Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

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

Tag Archives: black-eyed susan

Soil Solarization … Update on the New Garden


In March, I wrote about solarizing a new planting bed in the front of my house. In that post, I described with pictures our process of scalping the lawn, watering the area, and covering it tightly with plastic (black or clear is fine; generally clear is better). I put the plastic down around mid-March and it lasted just fine through June. Occasionally a blade of grass might poke a hole through the plastic (didn’t know grass was that sharp!) but I would just readjust the plastic and put more rocks down on that area to cover the hole.

In June, I finally had time to tackle the bed. The first job was figuring out what I was going to plant. I had measured out the front yard and made a paper layout of the garden bed, to size, so I knew how many inches equaled a foot of space. I read up about native plants, pouring through resources I have, books, and checking against LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center’s native plant database. I considered the plants that were already planted in the front yard on the other side as I hoped to create some symmetry of color. I also wanted a little bit of height, but not as tall as a tree because this bed sits immediately in front of the front door of the house. I did not want to block the sight-line of the front door from the stree/sidewalk with a tree. The area is in full-sun, so I had to choose plants that could withstand the heat.

I came up with the following plan. The plan includes:

Front Garden Plan

  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Purple coneflower
  • Silver ponyfoot
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Gayfeather
  • Henri Duelburg Sage
  • Jerusalem Sage
  • Mexican Feathergrass
  • Firebush
  • Texas heartleaf hibiscus
  • Tall Rosinweed
  • Grandma’s Rose (yellow)
  • Martha Gonzales Rose (red)
  • Globemallow
  • Yarrow (white)

On my paper version, I take care to estimate out the plant’s mature size in order to give it enough room. Thus, when you plant initially, your planting bed might look a little spare. But don’t worry, plants seem to grow so fast here in Texas that your garden will soon be lush. I was going for a color scheme, from front to back, of white, red/orange, orange, yellow, purple, white, purple. It didn’t quite work out exactly like that but good enough. The yarrow introduces white at the front, then the globemallow (orange), red roses and hibiscus, and firebush have reds. The yellow comes from Grandma’s rose, Tall Rosinweed, black-eyed susans. Purples come from Jerusalem sage and Henri Duelburg sage, gayfeather, and purple coneflower. (Note: Gayfeather was not available at time of planting.)

Once I had my plan, I decided that this time I’d hire some strong people to dig out the dead grass for me. I killed myself the last time and my husband was not too keen on doing it either. What a good decision! It took 2 men about 2 hours to completely dig out the grass and turn the soil a bit.

Here’s what the area looked like when we removed the plastic and after the dead grass had been dug up.

Area underneath the plastic

Dead grass revealed after plastic removed (above)

    Area after dead grass dug up

After dead grass dug out (above)

After amendments

Soil amendments added (above)

After the hired guys dug through and rid the area of most grass, I went through and broke up big pieces of dirt and also checked for grass roots (they are so invasive!). We added a lot of compost, green sand, and corn gluten as I recall. We raked the amendments into the soil, catching more pieces of grass root. My husband installed edging along the grass side of the bed in order to reduce the invasion of grass, which is inevitable.

We had this work done on Saturday. After the bed was prepped, I went out and bought my plants and planned to plant on Sunday after the sprinklers had moistened up the soil.

Planting was super fun! I bought all 4″ pots if I could find them. The plants grow SO fast – there is no need to buy bigger plants unless you are impatient. The roses were a splurge and I did buy larger roses. Here are the pictures of the garden planted in mid-June.

Bed planted

Purple coneflowers and Lamb’s Ear (left, above)

Bed planted, front of bed near sidewalk

Front of bed. Mexican Feathergrass, Lamb’s Ear, Yarrow (left to right, front)

Globemallow (center); roses (right center)

Symmetry at last

Symmetry in the beds at last. Getting closer to my semi-formal garden.

The last task, of course, was to put mulch around all the plants and on the bed to reduce weeds and to retain moisture. Lucky for us, Home Depot had a great sale on mulch. I also designed in a small, dry creekbed. On the other side of the sidewalk (not in picture), a gutter downspout had typically dumped water onto the driveway which flowed to the street. I added a different endpiece and now the downspout dumps water onto the sidewalk that flows into the small creekbed within the planting area. Silver ponyfoot is planted at the right corner of the sidewalk/driveway near the creekbed.

