I’ve been working hard to gather information and artwork to have present in my booth at the upcoming Heart of Texas Green Expo this coming Friday and Saturday, June 8th and 9th. The show at the Bastrop County Convention Center is open from 8 AM to 5 PM both days, with an evening concert at 7 PM on Friday. Admission is $5 for one day or $8 for both. Please come find me in my corner booth at the back left of the exhibition hall, just as you would exit to see the exhibits on the exterior. In honor of the event, I thought I would give you a quick summary of principles involved in planning a sustainable landscape design.
The first is to create a plan with to-scale drawing of the existing site, including the house (with windows and doors), and any existing walkways, structures, and planting areas that will remain. Also locate structures or views on nearby properties that might require screening from within your lot. Once the basic information is noted, the design can be drawn to include elements such as new paths/walkways/patios, seating areas, overhead structures for shade, outbuildings, water features and other elements to draw desirable wildlife into the garden, lawn areas, and planting areas. Grading and drainage must be considered and planned for, as well.
Next, a soil sample should be sent for analysis, and once the results are in hand, devise a plan to amend the soil as needed. Consider soil structure and how it affects drainage, and add organic amendments such as compost and manures to increase water absorption and provide nutrients.
Sustainable landscapes will likely involved decreasing the size of lawn/turf areas, and using less water intensive grass varieties. Some newer varieties like Zoysia hybrids or even Habiturf (a combination of short growing native grasses grown from seed) should be considered. Plan for lawn only where there will be high foot traffic or play areas, and consider low growing groundcovers in other locations.
Consider native or adapted plants for your landscape, so that less irrigation and fertilization is required. Natives also encourage local wildlife, like insects and birds that depend upon them as sources for food and nectar. There are many beautiful native plants to chose from, and more are available today than in previous years. The Austin Grow Green booklet is my plant “bible”, though I do supplement it with a few other well-considered choices.
Planning for efficient irrigation is also key to sustainable design. Even natives will need a year or two of supplemental irrigation to get them established, and you’ll also want to be able to provide occasional water in years of drought like we’ve just experienced. My garden is large; early on I hauled sprinklers everywhere, and wasted much water. I’m sure I use half the quantity now that I have my zoned irrigation system. In-ground irrigation must be designed and installed by licensed personnel, so chose your contractor carefully.
Mulching is important to controlling weeds and retaining moisture in the soil. I use ground tree trimmings in my garden, and re-apply mulch twice a year to a depth of two inches. Other organic options for use are shredded bark, sawdust and wood shavings, pine needles, lawn clippings, straw, and leaves. Gravel or river rock can also be used if desired.
Finally, proper maintenance is required. Observation, weed control, fertilization, pruning and mowing, irrigation, and pest control are all necessary. Obviously these should be taken into consideration when planning the landscape. The use of a preponderance of native plants, properly located and planted, will cut down significantly on time required for maintenance. Once established, they will need very little care over the years.