I’M A PENNY-PINCHING GARDENER

From early childhood, I have learned how to get the most out of limited resources and that lesson has remained with me my entire life. It’s a habit I can’t break, even with my enjoyment of ornamental gardening in my retirement years. To further justify that, the prices of plant materials in nurseries has skyrocketed to the point that I now consider it a challenge to create a beautiful garden without shelling out big bucks for new plants. I am a penny-pinching gardener. Here’s how I do it.

  1. Pre planning: I am not an impulse buyer but have a plan in mind for every plant I seek and buy. It has to have a place, purpose, and suitability in my garden. Therefore, I research first using reliable internet resources before shopping and buying at plant nurseries and garden centers. I identify and shop at quality nurseries that have the best quality/priced plants.
  2. I select plants that can be eventually divided or can be propagated should I wish to expand use of that plant. Often, one gallon containers contain two rooted plants in one container as growers often do this to ensure survivability of at least one when it reaches market. Perennials, ornamental grasses, succulents, can be divided, shared, or traded as plants mature in your garden. Selectivity and sharing of purchased plants among gardening friends in this way saves money and provides diversity for your garden. .
  3. I propagate new plants from cuttings, always keeping a spare of any plant that may be hard to find if lost, to expand my garden plantings, or to swap with friends for new plants to try.
  4. I use all natural garden decor rather than man-made items. Ornamental rocks, dead wood, etc. make a garden look natural, are found and nature, and are often cost free.
  5. I have a hobby greenhouse which allows me to overwinter tender plants and not have to repurchase new ones annually. This expands the variety in my seasonal gardens.
  6. I am a patient gardener. I enjoy seeing plants grow, start from small and develop into maturity. I would much rather buy a 4″ potted plant and grow it rather than pay a lot more for an already mature plant. Growing is a key part of gardening, in lieu of planting for immediate effect. I take pride in saying I grew this plant from a cutting, division, or starter size.
  7. I can give my garden a change in appearance by rearrangement, rather than replacement of plant materials. Transplanting at the appropriate time of year can give a fresh new look.
  8. I avoid buying high priced, high risk plants, as tempting as they may be. I am not a risk taker when it comes to gardening but stick to those plants that have proven reliability in our area.
  9. I recycle potting soil and create my own compost in lieu of purchasing processed fertilizers.
  10.  I find decor pots and garden ornaments at garage sales and thrift shops and create decor containers from ceramic pieces by drilling drainage holes with a ceramic drill bit.
  11. I collect rainwater for watering in lieu of automated irrigation, and hand water only as needed. I mulch all planted areas to reduce watering needs, and supplement soil nutrients.

Not everyone needs to economize like this, depending on one’s economic status, but a dollar saved is a dollar earned, and if your gardening resources are limited, there are ways to create a masterful ornamental garden within your means. Even living on a fixed retirement income, I can afford to spend much more on my gardening pursuits than I do, but feel better doing more with less, and that makes me a happier gardener. Yes, I am a penny-pinching gardener – it’s hardwired! Doing the most with the least is a challenge I love when it comes to gardening.

 

 

A Colorful Winter Garden

A good landscape/garden plan  is designed around all seasons.  There should be no dormant or off season for central Texas gardeners, if you choose the right plantings and blend them well amongst other seasonal favorites that are just that – seasonal.

First and foremost,  you will want to have evergreen plants of various textures, sizes, and shades of color.  While perennials and winter dormant plants are taking their rest, these will provide signs of life in the garden.   But what about color?  That can make or break the winter landscape.  With rare exception,  foliage and other ornamental color features must substitute for floral during the winter period.

I took a camera trip around our yard in late January to see what colorful plants stood out and grabbed my attention while everything else was going through the winter blues.   Here are some of them which were planted intentionally for winter color.

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Nothing sparkles and catches your eye better than the iridescent red berries of the Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria).  Here they are displayed on the weeping Yaupons that border the front of our home.  Mockingbirds feast on them during winter as well.

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Speaking about fruit, this one is for humans, not the birds.  The Meiwa Kumquat is loaded with bright orange fruit during the peak of winter and provide a nice snack when working in the garden.

