Landscaping with Natives

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 24-01-2013

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landscaping with nativesThe wisest tip on gardening and human intervention on the environment I had received from an old neighbor with the most beautiful garden I had seen in my life. It was, “Be quiet. Listen. Look around you.” I was too young and impatient then. And I’ve seen many beautiful gardens since.

Whatever I learned in the subsequent years (and I know a few tricks, after so many years in the business of shaping, preparing, and tending to the land, for both ornamental and cultivation purposes); the cornerstone for my subsequent development as a gardener has been, first, the careful examination of a given space – as well as of the various natural and artificial conditions of the area – and, secondly, an intervention aiming at preserving (as much as possible), restoring, and/or enhancing the balance, the health, and the looks of a garden.

 

To design a wildlife garden with native plants

 

If you wish to create a wildlife garden or, at least, to include a number of native plants that will grow add color to your flowerbeds and that will stand wonderful chances of thriving without much effort, start with a few walks in the surroundings and the nearby area. Take a camera and a notebook or a voice recording device with you.

Observe the ground.

  • What’s its color?
  • Is it dry or wet?
  • Is it compacted or fluffy? Light or heavy?
  • Does it crumble?
  • When crumbled, does it turn to dust, or does it have bigger grain?
  • (Ideally: what’s the pH index; composition)

How is the surrounding area?

  • Are there rises of the ground and other geological elements?
  • Are there water features in the vicinity?
  • What’s the weather (on that day / usually)
  • Inform yourself about the particularities of the area (local geography and microclimate)

What is/are the predominant species of wild and domestic vegetation?

  • What plants do you see most often around you?
  • What do they look like? What are the functions of their physical traits?
  • Which spot do they seem to prefer (e.g. walls to climb on, level ground on which to crawl, rocky and well-drained areas, shady spots protected from the winds, etc)?
  • Do they tend to spread?
  • Which of them have you already seen in your garden and near your home?

How would you incorporate the findings into your garden, so that it remains (or becomes), even partly, the continuance and the reproduction of the nature around you?

 

In order to create wildlife and native plants garden, your landscaping planner should work in conformity with the natural tendencies of the area. Tags: geology, geography, climate/weather, flora, fauna.

 

Tips

Set high standards, go after quality and knowledge: It’s the well-cared for, healthy gardens that you should examine. You will get some good lessons from the solutions that have worked for them and from the techniques they have applied successfully.
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There’s more than meets the eye. Ask, whenever you can – e.g.,

  • what substructure work had to be done in order to plant those juicy vegetables up on terraced flowerbeds (and, at the same time, to tackle a geographical feature, a slope, that you didn’t know how to add value to)?
  • why are those rosebushes planted amongst the vines?
    [Bonus-answer: Mildew, a disease that inflicts both plants, manifests its symptoms earlier in the rosebush. This gives you enough time to take the necessary steps and measures of protection for your vineyard.]
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Besides your on-the-spot observations, make sure to get the scientific and empirical facts about the plants of your area (their life cycle, their needs and preferences, their geographical spread, etc), as well as about the climatic conditions of your specific area of interest (yearly cycle, in a span of several years).
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Familiarize yourselves with your garden’s microclimate.

  • How is it oriented?
  • How much sunlight does it receive, and when? On which particular spots/sides?
  • What about humidity?
  • Which winds does it bear?
  • What are the surroundings, and how do they influence the garden?
  • What’s the soil type?
  • How does water flow in and through the garden?

These are a few of the clues that will lead you to verify the real needs of your garden, in relation to the area and to your tastes. The selection of the plants that are appropriate for the specific conditions of each separate section of the garden will thus be much easier, since you have definite criteria to work with when drawing your landscaping plans.

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Image Credit: zenera via Compfight cc

Why Proper Drainage is Critical for Landscaping

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 05-01-2013

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yard-drainageHave you ever noticed how in some areas of your yard water pools up after watering while other parts seem to magically make the water disappear?

Or perhaps you have some grass and it’s got a nasty fungal issue with mushrooms popping up every now and then.

When it comes to all the different aspects of your garden and landscaping, there is one that is perhaps the most ignored–and that is draining. In this context draining is how you plan for water, whether from sprinkling or rain, is supposed to flow through your yard.

If your landscaping is not planned out with proper drainage in mind, it can result in a host of problems ranging from small puddles of water in the middle of your yard to damaging water flow toward the foundation of your home.

Problems from Poor Drainage

There are many different problems which can be caused from an improperly planned drainage system in your yard. Some of them are minor issues, and others can be costly and devastating. The following are just some of the more common issues people with poor drainage find.

  • Root Rot – If you have an area of the yard that is not properly drained it will often retain the water there for quite a long time. It could be a visible eyesore where there are small puddles of water, or it could all be occurring under the surface of your yard.

    When you have plants growing in soil that is overly drenched for days at a time, it can cause significant problems. This is especially true for larger plants and trees due to the long term damage that can result.

  • Pooling – Most yards naturally have some areas which are slightly higher than others. If you don’t intentionally manipulate the yard to have extra water flow off into a desired area then you’ll likely have small pools or puddles all throughout your yard. In minor cases these pools will be absorbed fairly quickly causing only small problems, but for more serious cases it can cause large pooling of water that can last for days after a heavy rain.
  • Home Flooding – The foundation of a home is not designed to be constantly wet, and if you don’t have a drainage design which pulls the water away from your home you will eventually have flooding problems. As the water remains near your foundation tiny cracks or holes will develop letting the water through. During heavy rains this could cause significant damage.
  • Unhealthy grass, plants and Trees – When the water is not properly drained it will cause some areas to get insufficient water absorption during a rain, and some will be drenched.