Plant some wildflowers … there’s still time

Last year, we removed 4 (yes 4!) enormous agaves from what is known as the “hell strip” – the 4 ft area between a sidewalk and a street. It is referred to as such due to what it takes on – people walking on it, often blasting sun, reflective heat from the street and the concrete. The former owner decided to xeriscape it with 5 agaves which quickly outgrew the space and likely made a lot of people mad who parked there or walked by getting poked by agave thorns. We sadly dug up the agaves and all their babies and gave them to green waste and at some point will be in your Dillo Dirt. Then we were left with a hell strip of dirt. Wildflowers in bloom

So, I decided to plant some annual Texas wildflowers from a packet my husband bought for me on a trip to Big Bend (see recommendations on seeds below). I scattered the seeds last year, in the Fall of 2010. Above is a picture of what we got in Spring of 2011. At a certain point (July-ish), the flowers stopped blooming and they got straw-like. I ended up cutting them down and there was an empty area where they were.

Emerging Texas wildflowersTo the left, you see the emerging wildflowers – this picture taken just a few days ago in November. I did not do anything to this area. What happened was it rained and the next thing I knew, I had little leaves popping up through the soil. I did plant three new grasses – Gulf Muhly – in order for there to be more vegetation in the wildflowers “dead” period, which happens from about July – October.

It is really simple to plant wildflowers and you can plant the seeds through November, so you have a few more weeks left to get on the task. You can buy Texas native wildflower seeds at places like Barton Springs nursery or the Natural Gardener. Another great seed source is Native American Seed. These seed packets are usually a mix of different annual or perennial wildflowers. If they are annual, they do die each year, but they reseed themselves, so they come back again year after year, depending on conditions. My package contained 12 annuals and perennials including: bluebonnet, bluebell, penstemon, paintbrush, iris, coneflower, coreoposis, black-eyed susan, poppy, primrose, baby blue eyes, and marigold. Native American Seed has a mix of their own which includes black-eyed susan, clasping coneflower, indian blanket, lemon mint, mexican hat, prairie coneflower, plains coreopsis, and Texas blueblonnet.

Once you have your packet of seeds, this is what you do.

  1. Disturb the soil a bit by raking it up with a strong metal rake or even a shovel. You don’t need to disturb it too deeply. The wildflowers will do best in “disturbed” dirt. I think that is why they liked my “hell strip” since we had definitely disturbed the area by pulling out all those agaves.
  2. Make sure there is no mulch and just dirt in the area. A few rocks are fine. No need to amend the soil with fancy fertilizers – these wildflowers have lived in TX for a long time and do not need amendments. If you have mulch, you should rake it away from the area until the seedlings have sprouted and are above the mulch level. Then you could move your mulch back over it.
  3. Take your seeds and throw them in the dirt. You should note how much the package will cover in square feet or yards. This gives you a sense of how much of the package to use. The seeds go a long way! My package was for 350 sq. feet but I was only doing an area of about 16 sq. feet! If your seeds are very tiny and you feel you might lose the seeds on the way down, you can take a shovel full of dirt into a bucket or can. Mix the seeds into the dirt, and then distribute the seeded dirt onto the area. This also helps if you are doing this process on a windy day.
  4. Then rake the area again with little force just to move the seeds around the area. Do not bury the seeds! The seeds need to be touching dirt on 3 sides and 1 side air. So that gives you a sense that the seeds should be just below or at the surface level.
  5. You may choose to put a few more seeds down and rake them in again gently, just to make sure you’ve covered your area with seeds.
  6. Then walk over the area (have your little kids help out). Just walk around to tamp down the earth and dirt.
  7. You are done!

You can let nature do its job through rain. Or if you want to urge your flowers along, you can water the seeded area once/day for 7 days until you see little dyadic leaves come up through the soil. During winter, you may only see a 1-2″ plant and that’s OK. The plant is growing DOWN into the soil deep during winter and developing energy for the big push UP when spring comes. In spring, you’ll get a great show.

More wildflowersWildflowers have a mind of their own. While you may plant an array of seeds, they may not all grow. Wildflowers will sprout if the conditions are right for them – and such conditions are different for different plants and a mystery to some degree. So you’ll get a show – but you may not exactly know what you’ll get!


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