Friday, January 24, 2014

Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens is 'What's Hot'

Thank you everyone who has purchased a copy of my ebook A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens from the iTunes Bookstore. Your support has put my book in the “What’s Hot” category for the week of January 19, 2014! Thank you!

I also thank KLRU and Linda Lehmusvirta for scheduling me on Central Texas Gardener. My interview with Tom Spencer aired January 18, 2014. Central Texas Gardener is produced in Austin at the KLRU studios. It is one of the best television gardening shows I have seen. CTG targets central Texas with beautiful garden tours, expert interviews, and local professionals presenting seasonal tips. If you have not seen the program, you can find it here. If you would like to see my interview, it can be found on youtube here.  CTG’s producer and coordinator, Linda, also creates CTG’s blog post which can be seen here

Thank you to everyone who is emailing about other formats of the book. Currently I am working on a printed version and a conversion to Kindle format. Contrary to what hardware and software marketers would like you to believe, digital creations and conversions are not quick processes. I appreciate your patience. My goal is to have a printed version out in Austin by March or April. Thank you and stay in touch!

If you have not seen the book yet, you can download a free sample from iTunes

Monday, October 21, 2013

Let the rain linger with rainwater collection or rainwater harvesting

Heavy recent rains remind us that we do have the blessings occasionally (even if the occasions are three years apart!) Let this be a lesson to you to  collect that rain the next time it falls. The winter is a great time to plan and implement a rain saving program. There are several projects that can help you keep water on your property longer: install rain barrels or rain collection tanks; design and create a rain garden; design and install other landscape features to capture rain.

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape. Not necessarily a pond, but a low point in the yard where water can settle. Plants are grown in the area that like their feet wet for extended periods. Sedges, rushes, grasses, lilies, standing cypress, some penstemons, and iris are examples of plants that appreciate standing in moist soil. 

Installing some rain barrels around your house will be the easiest way to capture some water to save for a dry day. Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes and styles, even setting out 5-gallon buckets under downspouts will catch some rain for those precious plants you love. However, I suggest starting with at least a 50-gallon barrel of some type. 

Before installing your barrels, you want to be sure you know where the water runs off your roof. Roof valleys are the best location, as are the ends of long runs where the gutter downspout is located. Keep your gutters free of leaf debris so the downspouts are not blocked and leaves or shingle particles don’t fill up the barrel. If you don’t have rain gutters, look for the most worn out spot of soil around the eaves of your house, it shouldn’t be hard to miss.

Once you have selected the best spots to place barrels, level the ground where they will go. Fill the area with pea gravel then stack some landscape bricks, cinder blocks or paving stones on the gravel to support the barrel. This will keep the barrel from sinking into the mud and possibly tipping over. In most areas where I have installed rain barrels, I raised them up so gravity can flow the water for me. Stack the bricks higher on your pad for this.  

Make sure your barrel has a screen on top where the water enters to keep out debris and mosquitos. If, however, you are starting with the five gallon bucket set-up, be sure to put some mosquito dunks in the water. Mosquito dunks contain a bacteria that keep mosquito larvae from maturing, this keeps you and the neighbors happy. 

Many commercial barrels come with or can be outfitted with a hose bib or faucet. This makes utilizing your fresh water easier than dipping it out with a watering can. Hook a hose up to the bib and add a valve on the other end of the hose to close it off when not in use. 

All of the barrels pictured here were available in the Austin area at local nurseries. A new favorite of mine is the green 100-gallon barrel purchased at Plastic Mart in Burnett and western Travis County.

But there are numerous rainbarrel and tank resources in the Central Texas area. I encourage you to look around and have fun designing yourwater collection system, it will be such a benefit to you and your landscape or veggie garden!

If you live on a larger property or have a commercial property, consider installing a rainwater harvesting system. These systems generally collect and store 500 gallons or more and include filters and pumps. For great examples of these visit the Windsor Park Library, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, or the LCRA headquarters on Lake Austin Boulevard.

