Low-maintenance West Texas landscaping takes thoughtful planning

Alison Watkins
| Special to the Standard Times

Whether you’re an enthusiastic gardener and love working on the landscape or dread it, a beautiful yard can be a huge benefit – it extends and increases living area, improves property value and curb appeal, and provides a lot of enjoyment.

Horticulture can be tough in west Texas, though. And even hobby gardeners like to keep maintenance and labor down to a minimum. Believe it or not, a beautiful yard is possible in the Concho Valley without excessive water and fertilizers and labor, but it requires some knowledge and lots of planning ahead.

Texas A&M University promotes Earth-Kind landscaping and gardening practices, which are pretty simple and easy to understand as general concepts but they need to be adapted to local geographic regions and applied to the local climate and growing conditions.

Visit the website http://earthkind.tamu.edu/ for helpful publications on topics ranging from composting and soil improvement, to drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, landscape design and more.

The first step to a low-maintenance landscape is soil improvement with compost; incorporating organic matter into the soil before planting can make a significant difference in the success of growing plants and will reduce the need for irrigation and fertilizer.

Another critical step is good plant selection. It’s not as simple as choosing something with the right zone number. The zones listed on plant labels are only an indication of cold hardiness – so yes it should match our zone (8a) but that is not the only factor to consider. The high pH of our soil limits selection and is the reason we can’t grow blueberries and azaleas. Also, a plant may be within the cold hardiness zone, but not be able to handle the extreme heat of summer.

Drip irrigation should be used in all planting beds – it is more water efficient than sprinklers, is better for plant health, and makes watering the beds easier. Sprinklers spraying on shrubs, perennials and groundcovers can increase fungal disease and cause hard water buildup from minerals in the municipal or well water. Drip systems are also much easier to install and maintain than in-ground sprinkler systems, it just takes a bit of practice to get the hang of how to put them together. In most cases sprinklers are still better for turf grass, but use water-efficient nozzles that don’t allow as much evaporation.

Apply thick mulch to all garden and flower beds – wood mulch applied properly can be a superhero for your landscape – reducing weeds, conserving water, breaking down into organic matter to improve soil, etc. Apply over drip irrigation and keep replenished to a depth of three to four inches to get the best benefit.

Choose the right size of shrub and ornamental trees like crepe myrtles to eliminate the need to constantly prune or shear. For more info on how to have a beautiful landscape, join us for the Earth-Kind Landscape School seminar series coming up – it will be Wednesdays November 2, 9 and 16 from 6:30pm to 9pm at the Tom Green 4H center. The cost to attend all sessions is $30, for more info and to register visit https://tomgreen.agrilife.org/ or call the Extension Office at 325-659-6522.

Allison Watkins is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent for horticulture in Tom Green County. Contact her at aewatkins@ag.tamu.edu.

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