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Here we see a flower spike before opening on a cold tolerant Aloe ‘blue elf’ which will open in a week with bright orange long lasting typically beautiful aloe blooms.

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Getting into foliage color, this variegated boxwood is one of my favorite year round plants.  It maintains it’s dazzling variegated color through winter along with a nice compact shape.

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For more yellow splash that never fades in winter, there are many variegated cultivars of Abelia that remain compact and display a myriad of colors.  This one I grow was labeled ‘white marvel’.

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Here is the winter color on a dwarf variegated Pyracantha.  The pink shades appear in response to colder temperatures but in summer, the coloration is green tinged with white.

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Dwarf Pittosporum t0bira ‘Creme de Mint” is colorful in several ways.  The pale bluish green mature foliage contrasts with the shiny green and yellow new foliage.  This plant needs a protected outdoor area to thrive in winter.

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Another winter color favorite is variegated Eleagnus pungent.  This cultivar is ‘maculata’ with the bold yellow center. but there are several other colorful variegated cultivars available.  Variegated plants grow much slower than non-variegated so this plant is easy to maintain year round.

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A beautiful variegated chinese Holly, Ilex cornuta ‘O. Spring” is a tough as nails plant for central Texas.  Like most hollies, avoid planting it in an alkaline soil as it has a lower pH requirement.

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Trachelosporum jasminoides ‘variegata’ better known as Confederate Jasmine, is a very controllable vine that adds much color to the winter scene.  Variegation varies from white to yellow.

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This variegated Viburnum tinus ‘Bewley’s variegated’ is a great compact plant that shows off it’s brilliant color throughout winter.

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A favorite among central Texas Gardeners is Dianella tasmanica ‘variegata’ or Tasmanian flax.  It requires protection from wintery blasts but stays colorful and evergreen in a protected location.  Henrietta bunny loves it!

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Another colorful foliage plant needing a protected spot is variegated Alpine zerumbet ‘variegata’.  Give it a sheltered shady location and it will brighten that area throughout winter.  In hard freezes, it will disappear until spring however.

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Sometimes, new growth on a plant provides color in winter such as this dwarf Podocarpus macrophilla.  It also resides in a somewhat protected location but like they say in the realty business, “location, location, location”,  a principal that is very relevant to gardeners also. especially during winter season.

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The devil is in the details sometimes.  This is a close up of new growth coming out on Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘pink splash’. It is only the tip of the plant but proves that a walk around the garden in winter sometimes requires closer scrutiny.

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Finally, winter interest if often found in texture as seen here in the dying plumage of Gulf Muhly. Not the bright pink it displays in fall when in its prime, the long lasting plumage offers a tinge of white beauty to the garden throughout winter.

One of the blessings we have by living in central Texas is avoidance of severe winter conditions which allow us to enjoy a wide variety of colorful plants in any season.  This doesn’t just happen but requires that your garden planning incorporate intentionally, a variety of plants that will provide that color and seasonal interest.   As I write this, it is late January, but I am already thinking about how to improve my garden not only for the warm growing season ahead, but next winter.  If you missed out on your opportunity to add more color to your winter garden this year, it’s never too early to plan ahead.  We have had a much warmer than normal winter so far in central Texas,  but planning should always anticipate and be prepared for the worst climatic scenario.  Seeing color in the garden during winter is inspirational and keeps my spirits high during the winter down-time.  It really does!

 

 

 

 

THE LAZY DAYS OF SUMMER

Here we are in Central Texas in August with consistent 100+ degree days and little to no rain. That’s enough to drive a gardener crazy! The only way to do any garden maintenance is in early morning or late evening, which tends to conflicts with other daily activities and commitments. By 10 a.m. , it is way too hot to be working outdoors until at least 7 p.m. It’s survival mode for both plants and gardener!

As depressing as that scenario may be, it’s a fact of life for Texas gardeners. All we can do is just the following.