A great reference for rainwater collection is “Rainwater Harvesting” by Brad Lancaster from Tucson, Arizona. His book includes easy to understand diagrams. He also highlights innovative approaches in other cities to collecting and keeping rainwater in planted areas rather than allowing it to run off parking lots and roads. Believe it or not, there are other cities in the country much more advanced than central Texas for water conservation and use. 

The city of Austin is offering rebates to water customers for installing rainwater harvesting systems (500 gallons or more)

Hays County offers rainwater collection incentives

The LCRA provides information on rainwater collecting

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rain and Construction of Successful Granite Paths

Ah, the fun of rain in Texas, an all or nothing event. Hence the nickname for our zone “Flash Flood Alley.” What a treat for the Austin area to receive up to 12 inches of rain in some areas on Saturday night (October 12). The first significant rain in three years! (Take note those considering moving here from climates blessed with rain). Why that 12 inches cannot be spread out evenly over a month or two continues to baffle us gardeners. 

That is ok, we are inventive and can adapt our gardening design and style. Building a rain garden into your plan can help store water and moisture in your landscape for days if not weeks depending on the size. Rain barrels for collecting the water are something every home should be required to install. Rain water collection systems can be just that, a collection utilizing barrels of 50 to 75 gallons. Systems can grow up to harvesting plans that  include tanks of 300 gallons plus. 

No matter what your garden style, plans should be made for all the crazy weather central Texas has to offer. This means knowing where the sun beats down in the yard, knowing where the rain runs off your roof, and implementing materials in ways to keep your design stable. 

Decomposed granite, one of the materials of the garden commonly used here in central Texas, needs to be addressed after this heavy rainfall. Crushed or decomposed granite is a product used as mulch, walkways, and driveways. Since it is composed of small bits of crushed granite, it can be washed away easily when two inches of rain are falling per hour. To keep the granite on your property, I recommend designing wide edges and containment lines in long or sloped paths. 

came upon this granite path in west Travis County on October 13. Notice the long run of just decomposed granite. This area probably received more than 12 inches of rain on the night of October 12. Also note there is weed barrier under the granite. 

It is a simple path, quick to lay down the barrier, put down a metal edge and just shovel some granite on top. Quick does not mean durable. This damaged path made me think of a landscape plan I worked on 5 years ago on the grounds of Laguna Gloria. After seeing this disaster, I knew the Laguna path would have held up. I want to share the construction process so you can build a successful path in your garden.

Below is the walkway made of granite and limestone at Laguna Gloria. The left image was taken days after construction of the walkway in 2009. The right image was taken October 14, 2013 two days after 12 inches of rain fell at this location in 6 hours. This path has a grade change of approximately 24 inches over 50 feet in length. It is 4 feet wide and and edged with limestone. Containment lines, or breaks, are perpendicular to the edge every six feet. These edges and containment lines keep the granite from migrating to the surrounding garden beds, turf, or from washing down down grade during heavy rains. This structure can be applied to driveways as well as paths. It can also be utilized with any other type of small surface material such as pea gravel or Tejas black-the grey stone.

The limestone bricks called chopped block, are generally available in two sizes based on width, and are locally quarried. Stones of different colors are available for the same purposes, prices will vary depending on where the stone comes from. Blocks of stone like this are purchased by weight. You can load your own truck or order a large load to be delivered by a dump truck. If you have a large multi-ton load delivered, designate a dumping area on your property that can handle the effects of all those rocks tumbling onto the ground! The crushed granite is purchased by volume, ordered in cubic yards. As with the stone, you can load your own or have bulk loads delivered. Each material is available in small quantities for small jobs or patch-up work. Bags of granite and individually priced blocks of stone can be purchased at most building supply stores and some nurseries. 

Constructing your path

Tools: wheel barrel, flat shovel, hose, square tamper or weighted roller, pick axe if your yard is rocky, hardware cloth, measuring tape. 

