An Enthusiast’s Perspective: Planning Your Landscape in Wynnewood North

12 Apr 2019 3:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Just recently, I had the opportunity to visit the home of Paul and Marilyn Jolly on North Manus. Their home was featured on last year’s Heritage Oak Cliff Tour of Homes based on the unique and inspiring garden (and interior artwork). 

Marilyn welcomed me into her home with a glass of tea and a fruit and cheese platter. After a brief introduction to their two lovely cats, we delved into what makes a good landscape design in our neighborhood. 

 

CH: Suppose you had bought a home in Wynnewood North 60 years ago when the subdivision was new and the yards were nearly a blank canvas. What would you do first?

MJ: I think it’s important to examine the entire property and develop a vision. This vision can be as detailed or generic as you want—but heading to the nursery without a plan may turn out to be a costly mistake.

CH: Why is that?

MJ: Well, you’ll end up purchasing plants that not complimentary to your existing property, or you’ll end up purchasing plants that really don’t ‘play well’ together. If you go to a nursery that is less reputable, you might even get plants that shouldn’t be planted in Texas.

CH: For example?

MJ: Well, you might end up buying trees that, when fully grown, have an adverse effect on your property. They may limit your view, your property value, or your other trees and beds. One big offender Bradford Pears. They are an invasive species that harms the environment, and they last only 10 years before nature rips them apart. Ten years is a long time for trees, and once gone, your yard may have a conspicuous hole where they once lived. 

Or, you might buy a tree that, while great for Texas, may not fit in your design when its fully grown. Examples of this include Pecan trees next to swimming pools, or Crepe Myrtle’s and arborvitae that impede over walkways and windows. A live oak will eventually provide enough shade that your lawn may not grow underneath it.

If your vision includes ornamental trees, such as Japanese Maple, those cannot be planted until you have the appropriate amount of shade to protect them, so purchasing before you have a canopy could be a costly mistake.

Trees:

CH: So let’s jump to trees. Any that you specifically suggest for Wynnewood North?

MJ: I follow Howard Garrett’s guidelines for Dallas gardeners. He has a list of suggested good trees and bad trees to pick from.

CH: And placement of these trees?

MJ: Well if the canvas is completely blank, and you have a larger yard, you should definitely plant at least 10 to 15 feet away from your house to prevent foundation issues. After that, the next thing to consider is the canopy and your overall vision. If your plan includes sunny beds and shady beds, you must consider how the full grown tree will affect those beds.

You may also want to consider your electric bill. There are tools online that suggest where to plant certain varieties to minimize the impact of the sun in summer months.

A final consideration for the planting layout based on the position of your home’s doors and windows, and the other trees you have in your yard. Today’s designs suggest you make sure the tree’s canopy, when full grown, does not block the view of the front door from the street, nor block the street view from the windows.

If the canvas isn’t blank, then you should consider your existing trees’ longevity and plant replacement trees that will become focus points after the original tree passes. For example, the Juniper/Cedar trees that were planted by developers survive only a limited number of years before they are prone to splitting, disease, and wind damage. If neighbors have these trees as their primary source of shade and  foliage, it’s time to consider what the replacement will be.

CH: Any luck with fruit trees?

MJ: Peaches offer wonderful blossoms, but the squirrels here will sample and eat all of the fruit. Fig trees are also buffets for squirrels. Cherry laurels provide food for birds, but nothing for humans.

Some neighbors have citrus trees, which bear fruit, but they are usually in containers that are brought inside during the winter as they won’t survive the cold snaps we sometimes get.

CH: How do you ensure your trees continue to receive the nutrients they need, especially since we typically dispose of leaves in bulk trash?

MJ: If you are using Howard Garrett’s list, you don’t need to fertilize. Fertilizer is generally a short-term friend but long-term enemy to the environment and the tree. I personally have a blower that shreds some of my leaves, and I return these shredded leaves as mulch around the base of the tree, as long as the mulch isn’t right up against the trunk, this will provide the nutrition needed.

CH: Let’s move on to yards and grasses. Any suggestions?

MJ: Well, that depends on your tree canopy. There are several varieties of grass that grow in Texas based on the shade or sun exposure of your yard. I prefer St. Augustine for sunny areas, and in shady areas, I like planting beds.

CH: Any thoughts on winter vs summer grass?

MJ: Generally the seeds for winter grass tend to look like weeds for a large portion of the year. I like a grass that goes dormant in the winter and comes to life in the spring.

CH: What about watering and sprinkler systems. I’ve read that 1 inch is enough water per week in Texas.

MJ: The best thing somebody can do for their grass is shut off the automated sprinkler system. Even though the city allows us to water twice a week, sometimes that is too much. During the spring, the cooler temperatures and rain provide all the water needed. Watering in the spring causes your roots to be shallow, and require more water in the summer.

CH: So true! When we bought our house, it had been vacant for several years and the grass was never watered. The roots are so strong that we only have to water about five times the entire summer, usually in late July and August. Last year, our first watering was first week of August.

CH: What about fertilizer and weed killer?

MJ: I mentioned fertilizer is an enemy before. When referring to lawns, fertilizers affect the depth of the root. So just like overwatering, the roots become shallow and make your grass less hardy. Fertilizers also feed weeds. As far as weed killers go, it’s tricky. If you are fighting clover or other large leaf weeds, the killers may work. But on other species of grass that are weedy, the generic killers will likely have no effect, based on the biochemistry. As far as an enemy to the environment, both fertilizer and weed kill wash into our streams, which don’t get treated. This harms our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Plants can only consume so much fertilizer at a time.

CH: So, what should I do if I have grass species inside my lawn that I want to be rid of? 