  1. Survey the garden and yard daily for distressed plants and take appropriate action, be it watering or reducing exposure to light and heat intensity.
  2. Water plants in early morning or late evening at least twice a week , keeping in mind that container plants dry our much faster and may need more frequent watering.
  3. Avoid the desire to do any additional plantings or transplanting until cooler temperatures and more consistent rain occurs in fall.
  4. Use these stressful periods as a learning period, noting which plants survive and are the best adaptive to these severe conditions.
  5. 5  Be planning for garden modifications and improvements in fall to implement a more heat and drought tolerant garden for next year.
  6. Make sure that if you are away for more than 2 days, someone will be checking on and caring for your plants.
  7. Avoid fertilizing or pruning to induce new growth that will be stressed during periods of extreme heat.   It is never inappropriate to add compost and mulching to any plant bed during summer. Anything that will improve moisture retention is a plus.
  8. Xeriscape, xeriscape, xeriscape! Plan and implement an environmental friendly, water-wise landscape this fall, so next year, your yard will sustain itself during these harsh periods with minimal water and maintenance.
  9. Take care of the gardener. Don’t expose yourself to sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration, as your garden depends on you ultimately. We suffer some plant losses during winter and some during summer, but your garden can’t afford to lose the gardener.
  10. Continue to educate yourself during the time in air conditioned comfort.There is so much to learn about gardening, so this down time provides that time to study and learn more about how to be a successful gardener and new plants to try.
  11. In summer, flowering plants tend to go on hiatus until fall, so substitute the color of flower blooms by using plants with colorful foliage. Tropical plants for summer seasonal use can take the heat and brighten up your summer garden.
  12.  If in our challenging climatic conditions, you can’t maintain what you’ve created, cut back and reduce. It is better to have a good looking smaller garden than a large unkempt one. Choose quality over quantity.

Our total xeriscaped yard continues to change based on lessons learned from these extreme weather conditions and patterns. Every time I think I have achieved a totally durable landscape, I am proven otherwise, so the challenge is to continue to make adjustments that will produce a more sustainable and durable garden in response to seasonal experiences. Will I ever achieve the perfect garden? NEVER!

Central Texas has got to be one of the toughest environments in which to grow an ornamental garden with temperature and rainfall extremes, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and you’ve got to be tough to be a Texas gardener. So, as long as there are these challenges, I will always be busy in the garden, weather permitting.   The main challenge in summer is to fight the urge to be in the garden and find ways to keep productively busy indoors when working in the garden is not a sensible option.

So my fellow gardening enthusiasts, KEEP COOL, and just do the minimum necessary to sustain your gardens during this stressful period. It’s survival time for both your plants and YOU    .

>Survival of the Fittest

YOUR GARDEN IS AN ART GALLERY – Really!

I have said in many prior posts that one of the great joys of gardening includes photographing the wonders of it.  It doesn’t need to be a fancy featured camera with all the bells and whistles.  Graphic enhancement software can improve imperfect pictures to restore what your eyes really saw.  With the age of digital photography, we can take photos galore and then get choosy about those we keep.

I made it a personal project this spring to capture our garden in details that my human eye failed to catch but the camera didn’t.  To that, I added photos from the past few years to create a garden art gallery.  I see nature as a work of art and to capture the color, diversity, textures, contrasts, shapes, and other details really does the plants you grow justice.

The result has been a slide show I compiled of 235 photos, taking 20 minutes to view at the rate of 5 seconds per image and I’d like to share it with you.  It can be viewed easily at www.centraltexasgardening.info/gardenartistry.html

So sit back with a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or whatever you prefer,  and be prepared to be mesmerized by the intricacy of the garden, the artistry it contains, and realize that these were all taken in our own yard and garden of plants we are or have grown. in Austin, TX.

So, no watercolors, oil paintings, etc. can quite capture the reality of the garden like a camera, a gardener with an eye for composition and the realization that your garden is really a work of art.     ENJOY THE SHOW!

