“‘Zero-scapes’. Doesn’t that mean covering your yard with cactus and rocks?” Yes, it can mean cactus and rocks, but it doesn’t have to. Many people have the wrong idea about xeriscapes. Actually the word xeriscape comes from the Greek word xeros, which means “dry.” A xeriscape conserves water and energy through creative landscaping. Ultimately it means money in your pocket and less time spent in the yard. Xeriscaping is based on seven principles:
Develop a good landscape design
Reduce the amount of lawn
Use water efficiently
Improve your soil
Mulch bare ground
Choose plants that don’t use much water
Practice good maintenance
Right now is a good time to think about xeriscaping your yard. Your water bills are probably rising with the temperature. Here in Woodland Oaks we have been lucky so far this year with rainfall, but as past years have shown, we can’t depend on the rain. You may be tired of mowing that St. Augustine lawn every week. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more time to do things you enjoy and still have a good looking yard? Xeriscape can do that for you.
Step back and take a hard look at your landscape. Think about where you would like to make a large flowerbed, or several large flowerbeds, and get rid of some of that grass. Use your garden hose to lay out the boundaries of the bed or beds and take a look. Imagine it filled with healthy plants that like our climate. Believe it or not, a large flowerbed planted with native or adapted shrubs, perennials, and annuals that are mulched needs much less care than grass.
Perhaps you could use more shade on the east or west side of your house. Think about planting a tree. Do you know which trees are the best for our area? Do you know that if you put a mulched flowerbed around your tree and get those grass roots away from it, it will grow faster?
Right now while the weather is so hot, look around at your neighbors’ yards and see which plants are growing and blooming, not just surviving. If you like the way the plants look, find out their names because you will probably want to use them in your yard.
Several people in Woodland Oaks have xeriscaped all or part of their yards. Walk or drive around to see what they have done. You will notice that a xeriscape can be as formal or informal as you want it. There is not a single look! I am in the midst of xeriscaping my yard on Poplar Grove and would be happy to talk with you. You might also want to join the Woodland Oaks Garden Club. We have several members who are very knowledgeable about plants that grow well in South Texas.
I’ll be writing a series of articles for the Oaks Folks to explain how you can xeriscape your yard. It’s not hard and the rewards are great—both to you and the aquifer.
Last month I discussed what xeriscaping is and the benefits it offers—mainly a yard that requires less work and money to maintain and offers more beauty. Now let’s talk about changing your landscape. Do you need to hire a landscaping company to do the work? Not necessarily. Do you need to do everything at once? Not at all.
First, make a plan. Forging ahead without an overall plan will most likely result in a junky looking landscape that isn’t very pretty. Step back and take a long, hard look at your current landscape. What would you like to see? A formal looking yard with carefully pruned shrubs and geometric flowerbeds? Or a cottage garden with informal flowerbeds full of many different plants? Which areas need to stay as a lawn? Where would you like more shade? On a piece of paper draw your lot and house. Then make circles, rectangles, or ovals indicating where you want a flowerbed, a tree, hardscape, or lawn. Draw in walkways. However, remember the acronym KISS—Keep It Simple Stupid. None of us in Woodland Oaks have large enough lots to do all the things we probably want to do in our yards. Decide what is most important to you and limit yourself to that.
One of the principles of xeriscape is to reduce the amount of lawn, since lawns require gallons of water, lots of fertilizer, and pesticides to be pretty—not to mention the hours spent on the weekly mowing, edging, and clean-up. There are several attractive ways to reduce lawn area.
Enlarge your flowerbeds;
Use hardscape such as brick, rock, stepping stones, etc. to cover an area without cementing the material in so that rainfall can soak into the ground;
Use a decorative mulch, either organic (pecan hulls, ground up bark, cypress, free mulch from the city) or inorganic (washed river gravel of various sizes, lava rock);
Widen existing sidewalks or used crushed granite, pea gravel, or organic mulch to make new walkways.
You might want to use a combination of these methods. But again, KISS.
