>CURBSIDE LANDSCAPING

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This article refers to the narrow strip of lawn area about 4’ wide that runs between the sidewalk and curbside in many neighborhoods.   First of all, this is public easement territory, but homeowners are expected to maintain it. To try to keep St. Augustine, or other problematic turf grasses green and looking well along this public walkway requires watering and fertilizing. There is no watering system (automated or manual) that can water this narrow strip without wasteful runoff into the gutter and eventually into our creeks and lakes. Add to this pesticides and chemical fertilizers applied to maintain a good looking lawn area in this narrow strip which runs off along with the wasted water and pollutes our natural waterways.


A good example of the problem is depicted in the following picture which shows an automatic sprinkler system in the sidewalk strip, but note the waste in water through runoff.  The owner was compliant with water restriction rules,  watering on the correct days at the correct times, but the impact is obvious.

   

There is an easy solution to this that provides attractive curb appeal and avoids environmental contamination and waste of limited water resources. It’s xeriscaping the nuisance strip, tearing out the turf grass and replacing it with 100 percent self sufficient plantings which can sustain themselves in any weather condition without supplemental watering, pesticides, or fertilizers. In place of lawn, packed decomposed granite, gravel, or hardwood mulch can keep weeds at bay. What a win-win situation!

If your homeowners association or authority doesn’t allow this, it’s time to hammer hard for change. Avery Ranch in NW Austin recently did just this – adopted a set of guidelines which permit approval of xeriscaping not only the nuisance strip area but for front yards as well. This doesn’t mean you can plant a “wildscape” or anything , anywhere, but is team effort between homeowners and the homeowners association to help keep Austin green and continue to get more environmentally friendly. The benefits to the homeowner is significant in cost savings, less maintenance, and living within the constraints of and respecting our central Texas environment.

Common sense should prevail when designing a curbside (often referred to as “nuisance strip”) landscape. Avoid dangerous plants with thorns, spines, or toxicity, choose only plants that are 2 feet or less for visual safety, only use hardscape elements (e.g. rocks, driftwood or other decor), that are less than 1ft tall, use only plants that are native or adaptive to the local environment, and avoid sprawling or rapidly growing plants to reduce maintenance. Choose plants that will provide year-round curb appeal (e.g. mix evergreen with perennials that go dormant in winter). Know your soil conditions (drainage and composition) along the strip as well and choose plants that are adaptable to them. Your “strip” landscaping should be compatible with your front yard landscape as well. Remember, what you create, you must maintain. Also there are City of Austin regulations to ensure public safety that need to be complied with regarding public access areas such as sidewalks.

Some suggested plants to consider which are evergreen, full sun, low water requirements, deer resistant, include: Sanolina (green and silver varieties), Pink skullcap, Hesperaloe (red yucca), Mexican feather grass, Bulbine, Blackfoot daisy, Calylophus, Creeping Rosemary, Bush or Creeping Germander, Rock Penstemon, and evergreen sages (e.g. cherry sage). Certain soft leafed Yuccas may be used as well such as Yucca filamentosa. You start with evergreens and winter condition appeal, then expand into perennials which dieback or are dormant in winter but can be planted among evergreens to add to summer color. Be imaginative and seek out additional plants that meet the requirements. For example, you can use a super dwarf crepe myrtle “  that never gets more than 2’ tall) as a foundation plant. It is deciduous so a supporting cast of evergreen plants are needed for winter appeal. There are many dwarf varieties of plants being introduced every year that might be suitable for this specific area of landscaping.

Beautifying the strip between the sidewalk and curbside benefits both the homeowner and your neighbors who will stroll down the sidewalk and have something much more beautiful than a carpet of grass and weeds to look at – in addition to setting an example of how we can be more environmentally responsible for the little pieces of turf we control.

Who knows what the initial designers of our neighborhoods with thinking when creating these nuisance strips, but we need to rethink and consider correcting that  lack of environmental  forsight.  We all can so something to our own piece of turf to make it environmentally better. If you agree, it’s time to get digging!

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>MY MOST DREADED GARDEN PEST

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Help! Some of my Agaves and Yuccas have rotted at the base and collapsed, only to find a mushy and decayed mess. What is causing this? 

It’s an attack by the Agave Snout Weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus). The picture above shows the adult and the grubs which were embedded in a Yucca aloifolia plant and the damage they cause.

This is a nasty little creature, ½ to 1” long, black, wingless, with a typical weevil snout that bores holes into the base of more mature agave, yucca and other related plants with a base diameter of 2” or more.. Then, it introduces a bacteria which is necessary to cause rapid tissue decay in the plant to feed its white legless grub larvae at the same time it lays its eggs. Once hatched, the larvae feed on the rotting and bacterial rich inside tissue of the agave plant causing it to eventually collapse. It then pupates from larva to adult in the surrounding soil. If this pest is not discovered early on, there is little one can do to save the plant.
OK, now what you may need to do to prevent this nasty creature from destroying your Agave and Yucca plants is apply a systemic insecticide (liquid or granular form) that is effective on grubs. Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Insect Control, with the active ingredient imidacloprid (under the trademarked name Merit) has been used effectively. Recommended treatments should be in spring and once absorbed into the plant, should protect your plant for up to a year. Treating the surrounding is also necessary.  Other systemic insecticides can be used if they are recommended for treating grubs. Always follow the directions on the product labels. As much as I hate to use any chemical product, this unfortunately is the only effective way to combat the Agave Snout Weevil once discovered. Observation and immediate removal of infected plants and soil around them is also effective in combating this pest. Agaves grown in containers with sterile soil are much less susceptible as the weevil is soil borne during it’s development. This weevil is doing much damage to commercial Agave crops in Mexico (Tequila, Sisal), therefore is having an economic impact as well. Ironically, it is this grub that is often placed in the bottom of a bottle of Tequila.
Next time you enjoy a Margarita raise your glass and say “Curses to the Agave Weevil”