In fall of 2011, we stripped our entire yard of St. Augustine grass (mostly dead after the record heat and drought of summer), and did a completely xeriphytic landscape, front and back. BEST MOVE WE EVER MADE! It was hard work as we – nearing 70 senior citizens – did 90% of it, and it took a chunk out of our budget for the materials, but the rewards we are enjoying this summer rivals that of an Olympian receiving a gold medal. That investment in time, energy, and resources, or better expressed as “the up front investment”, has reaped enormous reward.
Reflecting on it now, in the middle of summer 2012, we:
1. Don’t have to spend hours mowing a lawn in the hot and muggy weather
2. Don’t have to water, except in prolonged dry spells – saving water and dollars.
3. Enjoy a beautiful, self sustaining garden-type landscape from indoors.
4. Enjoy seeing the various wildlife that are attracted to a natural type landscape
5, Do minimal maintenance, which can be easily done within an hour in early morning.
6. Have time to enjoy other pursuits due to less time needed to maintain it.
7. Don’t worry about losing plants due to severe heat or cold using adaptive plants
8. Have created a yard of interest and diversity to be enjoyed by the neighborhood
9. Enjoy having the yard look good at all times
Does this mean we can just sit back and forget about the yard? NO, not at all. Leaf drop in fall, weed infestation, watering plants in containers, limited edging, and trimming of shrubs as needed still remain on the maintenance chore list. But by walking the yard regularly, a list of needed chores can be made and done during the cooler part of the day. By not putting off these minor chores, maintenance becomes a less stressful and strenuous thing. Also the very design of the xeriscapes can reduce maintenance needs. There is no such thing as a maintenance free yard , but the degree and amount of maintenance can be greatly reduced. This is something to appreciate in the heat of summer in central Texas
What about changing the look of the garden occasionally. A xeriscape need not be a static or permanent thing. During appropriate times of the year, plants can be transplanted, replaced with something different without further bed preparation once the basic xeriscapes design is created, Hardscape materials can be moved or added to give a different look, Seasonal plants can always be integrated at any time.
Experience is said to be the best teacher, so now that we have had the experience of making a transition to a xeriscaped yard, we are eager to share our evaluation of this effort. We learned:
1. Planning and designing well ahead is critical to success – on paper, researched, well thought out. Check for HOA restrictions and guidelines first.
2. It is advantageous to stockpile materials (rocks and other natural items to be used) in advance to facilitate a smooth work schedule.
3. Fall and winter are the best times to do the construction when it’s comfortable weather and more importantly, plants have an opportunity to become established by spring. If planting in spring, do so as early as possible.
4. Doing the project in realistic segments and time phases allowed mid stream adjustments to be made. Even the best laid plans can go astray or have faults.
5. We found stripping existing lawn with a weed eater to work very well – and the finely cut grass can be raked to create wonderful compost.
6. Do expect to lose some of your initial plantings. Even though native and xeriphytic, they need more water up front and time to get their roots established, but there may be a few casualties.
7. Use the City of Austin’s Grow Green free booklet and other grow green free resources for choosing appropriate native and adaptive plants. It has all the information you need to make good choices.
The only mistakes made during our experience was that some plant choices didn’t work well, requiring replanting with a different selection. The reason why more mistakes weren’t made was that we took so much time up front to design and plan well – the old “ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure” approach.
Does all this seem overwhelming to you by now. Believe me, it’s all worth it! We have years of relatively carefree gardening and landscape maintenance ahead and can sit back and marvel at the benefits of a xeriphytic landscape. Life has become more enjoyable, less stressful, and to repeat, it’s the “BEST MOVE WE EVER MADE”`.
You can see the story about our xeriscapes transition to be aired September 15th on KLRU-TV’s Central Texas Gardener show which will also be on YouTube afterward. We hope you will consider the value and benefit of making the move to a xeriscaped yard. It makes so much sense and is so rewarding as we can personally testify.