This home owner took out the turfgrass in the back yard and used mondo grass (forefront) as the
lawn for the familyís German Shepherd dog. No mowing now required!

February 28, 2008

By Victoria Master Gardener Lawaine Stubblefield
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Typically when we think of our home and the space it encompasses, we refer to the house: three bedroom, two bath, four walls, a roof, and a front door to welcome guests. The price you pay for that house, however, also includes the land that surrounds it. You have the ability to expand your living space to the edge of your property line and beyond.

Study Your Site

Start by identifying the physical limits of your landscape. Adjacent buildings and trees in neighboring yards are things that we canít change but do affect sun, wind and soil temperature. There may also be attractive views beyond your physical boundaries that can add to the esthetics of the total picture. The shape of your lot and how your home sits on it may determine how you landscape it. Do you walk out your back door to face the morning sun? Are there trees on your property that affect the pattern of sunlight? Are they evergreen or do they loose their leaves in the winter? The way structures and tree canopies are arranged can affect the range of plants you might grow there. For instance, a wall that blocks the north wind and a tall tree canopy of pecan to the south provides a microclimate that may be warm enough to grow tender tropicals year round. Observe how water collects and drains. Realize what you do to your landscape will affect how water drains from your property. If you have a problem with drainage in areas of your yard, think of ways that will direct the flow of water in a good way {not just to your neighborís yard.}
What was a problem area with bad drainage for this home is now a lovely water feature fountain for the front entrance that can be viewed from the dining room.
Evaluate Whatís There

Take a look at the big picture. Whatís missing or out of place? What needs to go? Before you rip up all the plants in the yard please take some time to learn what they are and what they do in all four seasons. What may look like some pathetic overgrown jungle of a bush sitting smack dab in the middle of a planted bed may in fact be the crowning glory of the yard in just a matter of weeks! Many beautiful shrubs in our area are left to sprawl unattended until they are deemed unacceptable and cut to the ground or chopped into a box of non-descript green. These may be shrubs that grow in a natural fountain shape usually with seasonal flowers. Instead of clipping the life out of them or leaving them to ramble, thinning out the old growth at the base of the plant and leaving a shapely fountain of newer limbs will enable you to maintain its size and enjoy the profusion of flowers. Some examples are forsythia, abelia, beautyberries and spireas to name a few.

Do a basic yard clean up, identifying plants as you go, assess the hardscape you have: fences, out buildings, patios and covers and determine what, if anything needs to be done. Refurbish what you want to keep and remove the rest.

Determine Your Landscape Goals and Style

Now that youíve taken a hard look at your landscape, what donít you like about it? Make a list of problem areas and plants. Are there views to screen, too much lawn to water? Are the foundation plants obscuring views from inside the house? Look at drainage, time spent on maintenance, and go inside and scrutinize the views from your windows. Now make a list of things youíd like to see and do in your landscape: add an herb garden, water feature, gazebo, an arbor, outdoor kitchen, koi pond, etc. Have a family discussion and include the time required to maintain your landscape in your talks. See if you can solve a problem in your landscape by creating something you want. A shady spot where the grass does not grow could be planted with a shade loving ground cover Ė requiring less mowing and watering. Try to simplify as much as possible. Look at the style of your home incorporating that feeling in your landscape. If you have a formal style in your house and furnishings, carry it and your colors from within a dining room outside the window to the landscape.  Be consistent throughout your landscape for a unifying effect. Choose a basic list of plant material and repeat these throughout your landscape along with focal plants and annuals.

Landscape Within Your Budget

Landscaping your yard can be expensive, but it doesnít have to be. Think about how long you will be living at your present location. If you plan to stay only a couple of years, keep in mind the money you invest now, if done with resale value in mind, can substantially increase your initial investment. Landscaping is an ongoing process the nature of which is ever changing. Make a master plan and do the work in stages. Maybe youíre a young family that can only afford to put in a couple of trees and a swing set now. An outdoor grill sits just fine on the lawn until you can build the deck. As your trees grow and shade the yard you can add the birdbath and fern bed. This way youíre spending what you can afford but have the big picture in your mindís eye. Maybe your kids have all left the nest and left you having to mow and edge all that grass yourself. Is it time to finally build a nice big patio and outdoor kitchen to entertain friends? Maybe a garden was in the master plan when you were cooking for all those kids but youíre tired of tending it. Itís time to put in that swimming pool that is on the master plan!

Whatever your needs are now, plan accordingly. Educate yourself and spend your money wisely. Find reputable people to do the work you donít want to do yourself. Be available to watch the work progress the way you want. As you live and grow so will your landscape.


Making your landscape your own
ensures you have the elements that will suit your family.

Front Walkway
Patio or Deck
Swimming Pool
Water Feature
Koi Pond
Outdoor Cooking Area
Vegetable or Flower Garden
Cooking Herb Garden
Play Area for Children

Use evergreen plants for bones of a landscape.
These trees and shrubs will be your structure in the landscape year round.

Oak, Magnolia,
Arizona and Leland Cypress,
Japanese Blueberry, Anaqua

Hawthorne, Boxwood, Yaupon,
Azalea, Camellia,
Ligustrum, Holly, Juniper,
Nandina, Sage, Pittasporum,
Photinia, Yew, Bottlebrush

Deciduous trees provide shade in summer and sun in winter.
Many varieties also provide flower and leaf color.

Pecan, Cypress, Red Oak, Ash,
Crepe Myrtle, Bradford Pear,
Elm, Red Bud, Mesquite,
Sweetgum, Golden Rain Tree, Mimosa

Perennials will give texture and color variation at given times through the year.

Day lily, Salvia, Agapanthus,
Butterfly Weed and Bush,
Firecracker Fern and Bush,
Artemisia, Daisy, Coreopsis,
Coneflower, Shrimp plant,
Plumbago, Oleander,

Annuals are plants of seasonal color used for focal areas that will only last a season or two.

Petunia, Snapdragon, Alyssum,
Cyclamen, Pansy, Viola, Lobelia,
Coleus, Zinnia, Geranium, Chrysanthemum
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at