Mom's garden

A FOUR SEASON GARDEN – PHASE ONE – SPRING

For years now, I have used the Central Texas Gardening blog as a repository for articles I write on various gardening subjects, but having enjoyed seeing so many other gardening blogs where the beauty of the garden and it’s contents is just being shared, has persuaded me to change my blog focus and do the same.   After many years of developing our garden, defined as the British would, as being the entire yard, into a relatively carefree, water saving, drought tolerant landscape, the fruits of our labor are being seen and enjoyed year round. No more garden construction is necessary as the basic design won’t change, but maybe a little tweaking, transplanting, and swapping out one plant for another to give the garden a different look each year and accommodate microclimate changes. Also, it’s just fun to try to grow different plants anyway.

I have always said that whatever gets constructed, must be maintained, so my gardening efforts have shifted to keeping the garden as presentable and enjoyable to look at as possible. That limits it to hand weeding, leaf and litter removal, and pruning/dividing plants as necessary, but compared to growing and mowing a boring looking lawn in the heat of summer, it’s a piece of cake! I know we will have a beautiful garden to enjoy in even the severest of drought conditions because we planned for it and took action to construct it.

The backyard garden looks a bit different in every season and every year. There is nothing static about our garden. Shrubs and plants mature, some don’t make it and need to be replaced/substituted, and different plants display different ornamental attractions at different times of the year. This is the year-round garden concept I have talked about so many times in the past. It is intentional and planned.  There is a distinct advantage to keeping a garden within manageable size, and the small size of our back yard solves that problem for us automatically, whereby we can focus on the quality rather than quantity of plantings and be more conscience of design factors such color, texture, seasonal interest, contrast, and placement.    When our yard was featured on Central Texas Gardener TV show, the producer described it as “cohesive diversity”.   That’s just the way we planned it.

Now for Spring 2015. This year’s garden looks different from last year’s at the same time as you will note in the pictures.

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Backyard Xeriphytic Garden in Spring 2014

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Backyard Xeriphytic Garden in Spring 2015

Iris have become the dominant show stopper in our garden this year, as well as Four nerved Daisies that haven’t quit blooming through the winter months. May Night Salvias have been incredible as well.   Martha Gonzalez rose bushes are also keeping the garden colorful until other perennials, which were hit by a late freeze, recoup, such as Mexican Honeysuckle and Lantana varieties,   TX Mountain Laurel and citrus blooms have kept the garden fragrant. So, I have been very busy with my camera capturing the beauty of the spring garden and will be doing so for the next three following seasons to show the transitioning of a year-round garden in pictures, which people say are better than a thousand words, of which I am probably getting too wordy already, so here are some photos of our 2015 spring garden as viewed from different angles.  Enjoy.

   

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WEEDS – A DREADED PART OF GARDENING

Sometimes blog articles get lost over time, so I want to resurrect this posting from March 2010 about Weeds since we are approaching the time of year when they are prolific and cause gardeners a lot of distress. Hope this is helpful.

Central Texas Gardening

“People garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we create our personal work of art upon our land – BUT nothing compares to what the Creator has already given us in nature.” (author unknown) 

 UNFORTUNATELY – THAT INCLUDES WEEDS!

The old saying that nothing is certain except “death and taxes” should add “weeds” to the list! So what is the difference between a native plant and a weed? Actually none, except the definition we give it which has everything to do with the location and proliferation  and little to do with the actual plant. The difference is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. In England, Dandelion greens are savored in salads and the Dandelion was declared an endangered wildflower! Here, we would gladly export every one…

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A SILVER LINING FOR YOUR GARDEN

I have lived in various parts of the country during my lifetime and found each to have uniqueness in the garden not found elsewhere.  Starting out in tropical regions of Florida, to northern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee, to the TX gulf coast to Austin, each area has provided opportunity to grow and experience different types and variety of plants that are adaptive to those specific areas.  Ornamental gardening in Central Texas offers one standout opportunity to grow plants with coloration not found widely in other areas of the country –  plants with silvery, grayish, bluish shades which make a nice contrast to the ordinary green that predominates most gardens.

