A NEW XERISCAPED FRONT YARD

Following a devastatingly hot and dry summer, reality has set in and we knew we had to made a dramatic change to our landscape in view of future forecasts of continuing drier and hotter than normal weather for years to come.  So we designed an entirely new front yard landscape which removed all St. Augustine turf and replaced it with native and adaptive perennials in hardwood mulched areas and a minimum of turf area using prairie buffalo grass.  HOA guidelines had to be followed and fortunately our HOA has proactively adopted xeriphytic landscaping guidelines and encourages this transformation.

We are not unlike most homeowners with a small residential lot, who have a limited budget so cost was indeed a consideration.   Our approach to constructing this in a cost effective way was as follows:

1,  Identify those tasks that are beyond our physical or technical capability and contract that work.  In our case that resulted in St. Augustine turf removal (done effectively with a strong weed eater) and some masonry work to expand a raised bed to match the house architecture.

 2.  Identify and stage materials needed.  This mainly involved purchasing of 4” steel bordering strips to outline turf vs. mulched areas and to provide bordering along property lines to keep out neighbors St. Augustine grass.

 3,  Gather decorative limestone boulders and rock from construction sites when permissible or possible.  You never know when or how these can be used in a garden landscape.  We were able to use natural rock that we collected 5 years ago which saved a lot.

 4.  Do construction work in planned phases, pacing the work so that as each step progresses, you can better envision the outcome and make any necessary adjustments during rather than after construction.   In our case, the steps were grass removal, bordering, masonry and dry river bed building, sodding, mulching and stone pathways, and final perennial planting.

5.  Order natural materials in bulk a day ahead of placement.  We first ordered a palette of buffalo grass and layed it the next day, followed by hardwood mulch – also spread the next day.  Any surplus materials were used elsewhere in the yard.

 6.  Any sod work requires loosening the soil, shaping and tampering the sod firmly and watering daily for up to 3 weeks following to ensure the grass has taken root.   Our sodded areas are about 1/3rd of the total front yard area.  Buffalo grass, when 3-4” tall will add a nice contrast to the mulched perennial beds.

7.  Last step is the planting of perennials.  We chose natives that will provide a variety of flowering colors and textures, using the City of Austin Grow Green book as our primary reference.  Finding sources may be challenging at times but local nurseries were able to order the plants they didn’t already have which met our needs.  Our planting layout incorporated evergreen with deciduous plants in groupings.

 8.  The last step was the placement of decorative natural rocks and boulders to provide a natural look.  These are the rocks we had collected and saved over time.   We added some additional décor like three décor pots of different sizes and coloring in a grouping.

 9.  Our curbside strip was incorporated into the overall front yard landscape as well to give it a unified look and feel.

 Now the final accounting.  We were able to do all this work in a weeks time (being retired), not counting the time developing the design and plan, The total cost was below $2,000.  Normally we wouldn’t consider spending even that much on landscaping, but consider it an investment that will pay off time and time again as we enter a period of water restriction and continued unfavorable climate conditions.  We will use much less water, have to do much less work to maintain it, and get to enjoy a variety of beautiful native/adaptive plants rather than just look at a solid green (or dead looking) St. Augustine lawn.

We share this story with you because we feel many are reluctant to take this plunge for a variety of reasons.  If we in our late 60’s, on a fixed retirement income, can do it, so can you.  The important thing is to realize that it is a good investment of time and resources that will provide years of benefit to you and your neighbors down the road.  Our next step is to do the same to the back yard in spring 2012.   So bye bye St. Augustine grass.  We won’t miss you! You will note that this landscape doesn’t have a ‘desert’ look which is a common misconception of xeriscaping.  Xeriscape means using water saving plants of all types.  Hopefully, you will be inspired to go xeriphytic also.

