed, predominantly made up of kelp. Kelp contains zinc, potassium, iron, and nitrogen that are vital during photosynthesis.

Organic mulching is beneficial in multiple ways – it not only allows the soil to retain more moisture and supports less watering but also adds organic matter back into the soil as it decomposes. Mulching lowers the temperature in your beds in the summer, and keeps the temperatures up in the winter, which gives relief to your plants during hot months and protects them in the cold months. It multiplies the amount of worms in your beds that contribute to aerating the soil and provide nutrients to plants. It even prevents soil crusting which restricts water and air permeability and makes it hard for seeds to germinate. Mulching reduces the outlandish growth of weeds –  the only thing that never seems to die.  Last but certainly not least important is the visual appeal of mulch, as it add a neat and finished appearance to a garden bed or landscaped area. Mulch is also an excellent material to use for paths, especially between raised beds.

Texas Rock Rose

Texas Rock Rose

Watering is a significant factor in the survival of your garden and can be effectively executed in several ways. Drip irrigation systems apply water directly to the root system of the plant as it soaks the earth from underneath at a steady pace for a longer amount of time. This allows plants to absorb more water because it is no longer evaporating on the surface and once again you save money as you save water. Since water is applied directly to the root zones, watering can be done at any time of the day because plant foliage will not be at risk for sun damage. Drip irrigation systems are designed to target certain areas depending on each plants specific need. Soaker hoses work in a similar manner, but there tend to be dry and wet zones when using soaker hoses, so it is important to set it up correctly and monitor the water output.

Blackfoot Daisy

Blackfoot Daisy

Don’t forget your trees this summer  – despite their size and general durability they are not “drought proof.” A common and efficient way to water trees is by using gator bags for young trees. Gator bags deliver water to the roots of the tree only, at a steady space, which is necessary for a proficient job.  Aside from purchasing a standard gator bag of some sort creating your own is also an option. Use a five-gallon bucket; drill a quarter of an inch thick hole and face towards the base of the tree. Simply fill with water once and week and rest assured that your tree is getting five gallons a week, the suggested amount. For mature trees it is important to water around and beyond the dripline – the outer edges of the tree’s canopy – to direct the water towards the roots. Slow, deep watering works best. Soaker hoses work well for that purpose.

Remain hopeful as you strive to help your garden survive. These and other tricks will give your plants the much needed relief they are dying for, literally.

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