Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

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

Tag Archives: Mexican Plum

Adding a Pocket Prairie to the Urban Landscape

There’s no doubt we live in an urban area. Lots ‘o concrete – which is so hot in the summer! I love the cooling effect plants have on the ecosystem and the human body (and wildlife bodies). Our house had lots of rock landscaping and grass when we bought it in 2009. A few years ago, we unfortunately had to remove 5 agaves from the hell zone strip near the street. In doing that, I added wildflower seed that love the harsh climate in that area. The wildflowers bloom from February – July and then dry out. I usually cut them back in September, and they soon start growing again and present as small green plants for most of the winter. In any case, let’s move on to my last “rock zone” that I replaced in the last year.

This rock zone had an agave on it near the street (which we removed) and added, in replacement, a Texas Red Bud. We added a vegetable garden, but I found that I was not a great vege gardener or that the creatures got everything first. As the years went by, the area became a bermuda grass rock haven that we had to weed whack since there were so many rocks. I decided to kill the grass with my solarization method (I used black plastic) between December 2012 – March 2013. When we removed the plastic, we had dead bermuda grass and still a lot of rock.

Picture of yard area with dead Bermuda Grass

Side of yard with dead Bermuda grass after solarization for 3-4 months

We put out a call to neighbors who wanted rock. People came and shoveled it into their trucks, and we got rid of it. I hired some guys to dig up the dead Bermuda (you think it’s dead but it seems to come back to live with the least water and a tad of a root). I made them dig deep to pull out all the dead grass. After they left, I went through it AGAIN myself and got more of the dead clippings and roots. At that point, the area looked like this:

PIcture of area with no grass.

Grass removed by hand, ready for seed.

There was still a bit of rock in the soil, but that’s certainly OK for native plants and grasses. I bought a Pocket Prairie seed mix from Native American Seed for this area. This has so many different types of seeds, you’ll have great plants in your garden year-round. I spread these seeds in March 2013 which is not optimal. It would have been better to do it in the Fall but alas, that is not when I was ready. So I did it anyway. And it worked just fine! When you spread the seeds, I just threw the seeds around on the ground, then hoed very, very lightly so about 1/4″ of dirt gets moved on top of seeds. Then I watered it for about 15 days until I saw sprouts. Then I just left it. I’m not sure I even watered it. First, the grasses grew, so I had nice grasses this past fall. Now, the flowers are growing. The best part: I haven’t seen any bermuda grass (I hate to even write that down but it’s true for the moment, anyway). I had a few weeds this spring but dug them out easily. In addition to the Texas Red Bud, there’s a Mexican Plum (provided by the City of Austin) and a non-native Loquat tree that was here when we bought the house. View the slideshow the current show that’s happening.

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I noticed in the Austin Energy tree list that I posted yesterday, one of the elements of the description of the trees include whether they are deciduous or evergreen. Individuals new to gardening might be unfamiliar with the term “deciduous,” so I thought I’d clear it up.

It’s pretty simple.

Deciduous plants and trees lose their leaves in the winter. As an example, the Mexican Plum tree is deciduous.

Evergreen plants and trees keep their leaves year-round. As an example, the Yaupon Holly is evergreen.

We have a pretty short winter, so your deciduous plants and trees will lose their leaves around November and start growing them back in February and definitely by March! Of course, there are always exceptions to rules – or at least other categories. The Texas Live Oak is semi-evergreen. It is considered evergreen because it does have leaves year-round. If you have one, you’ll notice that in spring, it will lose all its leaves while new ones pop through. So you don’t actually see a bare tree at any time, but you definitely notice all the leaves on your property that you need to rake up and compost or send to green waste!

Why is this an important distinction? When you do garden design and planning, you want to take into consideration what your garden will look like across the year. What colors of leaves, leaf coverage, flowers, height of plants etc. will exist at any certain moment during the year. Say you want to have coverage of something (like hide a neighbor’s bright security light), well the deciduous tree won’t be a good choice because in winter, that light will shine through because your tree will only have limbs. You also can plan to have deciduous and evergreen plants in groups, so that no area looks too bare in winter.

I will be writing more in the near future about garden design. Stay tuned!

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