Before you start digging out turf or shoveling gravel, get your garden hose out and use it to outline your proposed path. Walk the outlined area a few times from each end to make sure you like the path. Once you have settled on a path, get ready to dig, and dig some more. If you are removing St Augustine turf grass, your chore will be bearable. The flat shovel pushed parallel under the grass surface will cut it off. This type of grass has shallow roots making it easy to remove. Bermuda has deep roots so more time is involved removing this bugger. Repeated applications of horticultural vinegar on the roots will help choke it out. After removing vegetation, remove about one more inch of soil. Sift the soil through hardware cloth to remove roots, runners, and nut sedge nuts. Recycle the soil into beds or compost. Grass roots and nut sedge nuts are difficult to compost, I recommend throwing them in the trash.

With the path free and clear, measure the length and width to calculate materials needed. My experience and suggestion for materials: one inch of builders sand or road base crushed limestone as the base of the path topped with two inches of decomposed granite. Other surface materials could be pea gravel or the grey Tejas Black angular rocks. Granite can be up to 3” deep. You never want more than 2” of pea or Tejas Black because your feet will sink into them making it hard to walk on. To calculate the amount of sand and gravel: Length of path in feet  multiplied by width of path in feet multiplied by depth of material in inches divided by 324 = cubic yards.

L ‘  x  W ‘  x D “  / 324  = cubic yards 

NOTE: I do not recommend  laying weed barrier down in the bottom of the path! You want your path materials to come in contact with the earth to keep them in place. Notice the photo above, the granite just washed right off the smooth weed barrier. Some builders recommend weed barrier to keep weeds from growing through your path. The only weeds that would grow through all this gravel would be Bermuda or nut sedge. These two are easily treated with horticultural vinegar as a weed killer. Any other weeds are going to fall on the paths as seeds and sprout from the surface. 

Edging can be limestone blocks or other stone of your choice, even concrete edging, plastic or metal edging. The brakes, however, should be a stone or concrete block at least four inches wide. A thin metal edge or plastic edge will not hold water streaming down your path pushing granite.

When ready to build the path consider constructing your path in sections, especially if it is long. Finishing sections will give you a sense of accomplishment each day. Trying to complete a whole landscape path all at once can be messy and may make the task feel overwhelming. 

Lay out approximately one inch of sand or road base for the base. The flat shovel is great to use for moving sand and granite, however a regular spade shovel will work fine. Tamp the sand down with a square tamping tool or roller (weighted rollers can be rented at some building supply stores or equipment rental shops). Place your stone edging along the edges of the path and the containment stones perpendicular to the path on the sand as well. Then fill the path with granite edge to edge. Tamp the granite with the tamper, spray it with a little water-a very short shower-then tamp again. It will settle some so spread a little more granite on top. Repeat the process for the next section. Sections should be no more than 6 feet long to keep granite contained. You may choose to make smaller sections which may be better for containing granite. 

Stand back and enjoy the clean line of your new path. Now it will be easier to get into the garden, move tools, and keep your path contained! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October brings gold with flowering grasses

October is the golden month in Texas, central Texas being the center of the golden glow. By this time of the year there has usually been a shower or two no matter how light to decrease the weight of the sun. Temperatures fall ever so slightly giving the cue to native and naturalized grasses alike that is it time to reproduce. Above are adapted grasses maiden grass on the left, purple fountain grass on the right. Salvia greggii, yellow bells, rough leaf daisy, myriads of asters, and liatris follow suit. The month gives human garden tenders a reprieve from worry and allows time to sit and harmonize with the plants and migrating pollinators. 

Lindheimer muhly is certainly the star of the show this month. Above lindheimer is seen in a commercial planting in Williamson County. This pale blue-green, fine leaved grass provides a great soft texture in the landscape. Its shimmering tawney spikes of flower heads capture sunlight and wave it around like a sparkler. 

