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When most people think of a ‘sustainable landscape’, they view one that is boring, filled with few plants which is why they are often surprised to see how beautiful they are.
 
Over the past couple of weeks, we have talked about small steps that you can take toward a more sustainable landscape and today, we will finish up our series with a few more steps you can take in your own garden.
 
Re-think what you plant in pots.
 
Leaf lettuce, garlic, parsley growing along side petunias.
 
If you are like most people, you have a few pots that you fill with flowering annuals, which you fertilize on a semi-regular basis.
 
But, how about thinking outside of the box about what we add to pots.
 
For example, did you know that many vegetables do great in pots and are also attractive?  I like to grow vegetables in my pots and add a couple of annual flowers in for a little color.
 
 
While some flowering annuals can be a bit fussy (pansies, for example) – herbs are not.  They look great in pots, are on hand whenever you need a bunch of fresh herbs for cooking and they don’t need as much water and fertilizer as flowers.
 
Crown-of-Thorns, Lady’s Slipper, Elephant’s Food and a cactus.
Succulents make beautiful pots with their varied textures.  Because the store water inside, they do not need as much water as other container plants.



A helpful tip for planting a large container – fill the bottom third with recyclable plastic bottles.  Most plant’s won’t reach to the bottom of large containers and it is a waste of money to fill up the entire pot with expensive potting soil.  Another bonus is that it also makes your pot a bit lighter.


Use natural or recycled materials when possible.

Gate made from old Ocotillo canes and tree branches.
Often, when we are adding elements to our landscape, we overlook the many things that are recycled or natural that can fill that need.
 
For example – did you know that you can create a ‘living’ fence made from Ocotillo canes?  It’s true! I have seen them my local nursery.
 
Pathway made from recycled, broken concrete.
If your landscape needs a path – instead of buying new pavers or step stones, use recycled, broken concrete.  Or use natural stone products like flagstone.
 
 
It is hard to overstate how boulders can help a landscape go from ‘okay’ to ‘fabulous’.
 
Boulders add both height and texture without needing any water or pruning.  In addition, boulders make plants look better when they are planted alongside.
 
 
Eliminate or decrease the use of pesticides.
 
Leaf-roller caterpillar damage on Yellow Bells shrub.
Our first reaction when seeing insects damage on our plants is to run for the nearest pesticide in our misguided attempt to rescue our plants.
 
But, did you know that most plants can handle some damage from insects without any problem?
 
In fact, once damaging insects take up residence in our favorite plants – soon after new bugs come along that devour the bad bugs.
 
Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillar damage.
 
If you see something is eating the leaves of your plants, you have several options that are not harmful to the environment:
 
– Ignore it
– Prune off the affected foliage
– Pick off the insects (or spray off with water).
– Apply an organic pesticide such as insecticidal soap or BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).
 
You can also help to prevent damaging insects by planting ‘companion’ plants, which bad bugs do not like.  For example, planting garlic around roses helps to keep aphids away.
 
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I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on sustainable landscaping.  My hope is that I have helped to inspire you to make some changes to your landscape to make it more sustainable.
 
I’d love to hear your thoughts or any ideas that you have done in your own garden to make it more sustainable.
 
For a complete listing of these posts with links, click here.
 
 
 
*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.
Do you have a sustainable landscape?
 
One that does not require excessive amounts of fertilizer, water, pruning, gasoline or time?
 
Over the past week, we have been talking about what a sustainable landscape is.  We learned about the definition of sustainable landscaping and saw examples of both good and bad landscapes in the post, “What Is a Sustainable Landscape.”  
 
In the latest post, we talked about four mistakes that people make that keep their landscape from being sustainable such as over-pruning.  If you missed it, you could see what the other three common mistakes are  – “What Keeps a Landscape From Being Sustainable?”
 
If your landscape falls short of being sustainable, or you want to decrease some resources that you use, there are small steps that you can start to take today toward a beautiful, sustainable landscape.
 
Step 1: Reduce the number of high-maintenance plants in your landscape.
 
 
Isn’t this hibiscus beautiful?
 