Right now is a good time to lay out those larger beds and kill off the grass the easy way. (This method is most effective with any grass other than Burmuda—it usually requires a herbicide.) Use a garden hose to lay out the exact shape of your bed, then outline the bed with steel edging, rocks, landscape timbers, or any of the many edgings available. Once you have the edging in place, mow the grass inside of it as short as you can and mulch the future bed with 5”-6” of mulch. You can get the mulch free from the city or from San Antonio’s brush landfill on Bitters Road near the airport. You can also buy mulch from Gardenville or Living Earth Technology. Then sit back and wait. Within 3-4 months, the grass is dead and the mulch has begun to decompose. The weather will also be a lot cooler! You can use a tiller or your strong back to turn the mulch and dead grass into the soil, thus amending, or improving, your soil—another principle of xeriscape. You can never go wrong improving your soil.
Some Good Xeriscape Plants —
(and some not so good!)
I hope some of you looked around at the plants that flourished during August. Those are the ones you need in your xeriscape. Fortunately, we are moving into the best time to plant new trees, shrubs, and many perennials in the Schertz area. Because of our scorching summers, plants will perform better if they are planted in the fall and can take advantage of our mild winters to establish their root systems. When spring arrives, those plants will put out luscious new growth. They will also survive the hot, dry summer because they have large enough root systems to support their upper growth.
Gardening in the fall offers one other advantage—it’s usually much cooler in October than it is in June or July! So not only does planting in the fall benefit the plants, it also benefits the gardener.
Here are some rewarding plants you might want to consider for your xeriscape.
Chinese pistache Bald cypress* Cedar elm* Bur oak*
Lacey or Blue Lacey oak Montezuma cypress Redbud* Texas red oak*
Chinquapin oak Live oak*
Avoid these trees: They are short-lived and often suffer from iron chlorosis (yellow leaves).
Arizona ash Weeping willow Mulberry
Cottonwood Chinese tallow Russian ash
Glossy abelia Dwarf yaupon holly* Red yucca* Youpon holly*
Rosemary (upright or prostrate) Nandina (avoid “Nana”) Texas mountain laurel*
Turk’s cap* Ceniza* (Texas sage) Yellow Bells* (Esperanza) Possumhaw*
Crepe myrtle Evergreen sumac Oleander
Avoid these shrubs: They often suffer iron chlorosis or various diseases after a few years.
Red-tipped photinia Indian hawthorn Dwarf pittosporum
Autumn sage* (salvia greggii) Blackfoot daisy* Blue plumbago Mexican heather
Mealy cup sage* (salvia farinacea) Firebush Canna Scullcap*
Goldstrum rudbeckia* Lantana* Bearded iris Antique roses
Texas Gold columbine* Mexican oregano Perennial verbena Dwarf ruellia*
Mexican sage (salvia leucantha) Pavonia* Pink rain lily* Autumn aster*
Tropical sage* (salvia coccinea) Purple coneflower* Zexmenia* Narrowleaf zinnia
(* Texas native plants)
This list only scratches the surface of the plants that will thrive and bloom in your xeriscape. Remember that even if these plants require less water to grow well, they need to be watered regularly until they are well established and have an adequate root system. That means 1-2 years of growth, depending on the plant. Trees and shrubs require longer care than perennials or annuals.
If you would like a book that gives you more information on xeriscaping and xeric plants, the Bexar County Master Gardeners, with the help of Calvin Finch of SAWS, Jerry Parsons from the Extension Service, and Paul Cox from the Botanical Garden, have just published a paperback entitled Xeriscape, a “How-to” Guide to a Low-Water-Use Landscape Using a Xeriscape Approach. You can find it for less than $10 at most of the local nurseries—Maldonado, Rainbow Gardens, Wolfe Nursery, Schultz Nursery, Schumacher’s Nursery (New Braunfels), Gardenville, Antique Rose Emporium.
One last reminder—if you want wildflowers next spring, now is the time to plant the seeds. Choose a spot with full sun, clear out any grass or weeds, sow the seeds and lightly scratch them into the soil with a rake. Water regularly until you see sprouts, then water every week or so if we don’t get rain. You will be richly rewarded.
Happy gardening! Deedy Wright