Benefits of Proper Drainage in Your Garden

One of the biggest benefits of a well planned out drainage system is that you can use the natural rain water to help keep all your plants and trees healthy.

In many parts of the country you can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need to water your plants if you have a well designed drainage plan. A good drainage plan will design the slope of the yard to bring water from one area to another. This can be done not only by building some areas up and lowering other areas, but also by adding in items like decorative rocks or retaining walls.

Once you have a good plan of how the water will flow in your yard, you can add in plants which will best take advantage of the water. Adding plants which require very little water to an area that you have designed to keep dryer, and those that can tolerate very moist soil to the area near the bottom of your hard is an excellent way to take advantage of as much of the water as possible.

Whether you live in a climate which is naturally very rainy like the North East, or a dryer area like the Texas climate, it is important to plan out your drainage properly. Also keep in mind that you will need to plan for all seasons since in many parts of the country you could have very dry conditions for some months and very wet for others.

How to Plan Your Drainage

If you’ve never made a drainage plan for your yard before it might be best to contact a professional. There are many little things to consider during the planning phase that can have drastic affects on the success or failure of your landscape.

Keep in mind that you can use not only changes in the elevation of your yard and the use of plants, rocks and other above ground things, but also you can add in underground drainage options. This can be done by burying a pipe with holes in it with medium sized rocks. The pipe can lead water away from one area and to another or even off into an existing sewer system to remove excess water.

It is important to have the pipe at the right depth and installed correctly or it could actually cause more harm than good though so if you aren’t sure, don’t hesitate to ask an expert.

Image credit: Brian Tobin

The Riddle of What Exactly Is Wildscaping?

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 04-01-2013

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Many gardeners and landscapers have not heard of the term wildscaping which is quickly growing in popularity.

Wildscaping is a method of designing your home’s landscaping in a way that will help to attract local wildlife. This is typically done by using a wide variety of different plants which are native to the area. In addition to attracting wildlife, this is often a great way to have an easy to maintain landscape since the plants will naturally thrive.

Types of Wildlife Which Are Attracted

When you’re planning your wildscaping project it is important to think about what types of wildlife you most want to attract. For most people they will be looking to bring in smaller animals such as birds or butterflies.

If you’re not careful, however, you might attract some larger animals as well. Learning how to attract the most desirable animals can be tricky at first, but it is well worth the effort. Below are some simple tips and tricks that will help you to get started (you can also read the article series, Austin Wildscape Landscaping For Wildlife for some more tips):

  • Attracting Birds – To attract birds you’re going to want to try to think of either what they eat or where they live, or both. Many people today are planting bushes and flowers that grow seeds or berries which birds love. This is a more natural way to attract birds than a bird feeder, and in many cases will be more effective as well. If you’re looking to bring in one particular type of bird you can do some simple research to find exactly what foods they eat or what types of trees they prefer to live in and plant those.
  • Attracting Butterflies – Butterflies enjoy eating out of a wide range of flowers. There are hundreds of different species of butterfly so find out which ones you want to attract and plant the flowers they prefer. Remember, many butterflies don’t stay in the same area all year so it might be smart to wildscape your yard for a variety of different types.
  • Small Mammals – While many people think of bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks and other small mammals as pests, others love watching them scurry around. When planting things that these little critters like, make sure to plant them far enough from the house that they won’t try to break in.
  • Larger Mammals – In some parts of the country, like right here in Texas, you can plant different things to bring in larger animals like deer, raccoons, elk and other large animals. This is only recommended when you have a lot of property and can keep them at enough of a distance to ensure safety. Remember, these are wild animals and they can quickly hurt you or cause a lot of property damage.

Benefits of Wildscaping

While the primary reasons many people start learning about wildscaping is that they want to attract the wildlife to their yard, there are other benefits as well.

To start with there is the fact that the vast majority of plants which will attract animals native to your area will be plants which are also native to the area. This is because most animals that thrive in a particular part of the country do so because there is an abundance of whatever plants they eat, or safety for them.

Planting things which are native to the area will make them much easier to keep healthy since you won’t be fighting the natural climate or water levels each plant likes. People living in dryer areas, for example, will find that plants which thrive on low amounts of moisture are easier to take care of.

More and more people today are trying to live their lives in a more harmonious way, and this is especially true when it comes to nature.

People are eating organic foods, trying to buy from local farmers and generally just live in a more natural way. This is just one of the reasons why wildscaping is becoming so popular.

As we learn new ways to live and work with nature, rather than fighting and destroying it we will almost certainly find that our lives become easier, more peaceful and enjoyable as well.
If you’re looking to start a wildscaping project you’re going to want to first take some time doing the research.

Once you get started it you’ll find that it’s quite easy to find all the plants you want, but keeping them healthy is important. Make sure you know which plants are full sun tolerant and which are not, for example. It can also be confusing to match up which plants will attract which animals. You can learn about this type of thing by either doing some research on the Internet, or just going out and observing nature. Taking pictures of plants you like and bringing them to an expert in your area is another great way to learn more.

Remember, the more you know about the local plant and wildlife the more successful your wildscaping project will be.

It is also important to note that it can often take time for the animals to discover the new plants you’ve chosen. Birds and other animals will eventually discover them so just keep your yard nice and healthy and remain patient until you begin to see your new friends moving into the area.