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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Buying landscape plants that keep maintenance low

You probably want to put plants in your yard that keep down the need for a lot of maintenance. So go armed with knowledge when you shop!  Here are a few tips on buying north Texas plants that I’ve learned (often the hard way) in my 25+ years as a licensed Landscape Architect; now a Landscape Architect Emeritus.

 Stick to plants native to north Texas. If it’s native, it’s used to our poor soil and our hot, dry weather. It doesn’t need soil additives, much extra water etc.  I‘d also recommend asking about a specific plant’s heritage before you buy. Was it grown around here, or in a greenhouse in some other state? Selecting native plants will assure you the chances are good they’ll survive our summer without a lot of extra maintenance, and still look good.

Avoid plants already in bloom. A common, very costly mistake is to be enticed by pretty flowers in bloom at the nursery. What you really want is not the plants that are blooming at the store, but plants that will bloom in your yard in a day or two. A plant that’s flowering is at its peak, and is beginning its descent. So look for buds that are about to unfurl, instead of open flowers that will probably wither in a few days.
Know the plant’s needs. This relates to my recommendation to buy native plants. Steer clear of showy, exotic plants that’ll need a lot of water and a lot of fertilizer and special soil additives. That stuff isn’t cheap!  Landscape plants that’ll make it through a year in Texas won’t demand a lot of water, and don’t need much soil “improvement” such as fertilizer and topsoil. 
Of course, no plant needs absolutely zero maintenance, but we all should try to keep it to a minimum.
Look for plentiful buds. Buds are flowers-to-be, so look for lots of  them; as well as the overall vigor of a plant - a sign it'll produce even more buds. Plants are not “impulse items” like candy bars near the checkout at grocery stores. Since those showy flowers on plants being sold may be gone by planting time, it’s abundant buds that you really want. Lots of buds will mean lots of flowers in the future.

Don’t be lured by invasive plants. Some plants sound perfect - until you plant them. Invasives are the exact opposite of plants that die easily – they grow and reproduce everywhere, in another flower bed and even in your neighbor’s yard. They’ll quickly engulf, rob nutrients from, and kill other plants. (Think kudzu vine!). In the Denton area, some invasive plants I’d stay far away from are Japanese honeysuckle, ligustrum, English ivy, trumpet vine and bamboo.
Invasive plants like these usually crowd out, and will steal nutrients from, your other plants.
Check out the roots. If you can, check out the plant’s roots. That’s how the plant obtains nutrients for blooming and good, continuing health. Roots should be fibrous and white, and not “rootbound”. That’s when the roots nearly fill up the pot, perhaps circling it – and the soil (along with its nutrients) is almost nonexistent. (If you're buying mail-order, all you can depend on is the seller's reputation)

Keep these guidelines in mind, and your yard will be a place you can look at and enjoy. Not a place where you spray, cultivate, water and laboriously baby your plants throughout a typical north Texas summer.




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