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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get your landscape ready for a north Texas summer

This area’s typical summer weather is coming. We’ve received almost our normal meager rainfall this past winter. Weather experts predict that our spring will turn into our customary bone-bleaching summer. (It has for the past couple of hundred years)!

Unless your utility costs mean nothing to you, there are methods you can use to yield a colorful, bird-friendly landscape, even during our 100-degree days. But you've got to prepare for it NOW. During my 30+ years as a Landscape Architect, I've arrived at these guidelines for getting your landscape through a north Texas summer;

The edge of the lawn 
 Avoid over-maintaining
        Leave your yard alone during the heat! During my tenure as a Landscape Architect in north Texas (and more as a homeowner) I've seen, over and over, that landscapes do much better in the heat if they're left to grow how they want. Cutting the lawn, and occasionally watering, is all you need to do.

Look on a north Texas summer not as a bad thing, but as an experiment. Use it to see what makes it to mid-September and what doesn't. Remember what you learn from your experiments and you'll be better prepared for the following summer, and all the Texas summers after that.

 Minimize your lawn area
       A manicured lawn is a real ego-builder. It also takes a huge amount of work. You know; sweating profusely while you mow, trim, fertilize, weed and kill bugs. Then there's the expense! Entire industries have sprung up just to primp your lawn and exhaust your checkbook.  Yet, on any given weekend, you can spot scores of exhausted homeowners out working on their lawns.

I'd advise people to simply let part of the lawn grow naturally until late September's cooler weather. There should be a distinct edge to your lawn. Choose about half of your current lawn for the usual mowing, watering, etc., and let the rest be taller.

          If you can't resist the urge to cut your lawn, let the clippings stay on the grass, acting as mulch and providing a tiny bit of shade for the grass' roots. Doing so saves about one fertilization per year. And whatever you do, stay away from artificial chemicals and soil additives - they just make plants thirstier.

 Mulch just about everything
       Simply put, a top-layer of mulch cools the soil and holds in moisture, so you need to water less. It also keeps out all but the most determined weeds. Mulch can be just ground-up bark chips, shredded leaves or composted grass clippings or other yard waste.

 Use native plants
     Native plants grew up in this type of summer (their ancestors did, anyway) and with our poor soil. They're used it. Once a native Texas plant is established, it needs little or no extra water. Birds and butterflies are attracted to them much more readily than exotics.

     Most native plants aren't hard to find. In fact, nine of the 12 trees recommended for Denton by Keep Denton Beautiful are native trees that are available in most nurseries. On the other hand, things like hybrid roses, French lilacs, gardenias and azaleas are from elsewhere in the world (where water isn't a problem) and will have a tough time here.

 Use “hardscape'
This is "landscape-speak," for anything in the landscape that's not supposed to be alive and is relatively immobile. Examples: a driveway, a deck, a fence, a wall or a patio. Clearly, these take almost no maintenance. Just don't let hardscape dominate.

 Divide the yard into zones
   There's the active zone with a few potted plants and maybe some outdoor chairs on a patio. Probably there's a garden zone with flowerbeds and such. Maybe there's a natural zone, which is favored by birds. And there's the ubiquitous lawn zone. (You get the idea!). Zones let you do yard maintenance in short, targeted spurts.



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