Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

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

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!

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