MJ: My best advice is talk directly with sod growers. It may be that you need to start all over, or they may suggest something that helps your lawn specifically.

CH: Let’s jump to flower and shrub beds. How do I go about planning beds?

MJ: Well, when our neighborhood was built, linear plantings were in style. That’s why you’ll see hedges along foundations in this neighborhood. Sometimes those hedges look great, and sometimes they look not so great; probably because of attrition and mismatched plants.

CH: Mismatched plants?

MJ: Yes, some plants look great when trimmed up, but others have canopies that do not. Sometimes, they all get trimmed the same way, and it makes some plants look sickly and stringy.

CH: I see! Ric and I ripped out all of our shrubbery because it was either too close to the foundation, or because it looked a little ‘Frankensteinish’. We haven’t replaced may shrubs yet. What would you suggest?

MJ: You need to return to your original vision and plan. In fact, there are six considerations you need to consider when designing your beds:

  1. Future maintenance in time and money.
  2. The nature of the soil base in the bed.
  3. Duration and intensity of exposure to the sun.
  4. Irrigation needs of your plants.
  5. Specific purposes such as such as season texture or color explosions, herbs and vegetables, or bee & butterfly attraction. This includes the visual overall impression.
  6. Your personality, and the character of your home.
MJ: Yeah, any plant that is Mediterranean will do well here. Anything with Texas or Mexico in the name will also do well. And do your shopping at North Haven Gardens or other local nurseries.

CH: Let’s talk about each of these six, starting with number 1.

MJ: For maintenance, you need to determine how much time and money you want to invest seasonally. For example, if you enjoy spring gardening, you may plant annuals that will then need to be removed in the fall. If you don’t enjoy gardening, you’ll want to focus on shrubbery or xeriscaping that require little to no work throughout the year.

For soil base, most homes in Wynnewood North have a rocky clay base. This means plants such as blue-berries, that require sandy bases, or azaleas, which require loamy bases, may not grow well here. Look for plants that survive naturally in our soil base when at the nursery.

For sun exposure, take into consideration the orientation of your home and the tree canopy. Houses that face northward can have shady plants in the front, and sunny plants in the back. Vice versa for southward facing homes. Monitor and watch the hours of direct sunlight before purchasing anything.

For irrigation needs, you will need to determine your irrigation system options and group like plants together. For example, cactus and hosta should not be planted in the same bed. Not only do they like different soil conditions, too much water will kill the cactus and too little water will kill the hosta.

For purpose, you need to consider what you want with your beds. Are they for vegetable and herb gardening? Are they to reduce water consumption? Attracting butterflies? There are hundreds of types of beds but few decisions to make once you’ve identified the purpose of the bed.  

And finally, personality and character. Your beds should match the character of your home in order to boost it’s property value; however, they should also reflect your character. For example, several years ago, a Wynnewood North home was over-landscaped and looked out of place.

CH: You mean the one that looked as if Miami threw up in the front yard?

MJ: Those are your words, not mine! But yes. The plantings, though majestic and beautiful, were out of place and it stuck out like a sore thumb. Consider wisely before going to the nursery the six points above, otherwise your bed will become your nightmare.

CH: So let’s talk about beds, how do you prepare a bed from scratch.

MJ: Once you consider all of the six points above, you’ll need to draft a layout. I suggest having a master plan on paper (or at least in your head). Then you’ll start with bed prep.

If you are xeriscaping or using desert-like plants, consider a gravel bed. Desert plants like drier soil, don’t need a lot of water, and take little maintenance. If the bed is already weed free (meaning you never have to weed it, plant your aloe, succulents, and cacti and the apply a few inches of gravel or crushed granite mulch. If it’s a weedy bed, remove the weeds, plant your bushes, apply cardboard or newspaper liberally, and then add several inches of gravel mulch. The newspaper will allow water passage, but will block weeds and ungerminated seeds for sprouting.

The same is true for a soil bed. Never till the dirt before planting. Use newspaper liberally to block seed germination and then import soil from a respected vendor, such as Good Earth. Add three inches of dirt atop to newspaper and then a few inches of mulch on top of that. Over time, the nutrients from the soil and the decomposing mulch will leach down into our clay soil and help your shrubs and plants grow better. If you are planting shrubs in this bed, you’ll need to dig the holes for the shrubs prior to putting the newspaper down, and then encase the top of the hole with paper to minimize weeds.

Once the raised bed is set (and with our soil type here, all beds need to start out as raised), then begin your planting. You want to start with evergreen shrubs as a base. It’s important that for any shrub or plant, you read the info sheet and space it based on its adult size. Overcrowding your adult bushes detracts from the visual appearance and uniformity of your bed. Nandinas and dwarf holly yupons are good evergreens for this part of Texas, but may not be your style. I suggest referring to Howard Garrett’s book: Plants for Texas to locate your background or base.

Continue your planting by adding texture to the bed. Ornamental grasses and grains may be used instead of flowers. If you want a natural look, plant flowers native to Texas. Remember that these plants may have different bloom times, so you need to shop wisely and select plants that compliment each other all summer long. If a pastoral look is not your style, and you want more structure, vendors have plants that offer color even in the hottest months of summer.

Finally, if you are looking for a ground cover, select based on Howard’s guidelines. Lantana, black daisy salvias and yeros are all good choices. I learn and order a lot of things from Old House Garden.

Apply a mulch liberally to maintain soil moisture and nutrition.

CH: If I don’t have time to do the research, any quick suggestions?

MJ: Yeah, any plant that is Mediterranean will do well here. Anything with Texas or Mexico in the name will also do well. And do your shopping at North Haven Gardens or other local nurseries.


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