Saturday, July 17, 2010

Texas Natives and East Coast Transplants

I hope my loving wife doesn’t mind too much if I pick on her for a minute, but I have a point to make and I find a lot of parallels in our current situation that I can’t help but bring out. You see, Carrie is a transplant. I found her in a grocery store on the east coast and loved her succulent branches so much, I popped her out of her life there and planted her here with me in Texas. While I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world (you should see what she can do with leftovers…) I do have to say that after spending just a few minutes with her in mid July, you can tell she didn’t grow up here.
We Texans are awfully proud of our state. While serving in the Army, you could always pick a Texan out of the crowd. Californians too, but that’s another story! No matter which part of the state you are from, there’s something to be proud and defensive about, but there’s one thing we all share no matter which region you call home. It’s hot!
You see, I grew up here. I thrive in this heat because it’s what I’ve known since I was a tot. Now Carrie’s a tough girl, but she’ll usually break before I’ve really dug into my workday. There’s nothing wrong with an exotic wife, but I do have different standards for my landscape plants.
When I design landscapes, I try to persuade my clients to go with drought tolerant species. This does not mean placing Cactus, Aloe, and Agave all over the place! Ninety-five percent of the plants I choose are Texas Natives or Adapted. I choose these plants because they did just fine here for hundreds of years. If I can create a landscape which is similar to the ecological system they are used to, they should do fine again without my help.
Designing a landscape with plants can be a daunting task for some (most) so if you feel like you can’t or you’re intimidated to start, you’re in good company. I have about 500 plants on my plant pallet. Of those, about 100 of those I work with on a daily basis and can tell you sun/shade conditions, size, bloom time, texture, color, and most any other pertinent detail that a designer needs to know. Some of my favorites for DFW Metroplex are listed below.
Shrubs and Perennials- Russian Sage, Red Yucca, Autumn Sage, Rosemary, Zexmenia, Echinacea, Aster, Lamb’s Ear, Lantana, Columbine, and Skullcap. Featured below: Zexmenia, Russian Sage, and Lamb's Ear.
Liriope is a very versatile plant which is worth mentioning. It’ll take just about any abuse you can throw at it. It’s drought tolerant and makes a good specimen plant, groundcover, or border for a garden.
Ornamental Trees- Ornamental trees worth looking at are Mexican Plums, Desert Willows, Redbuds, and the ever popular Crepe Myrtle. I have a lot of respect for Crepe Myrtles since they need little water to produce their never ending flow of blooms. They come in all colors and sizes and while they won’t bloom in shade, they will survive there until a better day. For exquisite fall color, try a Flame Leaf Sumac. Featured below: Mexican Plum in bloom. It smells like heaven!
Shade Trees- There are several really good trees in this area for shade. Red Oaks, Pecan, Cedar Elm, Burr Oaks, Sweet Gum, and Ginko Biloba (Ginko is an ancient tree by the way) to name a few. If you don’t have a deciduous tree on the Northwest side of your house, I recommend getting one. They block the hot afternoon sun in the summer months during the hottest part of the day and since they lose their leaves, they will allow sun in during the winter months. Save Pecans for the orchard or at least away from the house since they tend to want to drop their… everything. For places you have which are moist or in the low lands, try a Bald Cypress, Pond Cypress, or River Birch. Red Oaks and Bald Cypress can’t be beat for growth speed.
Ornamental Grasses: For shade, you can try Inland Sea Oats. This wonderful plant is also good for erosion control and tolerates moist feet. Most of your miscanthus varieties will tolerate full to part sun. Lindheimers Muhly is a wonderful grass which looks best when back lit from the sun, not head on. The ever popular Pampass Grass can be used, but because of it's serated edges, try not to use it next to walk ways or benches. Featured below: Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' (Maiden Grass)
Turf Grasses- There are some exceptions to the Texas Native rule. While I grew up with St. Augustine and love its texture and many benefits, this is a grass which should be used sparingly due to its high need for water. It is native to the coast where it really does get enough rain from nature to sustain it. If you love the texture of St. Augustine, take a look at the Zoysia varieties. I don’t recommend Bermuda Grass either because if it escapes into your garden, it’s really hard to reign in. Instead, try Buffalo grass. This grass is the best turf grass in our area due to its very high drought tolerance. It needs no more than 1.5” of rain per month!
Above all else, have fun with your garden. Get your hands dirty! Try something new and if it doesn’t work, do something else. Not everything is easy and not everything was meant for you, but if you keep at it you’ll find those plants with your name written all over them, especially if your name is gregii or davdii.

Catch the follow-up article to this one, Landscape Design 101: Avoiding 10 Common Beginner's Mistakes -Jason

Addendum- 9/20/2012 - I've gained a bit of knowledge here and there since I wrote this article so many months ago and while my information was well intended, I must admit that I made some mistakes. That's ok. We all make mistakes. I'm not going to hide that because there's value in that. Instead, let me share what I've learned about some of the plants I listed above. By the way, every plant mentioned above is drought tolerant to some degree and none that I know of are invasive.

Lamb's Ear originated somewhere in the middle east or the Mediterranean. It's best to keep this one out of evening sun and humid spots.

Rosemary originated in Europe and is common to the Med as well. This plant goes well with the Vitex (Also called the chaste tree) which is also from the Mediterranean.

Miscanthus is an Asian plant, mostly from Japan.

Russian Sage is from.... if you guessed Russia it's a pretty good guess, but all I have for you is somewhere in Asia. However, it's Latin name, Pervoskia sounds pretty Russian to me.

Liriope, one of my favs for the shade, it too is from Asia as is Zoysia.

And pampas grass comes from the land of Lions- Africa.

One of the best sites for checking out the natives the the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower center. There, you can find a database of thousands of natives of the U.S. -Jason

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