Some of my favorite silver leafed plants include Bush Germander (Teicrium fruiticans),  Silver TX Sage (Leucophyllum fruiticens),  silver leafed palms, “Silver Peso” TX Mountain Laure (Saphora secundifolia “silver peso),  Paleleaf Yucca (Yucca palida),  Wheeler’s Sotol (Dasyliron wheeleri),  Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua),  Silver Sanolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus), and Agave parryi var. truncate, to name a few.  Many herbaceous perennials have beautiful silvery foliage also such as Russian Sage (Perovaskia atriciplifolia), Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Wooly Stemodia (Stemodia lanata), and Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’. Most of these plants grow natively or are adaptive to very hot, dry, and limestone soil regions, their foliar color being part of their adaptation to these conditions and survivability.

Paler color such as silver reflects light and keeps the plant cells cooler in hot conditions and reduces transpiration.  Pubescent silvery foliage also blocks excessive light, and helps reduce transpiration or water loss through the leaves.   Foliage on most silver foliage plants is small to also reduce transpiration.  The leaf cuticle may be waxy for water retention over long periods of time (example graptopetalum or ghost plant). Therefore these plants should be planted where drainage is excellent and among other plants with similar cultural conditions. Several silver leafed plants come also in solid green forms (example Santolina) so planting like plants with different coloration adds to the artistry of your garden design.   Plants with large leaves, e.g. silver leafed palms, generally are not pubescent and but mainly reflective.  Must silver leafed yuccas have very narrow foliage which reduces surface area to reduce transpiration as well.  But the fascination to me has always been how plants adapt to survive in desert conditions, silver coloration being one primary means.

In regard to the ornamental garden and use of silver plants in landscape designing, the trick is to be able to use these plants effectively to coordinate textures, size, and growth habit and create a stylized and cohesive look overall.  Some of the plants mentioned come in dwarf or compact forms, which add to the versatility. Examples are Durango/Silverado TX Mountain Sage, and Bush or Creeping forms of silver Germander.

There is always the right plant for the right location and often, this will be a silver colored plant to add a unique color addition to your garden, so don’t overlook some of these gems! The choices are tremendous.  I am totally fascinated by them

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A representative example of silver plants ideal for central Texas gardens.

2013 – A Gardening Year in Review

In previous posts, I have emphasized the importance of planning before digging but equally important is taking time to assess what succeeded and failed during the past growing season.
With a well below average cold winter in progress in central Texas, which is testing our garden’s endurance, it’s a good time to evaluate the past year’s gardening experience and lessons learned.

I started the year with a goal of transitioning to more native and cold hardy adaptive selections. This proved to be a prophetic and wise decision. Although several plants such as Barbados Cherry and Calamondin Orange have shown damage this winter from several hard freezes down to 20 degrees, they should recover in spring. Any non-hardy plants too large to fit into my small greenhouse are being eliminated. In some cases like Agaves, where pups are produced, a pup will be retained in the greenhouse for downsized growing next season. The jury is still out on other plants as freeze damage is often delayed. I have shifted from trying to cover-protect marginal in-ground plants during occasional freezes to a survival of the fittest garden by using plants adaptive to expected extremes, Having a small greenhouse becomes a real asset and money saver as marginal plants can be safely over-wintered for use in the coming year such as Bulbine, Pentas, and newly propagated plants needing more maturity before planting in spring.

Specifically, I decided to replace Heart leaf Skullcap with Mountain pea. The former proved to be only a cool season perennial which is highly invasive and hard to eliminate, The latter is a beautifully textured slow spreading, all season ground cover which is unaffected by hard freezing. Put that one in the plus column! Also a good move was to eliminate Zexmenia, a die back perennial, with Purple Skullcap, an evergreen perennial similar to pink Skullcap in size and texture

I also collected Bluebonnet seed and learned how and when to transplant seedlings for integration into the spring garden in a planned, not random manner. Once germinated, bluebonnet plants are freeze proof.

As our trees continue to grow, micro environments change. Lawn areas that were mostly sunny when we planted buffalo grass have become shaded causing decline. Those areas will be replaced with shade tolerant dwarf Mondo Grass adding another texture to the landscape. Another alternative is more shade tolerant Habiturf developed by the LBJ Wildflower Center. Word is it will be available as sod in 2014,

Another lesson learned was that our xeriscape designing did not predict erosion areas well, so corrective actions will include some replacement of hardwood mulched pathways with small river rock, and creation of mini-berms to slow water flow from heavy rain on sloped areas. Two years ago, we spread 3 inches of native hardwood mulch and will need to refresh it this winter. This is good news as the decomposition has enriched and improved topsoil texture.