However, if you are growing it in the desert southwest with our nutrient-poor soils and dry, hot climate – it takes a lot of fertilizer and water to keep it looking like this.  

In addition to needing fertilizer and more water, pests can often bother hibiscus, which is then treated with insecticides as well.
 
 
As popular as queen palms are, they are not well-adapted to our climate and soils.  So, frequent applications of palm fertilizer are required throughout the warm months of the year.
 
 
Can you tell what this plant is?
 
It is a severely chlorotic and unhappy gardenia.  These plants like acidic soil.  The problem is, we have alkaline soil in the southwest. 



Okay, before I get any rose-lovers angry at me – let me first say that I love roses and have three of them in my backyard garden.


Yes, roses do need extra attention in the form of fertilizer, water, and pest control.  But if you look back at step #1, you will notice that it says to decrease the number of high-maintenance plants.


Yes, our gardens would be more sustainable if we had none of these plants that require extra resources in our landscapes, but gardening is also about pleasure and enjoyment.  So, including a few of your favorite higher-maintenance plants doesn’t make you a bad person 😉


**I use an organic fertilizer for my roses and plant garlic around my rose bushes that help keep aphids away.  

Step 2: Reduce the amount of frost-tender plants.

Frost-damaged bush lantana
Frost-damaged natal plum.



While many frost-tender plants such as bougainvillea, lantana, natal plum (Carissa microcarpa), yellow bells (Tecoma stans) and others thrive in our climate spring through fall – once temperatures dip below freezing, they suffer frost damage.


Once spring rolls around, homeowners and landscapers are hard at work pruning back all of the brown, crispy foliage which contributes to green waste (branches, etc.) that often ends up in landfills.  Also, gasoline is a resource used to deliver our garden debris to the landfill and powers some of our pruning equipment.



Before we leave the subject of reducing the amount of frost-damaged plants – let me say a word about ficus trees.


They are lush, green and beautiful.  However, they are also sensitive to temps below freezing.  


During a mild winter, your ficus may not suffer any frost damage.  But, every few years, we do go through a cold spell when temperatures dip into the 20’s, and severe damage is done to the outer leaves and branches.


Homeowners are then faced with severely pruning back their ficus trees, which causes them to look somewhat ugly while they slowly recover.


To learn more about ficus trees and other trees better suited for the landscape, click here.


Step 3: Use plants adapted for your climate.

This is perhaps the most obvious step toward a more sustainable landscape.


In the desert southwest, plants that are adapted to our hot, arid climate are crucial to a sustainable landscape.


Arid-adapted plants have a special characteristic that helps them to thrive in the blistering heat of summer while not requiring large amounts of water.


Notice the flowering of ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), pictured above.  Do you see the tiny hairs that cover the flowers?  There are even smaller hairs that cover the leaves, which give them a grayish color.


These tiny hairs help to reduce the amount of water lost to the atmosphere (evaporation) and also reflect the sun’s rays away from the plant.

This Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) tree has different characteristics that helps it to survive our desert climate.  


It has tiny leaflets, which limit the amount of water lost to evaporation.  But, it also goes even further – in times of drought, the tiny leaflets will fall off, which further decreases the amount of water lost to the atmosphere.  This type of trait is known as ‘drought deciduous.’

Succulent plants such as cacti and agave handle arid regions by storing water inside.

Step 4: Research plants before purchasing.

Have you ever been tempted by a beautiful, flowering plant and not knowing anything else about it?
If you have, you aren’t alone.
But, you will be saving yourself a lot of time, money and more if you do a little research before you buy a new plant.


When deciding what type of plant to add to your landscape, ask yourself the following questions:


– How large will the plant grow?
– What exposure does it need – full sun, filtered shade or full shade?
– Is the plant drought-tolerant, or does it require large amounts of water?
– Will it require regular applications of fertilizer?
– Is it prone to pests or other problems?

Those are basic questions that you should know before you even dig a hole for a new plant.


So, if you don’t have a bookcase or two filled with plant books (like I do) – where can you go to research plants?


