Basics of Home Landscaping for the Southeast Texas Area
This Blogpost will try to help you think through the process of planning and constructing a home landscape assuming you are willing to do the actual construction of the landscape yourself.
The Planning Process
The major feature to any landscape is the attraction of the eye to it. Therefore, in planning your landscape, be thinking of how your landscape can “stand out” from others in your area. The use of less common and “interesting” plants and a design that “draws the eye to it” will achieve this.
To start, have a well thought out plan on paper before you begin any construction activity. A good plan begins before any drawings are made. It should include the following:
A paragraph describing your concepts, assumptions, description of the entire landscape as you would like to see it, choices, total budget, and time frame. List of required equipment and materials needed
- List of alternative plant selections (generally completed after the design is drawn)
- List of potential sources for plant and other needed materials along with estimated costs.
- A phased construction schedule (work breakdown structure in priority order)
As part of the planning process, do the following:
Assess the natural resources, existing plants and trees, drainage patterns, soil conditions, natural light conditions throughout the day, and potential problems (e.g. underground utilities). Draw a scaled plot indicating these conditions and showing existing structures and significant trees. Plant selections will be very dependent on the existing or potential environmental conditions initially identified. Many micro-environmental conditions may exist within your yard that create exceptions.
Choices to make include formal vs. informal vs. naturalized landscape, degree of maintenance you are willing to undertake once constructed, landscape theme desired (predominant type of plants preferred), intended future use of all yard areas and acceptable restrictions, and what special features would you like to integrate (e.g. an aquatic pond/garden, butterfly/hummingbird attractors, fruit trees, other peripherals such as decorative containers, bed bordering materials such as rocks, etc)
Develop aesthetically pleasing planting or bedding areas as an addition to your scaled master plot. Avoid squared-off looks, use curvature or other angles and shapes to the extent possible. Often the creation of “Island” beds among trees adds interest and diversity. Allow for seasonal variations in planting areas – using both permanent and seasonal plant materials to add variety from year to year. Place taller plants to the rear and add both vertical, horizontal, and a sense of depth to the planting arrangement (a 3D effect so to speak).
The final step in developing a landscape is the selection of plant candidates – looking at all suitable alternatives and selecting those that reflect your personal preferences. This topic follows:
Plant Selection – Criteria to Consider
General rules of thumb to follow include: Select several suitable alternatives for each planting area. Get the advice of a knowledgeable horticulturist or independent source that doesn’t have a conflict of interest (e.g. a nursery would most likely recommend plants they stock for sale). Personally view each plant recommended to ensure that it suits your personal tastes. Although landscaping is done for the neighbourhood, you look at it every day and must be the ultimately satisfied customer.
Mix different plant textures, sizes, colours, and growth forms to add diversity and visual/artistic interest. The combinations of plants that would go well together are numerous.
A mixture of plants should promote a sense of 3-Dimensional depth in addition to diversity. Never line plants up in a row, and allow sufficient spacing for the plant’s ultimate size, not to achieve an instant effect. Consider how the landscape looks from all visual angles.
Use predominantly evergreens for frontal or public areas. When using deciduous plants, surround them with other evergreens to provide interest during dormancy periods. Deciduous plants can also be effectively used as backdrop plants.
Be prepared to acquire your plants from multiple sources. No single commercial source will have all the plants you need at any given time. You can also compare quality and prices from various commercial sources while making the rounds.
Bed or planting area preparation is the most important key to the successful planting of any landscape. For the Gulf coastal areas with hard compacted clay soils, roto-tilling or shovel turning/breaking of soil to 12-inch depth, topping with 6 inches of mixed soil (1/3 sharp sand. 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 ground mulch) then roto-tilling/turning soil again will ensure a good foundation for any area to be planted. Another technique is to plant in raised bed conditions, either by bordering with landscape timbers, rocks, etc or by mounding up at least 6 to 12 inches using the same recommended soil mixture. Gulf coast clay soils are nutrient-rich but very poor draining.
These preparations mainly deal with the drainage problem. Inland from the Gulf 50+ miles, the soil changes to sandy loam or more friable texture requiring less preparation effort. For Central Texas gardeners, the same problems can be solved by planting in raised beds. Central Texas conditions vary but may include a dry hard clay soil or a shallow soil base bottomed with limestone that drains very well.
In constructing your landscape, be prepared for the long haul and don’t expect your completed job to look “finished” for some time afterwards. It takes time for plants to become well established and grow to desired characteristics. Never plant for “instant effect” but visualize the potential several years away. It will take up to several years for the potential to be realized.
Plan your construction work into easily divided phases (a work breakdown structure) so it can be done over time depending on the time of year, availability of materials, available personal time, and stage of construction (e.g. bed preparation vs planting).
As a general rule, the best time to plant any tree, hardwood shrub, or hardy perennial is in fall (Oct.-Nov.) for the Central Texas or Gulf Coast areas. This allows the plant to concentrate on strong root development during the winter months before the spring growth spurt. There is ample moisture during these months and a reduction of stress from the summer heat to allow the new plants to become well established. Spring planting should focus on tender and seasonal plantings, plus the addition of any tender plants overwintered out of the ground. Such exotics and tropical plants can add a lot to the summer landscape when blended with permanent plantings.
The final thought on home landscapes is “An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure”. Take the time to do it right, thoroughly research your choices of plant materials, and assess your environmental conditions to match them with the best plants for those conditions. The time it takes to prepare your beds properly will provide years of trouble-free growing and save you money in the longer run. Also, don’t expect instant results – a good landscape takes time to develop. Be prepared for additional maintenance time for every landscape addition you add. What gets constructed must get maintained or you’re back to square one.
Most people think that Home Landscaping refers to the front end appearance of the home to beautify it for the betterment of the neighbourhood. But what about your personal enjoyment?
HERE IS ONE ASPECT OF HOME LANDSCAPING THAT IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED!
Don’t forget to landscape your backyard also. The front may be for the neighbourhood effect but the back yard is for your personal pleasure, so a beautiful landscape in the back area as well, full of gardens with your favourite plants and creative touches will add much pleasure to your home-owning experience.
See Examples of “Backyard Landscaping below. We transformed a barren backyard with St. Augustine grass and a fence into what you see below, in less than one year! It has become a mini-botanical garden with space left to roam.