The Local LandscapeApr 01, 2022 ● By Diann Nichols
With spring underway in North Texas, you may be envisioning luscious green grass and colorful, perfectly manicured flowerbeds where your brown yard resided for the first part of the year.
But how does one turn a lackluster landscape into an oasis for the eyes? A trip to the local nursery or home and garden center may cause sensory overload if you don’t have a plan in place. So, where to start? As noted horticulturist and Texas gardening expert Neil Sperry states in his latest book, Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening, “Lawns are the bindings of our surroundings. They’re the visual element that ties things together.”
Think of your lawn as a canvas – the foundation of which in this area most commonly is Bermuda grass. Common Bermuda grass has many advantages: It grows well in Texas’ black clay soil, is inexpensive and tolerates Texas’ heat and drought conditions. It also stands up to the occasional cold weather snap that makes its way into the region.
But Bermuda grass also has downsides: It can be invasive, taking over flowerbeds and other landscaping elements. It’s also not a fan of the shade. Less common in North Texas (although more shade tolerant) is St. Augustine grass. However, this type requires increased water and is more prone to disease than common Bermuda grass. Also, it can sometimes be destroyed during North Texas winters.
Caring for grass is as important as the type of grass one selects to plant. Sperry told Frisco STYLE, “Most lawn grasses do not need as much fertilizer as they get. They probably need two or three feedings a year of a very high-quality lawn food.”
Giving grass the correct amount of water is also paramount. “When you water, water deeply and then wait to water again,” he said. “The goal is to get water down to where you want the roots to grow. You want your long grass roots to be down six or eight or 10 inches deep.” When the soil dries out on top, it is time to water deeply again.
Before visiting a nursery or garden center, the experts agree it is best to have a plan in place. This is where landscape designers can lend their talents and input.
Christal Davis, owner/landscape designer at Clay’s Clippers, which has clients in Frisco, works with clients to create a landscape that not only looks beautiful but also suits their needs. “The thing I ask people first is what is your budget,” she said. “And secondly, how much time do you have to maintain your landscape?”
Jarratt Calvert, operations manager at Shades of Green in Frisco, reminds clients that “low maintenance does not mean no maintenance.” Landscaping, he said, “can be as much maintenance as you want, or as little maintenance as you want,” depending on the plants that are selected.
Besides knowing how much maintenance is required for a particular plant, knowing which plants do well and thrive in North Texas is also important. “What looks great on Pinterest may not look good in your yard,” Davis noted. “Doing research and really seeing what plants survive and thrive in Frisco is totally different” than in, say, Houston. “So, you
really have to hone in on what does well in this area.”
When opting for a low-maintenance landscape, Sperry offers a few tips. “Choose plants that grow to the height you want – in other words, plants that won’t have to be pruned regularly to keep them in inbounds.” Also, he said, “Try to avoid plants that need inordinate amounts of water.”
When considering a water-wise landscape, many people immediately think of xeriscaping, a style of landscaping that requires little-to-no irrigation. Although true xeriscaping works well in places with desert climates, it is not without its problems when installed in North Texas.
“The problem is our heavy black-clay soil,” Sperry explained. “The water-holding capacity of the soil that we all have in the Metroplex is gigantic. It’s like a sponge and when it gets wet, it’s impossible to get it dry in a hurry, and so plants tend to get waterlogged,” causing them to effectively drown. “That’s why I’ve always promoted the use of adaptive plants.”
Unlike native plants, adaptive plants (such as crape myrtle trees and bushes) have learned to adapt and thrive in the specific climate where they are grown. However, incorporating all-native plants into a landscape design is not necessarily a good idea either, Davis said. “You really don’t want to do that because they all drop dead in the wintertime and then it looks like you’ve lost everything you own. You really want a good balance of native and adaptive plants. And that’s the key to being efficient and smart about how you plan your landscape.”
Another landscape theme that pops up frequently is wildlife habitats. Instead of making your entire yard a wildlife habitat, however, consider planting just a portion of it to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. Otherwise, you may also end up attracting unwanted critters such as mice and snakes. Davis, with Clay’s Clippers, likes to use a good mix of native perennials that attract hummingbirds and butterflies over about 10 to 20 percent of a yard.
Calvert, with Shades of Green, agrees with the practice of incorporating native perennials. “It’s just the perfect recipe for a lot of these plants,” he said. “It’s what the butterflies and bees and any kind of other pollinators and birds really thrive on.” Factoring in bloom time is also important when planning a habitat area. “If everything blooms in spring, nothing’s going to come to your garden in the fall,” he reminded. “It helps to do a little bit of planning on when your bloom times are going to be.”
When planning a landscape design, be sure to use the resources available at local nurseries and garden centers. “Go talk to somebody who thinks about plants 12 months a year,” Sperry advised, “and preferably a Texas-certified nursery professional that’s a member of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. They’ll give you good advice and they can help you with the design.”