Our decision and action to transform our entire yard to a xeriscape has reduced maintenance and water usage significantly and continues to reward us – best garden decision ever made.

So, what’s your assessment of your gardening experiences during the past year? Taking time to think about it will help you succeed and improve your gardening enjoyment In the coming year. Although this article addresses central Texas, the same philosophy works well wherever you garden. Winter is a great time to assess and develop your garden plan and strategy for spring and beyond. Preparatory work, mental and physical, to make those adjustments during winter will keep your gardening enthusiasm going strong while we are waiting for spring to come.

NEW LANDSCAPING THEORY 101

Why, oh why do we let developers get away with landscape felonies like

–       Sodding with water thirsty, disease prone St Augustine grass in central Texas
–       planting Ligustrum, Indian Hawthhorne, Privet, Pampas Grass, and other totally inappropriate or invasive plants.
–       Volcano mounding of mulch around newly planted tree for aesthetic appearances – a potentially deadly mistake.

It’s the cheapest materials they can use to maximize their profit and provide an instant “good look” to the property they are trying to sell, and/or
They just don’t have any landscaping or horticultural expertise on board, and/or
They don’t care because once a sale is made, it’s not their problem.
They win, the home purchaser loses.

What inspired this writing was a plea for help from a young couple who purchased a home 3 months earlier but didn’t know much about landscaping.  The house is about 10 years old and has confederate jasmine climbing over the second story windows and roof,  ligustrums out of control,  upright junipers impeding the entryway, and pampas grass planted to hide utility boxes near the sidewalk.   This is typical of many similar situations where home purchasers inherit the malpractice of the developers in creating future problems that won’t be their responsibility once the home is sold.

What if, developers offered a reduced price (landscaping allowance) to allow a new homeowner the freedom to landscape properly from the get-go by a professional of their choice or allowed the buyer to choose what goes in initially – including the wise choice of water-wise plantings.  It would make more sense to sell a new home property with a blank landscaping palate so there won’t be a price to pay in the future.  A new home purchaser should consider that if you don’t have time or incentive to do it right the first time, where is the time and resources to redo it .  The home owner pays twice, up front, and to fix it later.

What if, in our critical water crisis in central Texas, cities could require water wise landscapes and have that as part of the inspection process?  Landscapes consume over 30% of our water usage and that could be drastically reduced by wise up-front landscape planning.

What if  purchasers of existing homes took landscaping into consideration in negotiating a purchase price –  reduced home value due to expense necessary to remove and replace overgrown or unsightly landscapes.  On the other hand,  the value of mature trees adds to property value,    In shopping for a new home, most people pay full attention to the structure and layout of the building but hardly any attention to the property itself.  Hidden costs lurk everywhere, interior and exterior.

So if this article doesn’t seem to relate to gardening,  reconsider that thought.  There is considerable expense related to maintenance of a yard and related landscaping,  plus water restrictions due to severe drought, and much of these impacts can be minimized by up-front landscape planning.  In addition, curb appeal is dollars in the bank if you ever have to sell a home.   Exterior decorating is as important as interior decorating as it is the only part that is publically seen.

If builders would incorporate energy efficient and resource conservation features in homes such as solar panels, and  water-wise landscapes during new construction, it is easier and far less expensive to the home buyer to pay any additional cost as part of a mortgage as compared to having to pay a higher price for rehab work later.

If you currently have a landscape that needs reworking, don’t wait until it’s time to sell your house to improve it, but do landscape renovation now so you can enjoy the benefits while living there,  help reduce water usage,  and reduce your maintenance work and cost.   It’s the old “pay me now or pay me later” scenario that will make your up-front investment pay off down the road.

Of course, I must conclude with the strong recommendation that all landscapes in central Texas should be water-wise, using native and adaptive plants, for both newly developed and existing properties.