Here are a few online resources to get you started researching plants for the southwestern climate:

 

I do have a few favorite books that are invaluable as well…

Landscape Plants For Dry Regions: More Than 600 Species From Around The World

Arizona Gardener’s Guide (Gardener’s Guides
Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes

Month-By-Month Gardening in the Deserts of Arizona: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year

 

 

Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida)



I like to use plants that I call ‘fuss free’.  They are all drought-tolerant, most are cold-hardy in zone 9a, don’t require supplemental fertilizer, need pruning once a year or less and most of all – they are beautiful.


A FEW FAVORITE ‘FUSS-FREE’ PLANTS

Texas Ebony

Trees:


Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco)
Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)
Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)
Texas Ebony (Ebanopsis ebano)

Baja Fairy Duster

Shrubs:


Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica)
Desert Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)
Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera)
Valentine  (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’)

Damianita

Groundcovers:


Bush Morning Glory (Convolvulus cneorum)
Daminaita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)

Soap Aloe

Succulents:


Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris)
Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida)
Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata)
Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Pink Muhly

Ornamental Grasses:


Bear Grass (Nolina microcarpa)
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)


Of course, these are but a very sampling of arid-adapted plants that add beauty and sustainability to your landscape.


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I hope you have found these first steps toward a more sustainable landscape helpful.


Next time, we will discuss how to care for your plants and avoid unnecessary maintenance. In most cases, if you choose the arid-adapted plants, they will need very little maintenance.

Have you ever wondered how sustainable your landscape is?


Earlier this week, we began our series of posts on sustainable landscaping and talked about what a sustainable landscape is.  You can find the first post here.

Most of us like the idea of having an attractive landscape without wasting resources such as fertilizer, excessive pruning and water, time and gasoline unnecessarily.  But, oftentimes we do things in our gardens that create the need for additional resources.

Today, we will look at one of the major problems that I see which often goes wrong and prevents people from having sustainable landscapes.

MISTAKE #1:

Most people fail to take into consideration how large their new plants will grow.

For example:


This young ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) measures roughly 1 foot high and wide.

But, just a few years after planting, it does grow quite a bit…


This ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which is similar in size to ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage reaches sizes up to 8 feet tall and wide.

It’s hard to believe that such a small shrub can grow so much in just a few years time.


This trailing rosemary was initially quite small when planted next to this boulder.  However, the homeowner did not allow for the fact that the rosemary would grow and eventually ‘swallow’ the boulder.


This small ficus tree looks rather innocent, doesn’t it?  But, it is harboring a secret…


It will grow absolutely huge!
This ficus tree absolutely dwarfs this house.  

The mistake of not allowing for the mature size of plants when planting, leads to…

MISTAKE #2:

Over-planting.


At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this landscape area.  There are some larger dwarf oleanders in the background and nine young Texas sage shrubs.

But, do you think that the Texas sage shrubs will fit in this area once they start to grow toward their mature size of 6 – 8 feet?

I don’t think so.

Over-planting occurs when people don’t allow for the mature size of the plants.  Of course, new plants look rather small and somewhat straggly once first planted, which often leads to over-planting to make the new area look more attractive.

That is what happened to this area below…


Would you believe that the shrubs planted above are actually the same as those shown below?


It’s true.  The only difference is that in this space, the mature size of the shrubs was taken into account, so there was no over-planting taking place.

Think about how much less money and maintenance this area uses compared to the previous area?  There are fewer plants, less maintenance and it looks much nicer!

Mistakes #1 and 2 lead us to…

MISTAKE #3:

Excessive pruning.


So, what do you think people do if their plants are planted to closely together – they prune them…a lot!

Drive-thru’s are places that you can usually find over-planted landscapes.  The one above is filled with 2/3’s more plant material then is needed.

The over-pruned shrubs in the forefront are actually Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs, which look much more attractive when not over-pruned.


There are 3 Valentine shrubs in the photo above that are allowed to grow to their natural shape after their annual pruning in May.


These silver sage shrubs at our local Costco store have also been over-pruned due to the fact that they were planted too closely together.