BEFORE AND AFTER XERISCAPING

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GUT CHECK TIME FOR CENTRAL TEXAS LANDSCAPES

Biting the bullet and endorsing a need for change is a tough thing for a gardener, or any other person in any other situation where traditional and favored ways aren’t working anymore.  How far will we go before we are convinced that change is the best alternative?  Will dead St. Augustine lawns , dying shrubs, trees and garden perennials be enough?   Will water restrictions and fruitless efforts to save our favorite non-adaptable plants be enough?  This is central Texas and we have been taught a lesson this summer that should hit every gardener’s and homeowner’s nerve.  Ninety days of 100+ temperatures, 23 inch shortfall in rain over the past year, lake reservoir water levels over 50’ below capacity and resulting water rationing, and dire predictions of longer term drought and heat has provided overwhelming evidence that our landscapes must change in order to survive.

We have reached that point and made that decision.  Have you?   This fall, all water thirsty (and now dead) St. Augustine grass is being removed and replaced with a combination of Buffalo grass and hardwood mulch with native shrubs and perennials blended in.  We have a thoroughly thought through plan and design for re-landscaping our front yard on a limited budget.  It will mean doing most of the work ourselves (and we are seniors), with some contracted help for tasks beyond our physical capability such as grass removal.  The dead grass removed adds to the compost pile.  Overall, we have found this process to not be a negative but very positive experience in several ways.

We have studied, researched, and learned about native and adaptive plants over many years but now have an opportunity and compelling reason to creatively design a natural and pleasant landscape using these tough and enduring plants.   We have taken a systematic approach to planning the new front yard such as defining which areas will be turfed with Buffalo grass vs. mulch covering, micro-environmental factors affecting plant choice, defining plants by type, height, and desired characteristics (with the help of the wonderful City of Austin Grow Green book), and defining materials needed to implement the plan.  In any DIY project, work must be phased appropriately from high to lower priority tasks and in do-able stages.  Before we break ground, we break pencil leads first and document our plan thoroughly.  We drove around to view and take pictures of what others have done to see what we like and dislike.  This helps in our conceptualization.

Other positives are that we won’t have to spend money on lawn care or have to mow our lawn in the heat of summer. Our lawnmower will become a surplus item. We will save money on our water bills and know we are helping our environment. The up-front effort and hard work will pay off many times over in years to come.

Facing changing realities and taking proactive steps to get ahead of the game is beneficial.  In 2001, we foresaw gas prices skyrocketing and fuel shortages lingering in the future, so converted to hybrid vehicles which we still drive 10 years later.  Today we see climate warming proving to be a reality and are thinking a decade in advance in planning and implementing a landscape that will meet this future challenge.  Waiting for a crisis to hit before acting will be much more painful than taking preventive measures today;.

Let me share some ideas that might be helpful.  If you have spreadsheet software like Excel, making row height equal to column width creates graph paper, each square being 1 sq. ft.  A good area diagram can be hand or computer drawn (in pencil with a good eraser) for planning purposes first defining what’s there, what will remain there, and what will be added or changed.  Start with defining turf or ground covering before considering plant alternatives.  When choosing candidate plants, always base it on maximum growth size although initial plantings will be considerably smaller.  Consider placement of non-living objects to accent the landscape. Consider hours of sun vs. shade if trees are nearby.  Consider the house architecture and general theme of existing landscape plantings when selecting, so everything is compatible with each other.

Finally, on a positive thought, our southwest U. S. environment in central Texas is unique, like no other place in the country.  Let’s embrace that and see the beauty in a dry climate landscape that folks in other parts of the country can’t have.  The days of lush green lawns in central Texas never really existed and definitely are not part of today’s reality, so use your creative imagination, design skills, opportunity to create something new and enduring, and reduce your gardening stress level by embracing xeriphytic landscaping and gardening.  Xeriphytic does not mean desert-looking – it means water saving so you can still have green and colorful landscapes that say “welcome to central Texas”.

HERE IS WHAT WE DESIGNED FOR OUR NEW FRONT YARD LANDSCAPE. Click on image for enlargement.

NEXT PROJECT (Spring 2012)  – BACK AND SIDE YARD XERISCAPING!  It just makes good sense