Lindheimer muhly should be placed in the back of the garden as a fence or backdrop to the wildflowers and shrubs that flower in front of it the rest of the year. This grass also looks wonderful planted alone in large clumps of 5 or more. Lindheimer muhly grass is an appropriate choice in place of the unfriendly pampas grass common in commercial landscapes. Pampas grass leaves have sharp edges that make for mean paper cuts all over our forearms when we work around them. Lindheimer muhly on the other hand is soft and touchable. It is also easier to clean out, just take a flexible metal leaf rake to the center and rake out dead material at the end of winter. An adjustable fine tined leaf rake is even better. 

The soft purple flower heads of gulf muhly are even sweeter. Like Lindheimer, gulf muhly is soft to the touch and lends soft texture to the garden. Gulf muhly is shorter than the taller lindheimer so you want to place it at the edges of the garden or in clumps with plants not much taller than the grass. Above gulf muhly is near the edge of a bed with a sea of silver ponies foot surrounding it. Gulf muhly’s blades are a deeper green and more mounding than lindheimer’s upright near-fountain shape. Both grasses can tolerate some dampness at their feet but not standing water. Where ever you place them, be sure you can see them in sunlight, backlighting in the fall really shows them off! Grasses are best shown off in mass plantings of three to five or more depending on the size of your landscape. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

October Maintenance Presentation at the Williamson County Native Plant Society Meeting

With a live showing of my ebook A Guide to Landscape Maintenance for Central Texas Gardens

Thursday October 10 at 7:30 pm I will be presenting “Maintenance for your Garden” at the Georgetown Public Library as a guest of the Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. NPSOT meetings are open to the public. My presentation will highlight maintenance tasks for this time of year. 

My goal is to give confidence to new landscape owners, as well as long time gardeners, in accomplishing basic maintenance tasks in the garden. I will discuss tools to make the clean-up and winter preparation easy. Myself and the long-time gardeners will give all assurances that it is ok to whack-back the stringy sages, and to let the ornamental grasses seed for wildlife. And while you are out there, go ahead and dig up those perennials that you have been babying through summer. If you had to water them twice a week, its time to let them go and try something new! And yes, we can plant now and in the winter. 

Here is a primer if you are starting your list (or cannot attend the meeting):

Cut back perennials that have completed blooming for the year. 

Use hand pruners for these: irises, wax myrtle, coneflowers, roses, yellow bells (be ready to cut this one way back after a freeze), pink pavonia, coral yucca stalks, turk’s cap if your flowers have expired-if there are buds hold on to them for traveling hummingbirds. Turk’s cap may need a good whacking back in the winter if your clump is getting un-wieldy or rangey.

Use shears for these: coral sage (be prepared to cut this one to the ground if it freezes in the winter), cenezio, rosemary, germander, inland sea oats, most summer wildflower stalks can be cut to the ground, retain the basal rosette closest to the ground. If you are developing a Wildscape, disperse the seeds from the summer flowers in your landscape.

Any shrubs that you want to shape should be done before a cold spell so new leaves under the sheared area do not freeze. October to November is the best time to shear these: boxwood, cenizo, germander, wax myrtle, yaupons- a note about yaupon shrubs and trees: if you have purposefully planted female yaupons for their berries, use caution when trimming so the berries remain through fall and winter for wildlife. You will have another chance to shear in late winter.

Allow these to complete their bloom cycle: copper canyon daisy, bunch grasses (the seeds provide food for migrating birds), salvia gregii

Plant winter herbs and vegetables such as chives, parsley, broccoli, onions, garlic, and cabbages.

Begin planting wildflower seeds for next spring and summer. You want these in contact with soil before fall rains so they can begin growing during the winter. 

For more information on the Williamson County Native Plant Society meeting, visit their website:

For information on the Native Plant Society of Texas Annual Symposium to be held in Corpus Christi this year, visit the state website: