Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

Commentary by a National Wildlife Steward who helps Zilker neighbors establish native plant gardens

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Pest Management 101 – Today at 10 AM

I just learned of this opportunity to learn about controlling pests in a natural way. If you read this in time, you are welcome to attend this for free. Organic and low-toxicity solutions will be featured.

Bugs and Critters! Integrated Pest Management in Your Neighborhood

This Saturday morning Austin’s IPM Coordinator, John Gleason will present information and talk  with neighbors about Integrated Pest Management. John has extensive experience as a landscape architect and expert on the city’s IPM, Grow Green, and Green Gardening programs. He’ll share information and then answer your questions.
Date: Saturday, February 26th, 2011
Time: 10:00am to noon
Location: Meet under the Browning Hangar at Mueller Central off Airport (the hangar by Lake Park and the food trailers).
Open to the public

Learn & Volunteer with Green Corn Project

Want to get your hands dirty but don’t have a garden? Want to help others start a vegetable garden? Like volunteering and helping our broader community? You can get do all that with the Green Corn Project here in Austin, TX. Who are they?

Green Corn Project (GCP) is a grassroots, volunteer-run organization dedicated to helping Central Texans in need grow their own organic vegetables. Our Mission: To educate and assist Central Texans in growing organic food gardens.

They use a bio-intensive method to help make growing a vegetable garden more successful and more natural. I volunteered for one of their dig-ins about a year or so ago. We helped dig a garden at a AISD school. I learned how to “double-dig” which is a special way to aerate the soil so the plants can grow deeply. I thought it was really cool and wasn’t that difficult with the many volunteers we had. I also learned it so that I could use the method in my own garden.

Guess what? Their March dig-ins are now ready for volunteering – they are occurring on 3 weekends in March on both Saturday and Sunday. Please consider volunteering! They have built a lot of gardens in Austin:

Map of Green corn Project Gardens

Green Corn Project Gardens

If you really get into this, you can also volunteer to be trained as a Dig-In Leader. There are two spring dates – this Saturday, Feb 26th or March 5th. There is no experience necessary – they will train you. Once you are a leader, you are the key to supporting at least a few more gardens to be built in the city.

Here’s hoping that some of our Zilker residents volunteer for GCP!

GoNativeU: Informal Classes at UT

Want to learn more about a gardening topic?

The University of Texas at Austin and Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center have just announced their new classes at Go Native U!

Go Native U is an informal education program designed to teach adults about the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes. In our spring and fall series of native plant gardening classes, students learn about the benefits of native plants in a fun and interactive environment. Classes with NPG prefix are part of the Native Plant Gardening Certificate Program. Classes with EL prefix are Electives. All classes are held at the Wildflower Center’s beautiful campus in south Austin.

Classes start as early as March 26th and may last through early June. They cost at least $45. There are lots of good topics, such as landscape design, plants, pests, gardening for wildlife etc.

They have some nice classes pre-packaged as a Native Plant Gardening Certificate. There is a certificate 1 and certificate 2. Each set of classes cost $243.

Let us know if you plan to take any of these – perhaps there will be a big Zilker contingent.

Land Use Transformation with Green Landscaping

There’s a story on The University of Texas’s features website that you MUST read in lieu of any new info from me (very busy week this week!). Learn how “Wildflower Center ecologists help spur land use transformation through national green landscaping initiative.” The article discusses a nationwide initiative to bring attention to green landscaping. There are pictures, some even before and after, of the landscaping creating across pilot sites in the U.S. I will highlight some of the incredibly motivating findings from their work below.

In the six-year Santa Monica study, the native garden required 62,000 gallons less water annually than its neighbor. With little lawn to maintain, yard work took a fourth as much time and cost two thirds less. And half as much yard waste came from the native yard versus the traditional lawn with its Marathon grass, azaleas and other non-native plantings.

When my husband and I moved into our house in Zilker, we thought we were happy to have irrigation – until we got the first bill! We had not paid much attention to the watering schedule set up by the former owner, and we were aghast at the 27,000 gallons used in only one month to water – grass!!! To give you a sense of the difference, right now when we are watering very little and by hand, we use about 3-4,000 gallons a month for the household. So, about 24,000 gallons of water was being used to water our very green and lush grass. The water conservation data in Texas would be much greater than that of the Santa Monica, CA, study above because of our excessive heat and need to water more deeply and/or frequently. At my house alone, I know that we’d save about 200,000 gallons of water a year. Right now, while I’m in the process of redoing our yard and we still have grass, we water occasionally to keep the grass somewhat presentable (not at all right now in the winter, of course).

The following quote from the article highlights my post from last week on killing grass with newspaper. Clearly, you can also do the method using cardboard!

Instead of using chemicals, the landscaper snuffed out the alien, invasive, plants by mowing and covering them with layers of cardboard and mulch, topped by a nutrient-rich material and new plantings.

They also discuss an urban (Washington D.C.) university which has committed to capturing rainwater through collection, raingardens, and permeable hardscape (there’s also a great picture of a permeable walkway being installed).

Native plants such as Virginia sweetspire and American beautyberry decorate rain gardens and other sunken areas that have plantings that capture stormwater. Walkways of permeable material usher rain drops into underground tanks that supply water for the landscaping and a decorative fountain.

Clearly, underground tanks might be pretty ambitious for us home and apartment dwellers, but there are plenty of less arduous ways to capture water and reuse it. I’ll share more about that, as I’m preparing to install a small raingarden soon on my property.

Happy gardening!

Native Profile: Cenizo (Barometer Bush)

Picture of cenizoThe native of the week is cenizo (Leucophyllum candidum), which is a shrub. This plant has silvery leaves that are soft a little bit like Lamb’s Ear (non-native) but the leaves are much smaller and tougher. This plant can add silvery foliage to your yard which is a nice change from the normal green, and this plant is a perennial so you’ll have that color year-round. Cenizo as hedge

Cenizo likes almost any soil type including gravely areas or clay. It has low water requirements and can also tolerate part-shade. The coolest part of this shrub is a feature that underlies its name “barometer bush.” When we get heavy rains, the bush will push out purple flowers, thus showing an indication of the barometer. This shrub can provide nesting site and cover for birds and animals, and the flowers provide nectar for insects.

You can grow this plant into a hedge, as is depicted in one of the photos. Or, you can make it more a taller, rounder shrub amongst a collection of other plants.

Cenizo in bloom

Photographer: Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Green Garden Festival – Feb 27th

This event is listed on the City of Austin’s GrowGreen website. Mark your calendars two weeks from today!

Green Garden Festival

Sunday, February 27th, 2011
12:00-4:00 PM
Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Road

Enjoy a fun day in the park for adults and kids while learning how to have a beautiful yard and a clean environment

Cost: Free!
Parking: Under the Mopac bridge


Photos: Killing Grass with the Newspaper Method

As a followup to my post about how to kill grass, I wanted to show some pictures of the process. I have done this twice – first in Minnesota where I lived for 7 years (and which are reflected in the pictures below) and second, here in Austin just in December, 2010. I used this method to setup some planting beds in my backyard. I have planted a few things there but have not yet finished.

Step 1: Identify the area where you want to make your planting bed. I chose this area where I had already planted a flowering crabapple tree. You can design your bed using a garden hose to see it before you destroy it!

Pictures of grass area that will be killed

Step 2: Layout your newspapers in 10 sheet thickness, spray with water and put 6-8″ of mulch on top. See the black hose in picture below to see how I outlined my bed before laying out newspaper.

Picture of newspaper and mulch on top of grass

Step 3: Wait for 1-2 months for the grass to die.

Picture of planting bed with mulch
Step 4: Plant your plants. Just dig a hole through the newspaper, remove any grass if it still exists, and plant your plant. You may have to remove some of your mulch because it is so deep.

Planting plants in bedAll done!

Bed planted with plants

Step 5: Let it grow. Here’s what my garden looks like about 5 years after I planted it. I have since moved, but I was back in Mpls and took a picture of my beloved garden last May, 2010.

Picture of garden after 5 years

Gardens with native plants absorb much more water run-off than the grass they replace. This is good because it reduces storm run-off. Plus, I think this garden looks a million times more interesting than the former grass that was there.

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