Publications (Paul's Blog)

August 12, 2009

LANDSCAPING FOR NEWCOMERS

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 6:27 pm

So many of us get uprooted and transplanted to different locations these days. A move across the country or across the state will likely entail some adjusting to a different set of gardening conditions. A new home will give you a clean slate for a new landscape. If you move into a previously owned home you may find the landscape in need of a facelift. Either way, you will find the following suggestions helpful as you make the necessary adjustments. First of all consider what you are leaving behind.You may be faced with the unfortunate situation of having to leave Grandma’s 50 year old rose or the pecan tree your dad planted behind. The best way to deal with heirloom or special plants is to propagate them. Seeds, rooted cuttings, bulbs, corms, and the like can be transported much more efficiently than dug plant specimens. The larger the plant, the more difficult to move and consequently the more likely to die from shock. Keep your legacy alive by being practical and staying small. If need be, talk to local nursery professionals. They can offer sound advice on the best method of propagation or do it for you.winter. Learn the average rainfall, temperature, and humidity. Become a weather watcher. Pay particular attention to record highs and lows to get an handle on the extremes. Be prepared for the wet season and the dry times. Begin your planning with the soil. You may be challenged with rock, fine sand, or heavy clay. It may be easier to build raised beds than to dig down. Have your soil tested. Learn about which plants will thrive in your particular type of soil. A visit to your local county extension office will be a great place to start. They can help you with soil analysis and also provide you with plant lists for your area. This is a free service. Take advantage of it.

Go ahead and accept plant gifts from friends and family to use in your new home. People often send along favorite plants to remind you of home. Whether or not these plants will survive where you are going doesn’t matter. These are gifts given from the heart. Besides which, if the giver is an astute gardener they may be giving you something that will adapt to it’s new home. However, in some cases you will find your new environment so drastically different that the best thing to do is forget about what you grew back home. If you just can’t live without the smell of gardenias or some other plant you left behind then visit a florist and get yourself a quick fix. Don’t try to force desert plants to grow in the forest or vice versa. The best attitude is to look at the move as an opportunity to experience new things. Let go of the past, stretch a bit, and face the challenge.

Before you rush out to buy new plants it is wise to study the climate. Planting dates will likely be different. You may not have to wait for spring.newcomerspathway It may be better to plant in fall or winter. Learn the average rainfall, temperature, and humidity. Become a weather watcher. Pay particular attention to record highs and lows to get an handle on the extremes. Be prepared for the wet season and the dry times. Begin your planning with the soil. You may be challenged with rock, fine sand, or heavy clay. It may be easier to build raised beds than to dig down. Have your soil tested. Learn about which plants will thrive in your particular type of soil. A visit to your local county extension office will be a great place to start. They can help you with soil analysis and also provide you with plant lists for your area. This is a free service. Take advantage of it.

Pay attention to the locals. It was once said, ” If you want to catch fish, then watch the person who is catching fish, and do likewise.” Even if you don’t know much about plants, being observant as you drive about town can teach you plenty. Pay attention not only to the type of plants but also to the situations in which they are grown.Is it shady, hot sun, raised bed, or wet spot? It’s all about location …………Right? The older neighborhoods are particularly good for making these observations. Here you will find plants that have withstood the test of time, all the droughts, floods, and insect attacks. Most of the fad plants and passing fancies have weeded themselves out. What is left are the survivors. The only problem with searching the older neighborhoods is that some of these old heirloom plants may be hard to find at the nursery.
Another valuable place to search for good landscaping plants is in the surrounding countryside.  Most of what you’ll see (with the exception of trees) used in traditional landscaping are imported plants. However well adapted these plants may be, your local natives are the only plants that are perfect for your environment. Regardless of how different the natural landscape may appear to be compared to traditional manicured landscaping, you should be aware that all plants have their origins in the wild somewhere. Even the most formal landscapes will grow weedy and look shaggy without proper maintenance. You’ll find that your native plants will look great in a formal arrangement and will do so with less care than their imported cousins. Find a wild place that you enjoy and take a stroll now and then. As the seasons change you will find mother nature’s display to be both interesting and ample. Choose the plants that are appealing to you. Take samples to a knowledgeable source or use a field guide for identification. Using native plants will not only save time and money by lowering maintenance but also be a celebration of the natural beauty of your local ecosystem. Be advised that state and federal law prohibits digging plants from public lands and landowners don’t take kindly to trespassing.

By now you should be getting a pretty good idea of the types of plants that should do well for you. The next step is to arrange the plants you’ve chosen in such a way as to be practical and aesthetically pleasing to you. For example, put the plants that you like best in places that are the most visible. Consider their mature size and leave room for growth. Don’t get in a hurry to achieve a “finished” look and cram too much in a small area. Even professionals are often guilty of this so be aware. Open spaces are best filled in with groundcover’s, short lived perennials, or annuals for the short term. This will allow your larger plants room to grow. If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable doing a design yourself then hire someone. A good landscape design is money well spent. It goes without saying that the person you hire should not only be knowledgeable but also capable of creating something you will enjoy and are able to maintain. Check out some of their work before making any decision.

Finding a good nursery or landscape contractor is a lot like finding the best restaurants. You can find adequate meals at your nationwide franchised eating establishments but to find your best locally owned restaurant usually takes some time and a little trial and error. Again the local citizens can be of great help. The best nurseries are usually family owned and operated just as you find in the restaurant business. These nurseries may be located off the beaten path but the local gardeners will know. As mentioned earlier, heirloom varieties and native plants may prove hard to find and almost certainly won’t be available at your Mega-marts and other mass merchants who offer plants as a seasonal promotion. Most of the plants that we use in the landscape are capable of living for many years. Wisely chosen plants can last a lifetime so it will be worth the effort to find your local professionals to gain from their knowledge and experience even if it means going out of your way or paying a bit extra. Don’t assume that just because you buy a plant from a local garden center that it will live for you. The amount of information you find on a plant tag at a self help store is very general and often can be misleading given the vagaries of our Texas weather. “Buyer beware” counts double in the nursery trade. Trial and error landscaping can be very frustrating. Do yourself a favor and find the right nursery before you waste precious time and money.

One last bit of advice. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You don’t necessarily have to follow the status quo.  A little research will convince you that drip systems are more efficient and easier to maintain than conventional spray type irrigation. Why not choose the better technology? Likewise if you will check out the latest trends in landscaping you may find some to be very appealing. Many people are choosing xeriscapes, habitat gardens, pocket prairies, water gardening, and herb gardens as exciting alternatives to traditional foundation plantings.One of these methods may just right for you. If low maintenance is your objective then don’t saddle yourself with a huge lawn full of fast growing grasses. Consider using other groundcovers, hardscapes, or at the very least, slower growing grasses. Each time you move you will have the chance to experience new things in your outdoor environment.
Enjoy it!

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