Over-pruning often leads to artistic expressions…

‘Abstract Art’


‘Mushrooms’


‘Cupcakes’

Words fail me attempting to describe the pruning 
of these sage shrubs.

Here are some interesting facts about over-pruning that you may be surprised to hear.

Over-pruning…

– makes plants grow faster (as they attempt to re-grow the leaves lost)

-creates more maintenance (faster growing plants tend to be pruned more often)

– uses more water (in their attempt to re-grow lost leaves pruned away).

– creates green waste (branches/leaves head to the landfill)

– leads to unhealthy plants (from the stresses of too much pruning).

– wastes time used for un-needed pruning.

Have you ever seen the inside of shrubs that have been excessively pruned for years?

I warn you, it isn’t pretty…




Not too pretty, is it?

Over time, flowering shrubs that have been excessively sheared, can develop large dead areas and eventually decline.  This leads to old shrubs being removed and a new ones put in.

MISTAKE #4

Growing plants that aren’t adapted to your climate.


Plants that are not well-adapted to your local climate require excessive resources such as extra water, fertilizer and other maintenance.  

Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are just one example of a plant that often struggles in our southwestern, desert climate.  No matter what we do, they will never look as nice as the queen palms growing in more tropical climates.
The lesson to be learned from this is that not planning for the mature plant size, over-planting, over-pruning and wrong plant selection uses up a lot of resources.

1. Excessive amounts of water are used due to over-planting, over-pruning and for plants not well-adapted to our arid climate.

2. Money is wasted on buying more plants then are needed.

3. The costs of maintenance used for excessive planting and pruning include another resource – gasoline.

4. Declining health of plants that have not been pruned properly or those ill-suited for our dry, hot climate.

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So how does your landscape compare with examples, above?

If you see some similarities – don’t worry.  There are things that you can do to decrease the amount of resources that go into maintaining your landscape.  

My goal is to help you toward not only a more sustainable landscape, but one that is also beautiful and attractive.

In my next post, we will start to talk about 

“Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Landscape”.


Do you know what ‘sustainable landscaping’ is? 


Would you be able to identify a sustainable landscape if you saw one?


Last weekend, I spoke to a large group about “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.  The community that I spoke to are in the process of becoming an Audubon International Sustainable Community, which would make them the first one to do so, west of the Mississippi.


There a lot of people who turned out to learn more about how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  I was thrilled to talk to them about what sustainable landscaping is and small steps that they can take toward that goal.

Maybe you are curious about sustainable landscaping and want to implement some strategies toward having a more sustainable landscape.  

This is my first post talking about this important subject in the hopes that I can inspire you to take steps toward a more sustainable landscape.

WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE?

First, let’s look at an example of what I am NOT talking about in regards to a sustainable landscape…


Do you remember when green gravel was in style in the 70’s?


Or how about this one with the fancy gravel design and two lonely cacti?

Technically speaking, both of these landscapes are sustainable, but they are not the model of sustainability we are looking for.


Here is a great example of a sustainable landscape.


So is this one.

Both of these landscapes are planted with arid-adapted plants that thrive in our hot, dry climate with minimal care. What you may also notice is that they are not ugly – they are all quite beautiful.


The next time you find yourself near the natural landscape, wherever you live – notice how nature does a great job creating and maintaining a beautiful landscape.  
Nature does this without any help – no pruning, supplemental water, chemical fertilizers (nature does fine with natural sources of fertilizer) and pesticides. 


So, what exactly is a ‘sustainable landscape’?

“A SUSTAINABLE LANDCAPE IS ONE THAT IS IN BALANCE WITH THE CLIMATE, WHICH REQUIRES MINIMAL ‘INPUTS’.”
What are ‘inputs’?  They are resources that we use to create and maintain our landscapes such as fertilizer, supplemental water, pruning, gasoline and pesticides.

Would you like to decrease the amount of ‘inputs’ in your landscape, without having to sacrifice beauty?

Well you certainly can and it isn’t hard to do.  In fact, you can save yourself time and money in the process!

Next time, we will discuss what we are doing wrong in our current landscapes, which is important to know so that we can avoid these mistakes on our quest toward more sustainable landscapes.