Saturday, September 4, 2004
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
OPTIONS IMPORTANT WHEN MOVING INTO NEWLY BUILT HOME
are lots of choices to make when you move into a newly built home.
The first ones that come to mind are paint colors, carpet quality,
cabinet options, and appliances. You probably also think about new
furniture. Another major area that should be considered is landscape
options. In our climate the choices you make on your new landscape
can be at least as important as paint colors and carpet quality. Poor
choices on the initial landscape can mean high expenses and misery
during the entire time you own the home.
Here are some things you need to consider if you want to enjoy
your new home more and have an appropriate landscape:
you are going to have a lawn, insist that there be at least 4
inches of soil under the entire lawn area. The soil should be
topsoil that is workable without massive amounts of clay or rock.
The best choice for soil is a commercial mix that includes sand
and compost along with topsoil. Lawn grass cannot maintain a root
system if it is on rock or subsoil. A lawn on less than 4 inches
of soil will require watering every few days to keep it alive.
The extra cost for soil will be repaid within two years by savings
on your water bill. Lawn grass on good soil is also thicker and
reducing the amount of lawn grass to 50% or less of the total
landscape. Even the most drought tolerant lawn grasses (buffalo,
Bermuda, and zoysia) require watering every week in the summer
to keep them green. They also require frequent mowing. Groundcovers
such as Asiatic jasmine can be as neat and manicured as lawn grass
without as much work or water. To see a large number of low water
use options for landscapes visit the WaterSaver Lane at the San
Antonio Botanical Garden. There are examples of Spanish Courtyard,
Wildscape, Manicured, Cottage Garden, and Hill Country landscapes.
All of them have less than 50% lawn.
you select a lawn grass, choose one that can tolerate at least
60 days of drought without dying. The obvious choices are buffalo
grass and Bermuda grass for the sun and zoysia grass for sun or
shade. If you really like St. Augustine grass it may survive 60
days if it is planted in the shade and there is at least 4 inches
of soil. The variety Floratam appears to be the most drought tolerant.
The 60 days of drought tolerance gives you flexibility in case
we ever do have to go into severe drought restrictions.
watering can be much easier if you have a sprinkler system but
they are unnecessary if you are willing to drag hoses or do not
have much lawn. If you decide to purchase a system, insist that
it be a high quality system. Use a contractor that is a licensed
irrigator. The controller needs to be easy to set and have at
least three setting options so you can take advantage of the SIP
(Seasonal Irrigation Program) recommendations each week. The recommendation
is based on the week’s weather and comes from the Texas
Cooperative Extension and tells you how much water it takes to
keep your lawn green without wasting any. Visit the SAWS website
for more information on SIP (www.saws.org).
Your sprinkler system should
have a rain sensor so it will not irrigate in the rain and it should
be zoned. Zoning means that you can irrigate your lawn separately
from the groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees. The groundcovers
and other plants require a lot less irrigation than the lawn does.
One of the favorite landscapes in this area is “Hill Country”.
It relies on rock, small live oaks, ceniza, wildflowers, Texas mountain
laurel, and native grasses for its distinctive look. Preserve the
existing plants and add small plants to fill in any gaps. The small
specimens will survive limited soil. Katy or Bonita ruellia make a
suitable groundcover for the Hill Country landscape. They will grow
in sun or shade. For more information on good plants for South Texas