Footpaths wind through my yard’s garden beds of native plants. Most are staked with metal markers, emblazoned with the plants’ common names. Visitors often gasp at the diversity and volume of Texas species that my husband and I have planted since 2007. Their No. 1 question: How often do you water?
Hardly ever, we reply. Except, that is, during the hottest weeks of summer. Then we have to water every few days to help everyone get through the heat.
Trust me, it’s our least favorite time of year here in Central Texas. Come July and August, James and I roll out of bed before sunrise. He heads for the front yard. I take the back. For nearly an hour, we drag our hoses from bed to bed, watering the leafy friends that most need moisture to survive.
Perhaps someday we’ll consider an irrigation or sprinkler system. For now, we rely on mulch. We get as much as we need, compliments of our electric cooperative. Contractors who trim trees need places to unload chipped-up limbs. When we run low, I call Pedernales Electric Cooperative and ask to be placed on the mulch list. One delivery lasts for more than a year.
Waterwise, we’re off the hook once summer ends. September and October bring cooler days and what we call our second spring. Salvias, lantanas, rock roses, firecracker bushes, fall aster, plateau goldeneyes and fragrant mistflowers bloom with abandon, drawing bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Some years in November, an early hard freeze ends the color show. Most plants turn brown and brittle. I don’t mind. Though bleak and brown, the dead foliage and seed heads serve as winter cover and food sources for insects, birds and other wildlife.
On sunny days in January, I pull henbit deadnettle, common chickweed, field madder, dandelions and other introduced weeds, using a large fork to separate roots from dirt. With garden scissors, I trim back dead vines and other thin stems. Hedge shears do nicely for inland sea oats and Gregg’s mistflowers, while garden loppers handle the thick branches of Turk’s cap, salvias, lantanas, Simpson’s rosinweed, Maximilian sunflowers and fragrant mistflowers.
Last spring, I permitted our plateau goldeneyes, blue curls and white avens to grow wherever they wished. Golden-eyes may have crowded out a white gaura.
The disappointing loss led to my new garden resolution: I must manage my plant friends with a stronger hand. It’s hard, but this year I’m yanking desirable seedlings, repotting when I can for sharing. “I’m sorry,” I tell the plants as I pull. “But you can’t grow here. We’ve got to stay within the lines.”
As for vegetables, we only plant a cherry tomato or two in the backyard. However, landscape designer Cheryl Beesley’s Landscaping with Edible Plants in Texas: Design and Cultivation (Texas A&M University Press, 2015) tempts me to plant more. Her thorough manual covers site planning, fencing, soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation and mulches. Eight suggested designs range from formal hedged styles with geometric patterns to kid-friendly hideaways that encourage exploration and healthy munchies. The low-input plan looks appealing. I’m all for plants that require minimal care and water.
Nearly two-thirds of the book delves into edible trees, shrubs, perennials, herbs and vegetables that Texas landscapes are conducive to. Perhaps we should consider planting carrots as a feathery ground cover. Or maybe I’ll attempt pole beans on our chain-link fence again. Beesley offers a primer on each plant, including how to cultivate it and what varieties are available. Appendices address hybrid varieties, pest and disease control, and seed and plant resources.
In Circle Gardening: Growing Vegetables Outside the Box (Texas A&M University Press, 2018), plant-soil scientist Kenneth E. Spaeth Jr. digs deep on how to grow vegetables in circles instead of rows. Why? The arrangement “mimics natural plant distribution in the wild,” Spaeth writes. It also makes more efficient use of time, compost, fertilizer and water.
The author goes on to discuss garden pathways, garden ecology, soil textures and health, plant attributes and basic botany, climate considerations, layout, design and management, diseases, pests and weeds. Spaeth devotes half his book to selected vegetable guides on beans, carrots, broccoli, squash, onion, peppers, tomatoes and more. Appendices cover garden and soil scorecards, composting, plant hardiness and freeze zone maps, and calculating fertilizer rates.
Fertilizers? That’s something we don’t use in our native gardens. Insecticides and pesticides? Rarely. When I’m not looking, James sprays ants marching up our home’s exterior walls and wasps’ nests located in high-traffic areas. Me? OK, I confess. I squash nonnative milk snails and curse fire ants. Nobody’s perfect, right?
Sheryl Smith-Rodgers of Blanco blogs about her gardening adventures at sherylsmithrodgers.blogspot.com.